The Boise Art Association was founded in 1931 by citizen-artists interested in enhancing the visual arts community of Boise, with focus on a pulic art gallery – a building where work could be exhibited and local artists could offer classes. Such a gallery was achieved, sited in Julia Davis Park, with construction beginning in February 1934 and completed in 1937, through a partnership between Boise City and the WPA (the Federal Works Progress Administration). The Boise Gallery of Art was designed by Tourtellotte and Hummel, the architectural firm responsible for the creation of such other Boise landmarks as the Capitol Building, the Carnegie Library, and the Egyptian Theater. The Gallery building featured a combination of Egyptian revival and art deco styling, mixing Neo-Classical form with simplified, modern ornamentation. Like many other public buildings from the same era, Boise’s new art gallery was built from sandstone, most likely extracted from the quarry near Table Rock.
In the years following, the Gallery thrived, with a very active board, eventually a full-time director and small staff, and the support of two auxiliaries, the DaVinci Guild, most of whose members were drawn from the Boise Art Association, and the Beaux Arts Society. During these years the Associations’s open-air painting exhibitions, held annually around the new building, grew into Art in the Park; the Gallery began annual juried shows for artists from all over the state, and was able to take advantage of traveling exhibitions of works from across the country.
In the late 1960s the board began fundraising to enlarge the building and bring it up to standards overseen by the Western Association of Art Museums (WAAM) having to do with space and conditions (temperature, humidity, light, etc.) The goal was to have the Gallery certified as a Museum. Plans drawn up by Boise architect Bradford Paine Show were approved in 1972. The 10,000 square foot enlargement necessitated moving the public entry to the north side of the building, where a new greeting station/gift shop was also located, along with a new lobby. WAAM’s standards met, the new Boise Art Museum (fondly known as BAM ever since) opened in 1973.
Shaw’s original plans were for a two story building, but-eager for certification – the board chose to build only the ground floor using what funds it had raised by 1972, rather than wait until enough additional funding was found to allow construction of the second floor. Community input over the next years convinced successive boards that any further expansion/remodeling should restore the original orientations and the original entry facing west toward Capital Boulevard. Rather than completing the 1972 plans, the board in 1984 set out to raise funds to accomplish a much larger project. Designed by Boise’s Trout Architects in collaboration with Mark Mack (then of New York) and completed in 1988 the new addition nearly doubled the Museum’s square footage, enclosing but in places revealing some of the original sandstone structure which had been “wrapped” by the exterior facing used on the 1970s remodel. Inside, the original Gallery’s two exhibition spaces and original lobby remained, as they had through the 1970s work, and several elements of that remodel were also retained, including the “sunken gallery” originally designed as a performance space (poetry readings and musical evenings were very popular offerings at BAM).
Inside the first set of glass doors, or “outside” entry, and through the new lobby, the original entry (now the “inside” entry) was recreated with preserved elements of the 1930s structure, including the sandstone facade and window embrasures and the bronze doors and side-lanterns. This enables visitors to experience (in a sense) the original Boise Gallery of Art: through the original entry into the original lobby flanked on two sides by the original exhibition galleries. In another sense, this central part of the old boise Gallery of Art is the most permanent of BAM’s permanent collection.
Since the late 1980s expansion, there has been another addition: the 1997-98 expansion, managed by Boise architectural firm CSHQA, relocated and reconfigured the outdoor Sculpture Garden (established during the 1970s project and redone once previously, in the 1980s project) to accommodate the addition to the rear of the building of the Sculpture Court, a very large exhibition space with many modernized Neo-Classical features, that opens out to the Sculpture Garden. While adding considerable square footage, this $1.3 million project also conservatively repurposed previously existing spaces.
The Boise Art Museum remains a Boise landmark and is among the 4% of museums country-wide that are certified by the American Alliance of Museums as exeeding national standards in all areas of operation.
Information and pictures courtesy of The Boise Art Museum and Preservation Idaho, as well as Trout Architects and CSHQA. Text by Melissa Dodworth