ART IN IDAHO'S ATLANTA
**The full article can be found online here.
Idaho Statesman, 07/20/14, By Katherine Jones
Using the historic town as a backdrop and inspiration, The Atlanta School offers workshops, a retreat and renewal
The sound of hammering rolls around the stillness of the mountain morning. It's not an unfamiliar sound, here in the valley below Greylock Mountain - where miners and merchants have constructed homes and businesses since gold was discovered more than 150 years ago.
The laughter and banter that follow, though, pulses with new energy. These are students from The Atlanta School, who are spending five days immersed in history and the town's off-the-grid solitude while learning new skills.
"I'm complaining about sawing stuff to make this (little bench) as I'm walking through a building that someone's built with their own hands," said student Ashley Roshitsh, a bartender at The Modern in Boise. "I'm like, OK, maybe I should just shut my mouth. …
"It's nice to be in a place … where you know that everything was made with a lot of work.
"It's kind of humbling."
The school is the vision of Amy O'Brien and Rachel Reichert, principal and vice-principal, respectively. O'Brien has been preserving old cabins in Atlanta for 15 years.
"We thought it would be a great place to bring artists, and also people who are interested in doing a lot of the things that a lot of the people in the town are already doing," said O'Brien, referring to restoration. "Atlanta is such a beautiful backdrop for doing that, and it's something I wanted to share with other people."
This was the school's inaugural summer. It featured two construction workshops with Boise architect Byron Folwell and two writing workshops. O'Brien and Reichert plan to expand the course offerings next year to include other arts with a handmade bent - perhaps painting, bookmaking, cloth, music, instrument-making.
"History is the starting point for a lot of the work that could be done here," said Reichert. " … Great inspiration for making art."
Think less of an actual school building and more of an experience scattered through the historic district of Atlanta - about a half-dozen square blocks. The ongoing project during one week centered on a lot beside the The Hub (an 80-year-old local watering hole now closed), where students, some of whom have only minor building experience, built a carefully crafted outhouse from the hole up. The second workshop project was a bathhouse. The advantages of both: microcosms of teachable moments in a manageable size.
Students surveyed other historic buildings to learn how to make something that would fit in. Because early Atlantans didn't have many materials, the construction techniques were often just enough to keep the building standing - or not, depending on how they factored in the winter snow.
"Many times up here, there hasn't been anywhere to buy materials. Like now," said Allen Ireland, owner of The Hub and a handful of other historic buildings. The outhouse is on his lot, where a two-story hotel burned down years ago. "You make do with what you have - kind of like they did back then."
All the lumber for the outhouse had been originally used as something else, which presented its own challenges - boards crooked, full of nails, in nonstandardized sizes.
"This is a good environment for you to experiment with all those (challenges), do some kind of safe failing before you do your real work," said Folwell. "And have a good time doing it all together, which has been the best part of the class so far."
Students also made benches from recycled wood - starting with picking wood, pulling nails, designing, measuring, sawing and assembling with square nails.
"It's much more complicated than looking at a bench, saying you've got to have two legs and a top. It's not," said student Cathy Chapman Smith. "You have to have two legs and a top - and you have to figure out how to displace the weight if you sit or stand on it. … I thought I knew a lot, but that was more complicated than I thought it would be.
"Not everything is finished perfectly and smoothly. Some of the wood splits but it still, has a purpose. You can align that into life"
Although the excuse to come to Atlanta might be the workshops, students are finding that both being there, and the experience of getting there, are part of the school's appeal.
"I was doing a little journaling," said Chapman Smith. "So it took me 45 minutes to get out of Boise and then the sign said 40 miles to Atlanta - and it took me two hours. But that trip, the dirt road - honestly, what a perfect transition. It is literally going back in time. … I stopped a couple of times because it was so beautiful."
Atlanta has always been hard to get to, even in its heyday.
"(This) started out as an art retreat, having the opportunity to get outside of yourself, experience something dramatic like the hills here," said Reichert. "But people are communicating to us that it's this shedding experience, too; that being here you can exist without your phone and your technology.
"There's so many different layers to the experience."
Including the lodging. Students stay in cabins rebuilt by O'Brien, Ireland and others that are like little historic art installations. Most have no running water, electricity or indoor bathroom. But they do have charm: original wallpaper, linoleum and fixtures, instead of new drywall and paint - and they are furnished in the appropriate era.
"The setting here at The Atlanta School offers people a way to get away from the city for a while and do something that is kind of like immersing yourself in history," said Folwell. "It's kind of like staying in a museum."
The town itself has no cell service (there is none after leaving Boise), no public Internet, no gas station, no hotel, and only one restaurant - which keeps irregular hours. There is mail.
"(Atlanta) never really died off; there's always been a pulse. It may have been weak, but there's always been a pulse," said artist Kerry Moosman, longtime summer resident and keeper of Atlanta history.
It is possible, O'Brien hopes, that the school can become something to help invigorate Atlanta's heartbeat. A destination, perhaps, or synergy.
"I don't know if Atlanta needs it," said Reichert. "But I think people need Atlanta."
Katherine Jones: 377-6414