Thursday, May 23, 2013

Big bark, no bite: Long-time chainsaw artists yap on love of dogs, sculpture

Lindsey  Treffry | Inland360

Toby is an abnormally sized beagle. 12 feet tall, to be exact. And for a while, he traveled. Three-thousand miles on a trailer, actually. People would travel miles to visit him, too — to see him sit outside Dog Bark Park.

Nearly 20 years later, Toby is surprisingly old for a dog of his stature. But not as big as the 30-foot-tall dog, Sweet Willy, who has overshadowed Toby for years, making him look like a mere puppy.

Frances Conklin consults Dennis Sullivan
about a carved dog in their Dog Bark Park shop.
Toby and Sweet Willy are just two of thousands of creations made by Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin, chainsaw artists and owners of Dog Bark Park and Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho.

Sullivan, 71, was a building contractor for 24 years and wanted to change careers. So, he started by hand carving wood with a knife and then moved onto using saws and chainsaws.

“I didn’t have any strong feelings to carve bears,” he said. “I wanted to separate myself.”

Sullivan likes dogs a lot, he said, and by 1985 he started carving dogs full-time. In 1995, he met Conklin at an art show, where she was showing some of her sewn work, the stars aligned and they fell in love.

“Running a sewing machine isn’t that different from chainsaw. Something is whirring around faster than you can see it,” Conklin said. “You learn to keep things away from it.”

Conklin said she did have to build a bit more muscle, but Sullivan said together, they’ve created approximately 35,000 pieces total — the sellable sizes at least.

Your basic dog begins with a log and a variety of different sized chainsaws. The most popular wood they use is Ponderosa pine.

“I tell people it starts with Ponderosa pine, but quickly turns to dogwood,” Sullivan joked.

They cut the pine log down to the appropriate size — a small or large dog. Small dogs are roughly 8 by 10 inches and 2 1/2 inches thick. Good for a desktop size, he said. Large dogs, not near the scale of Toby, are 6 inches thick and, depending on the breed, can range from 16 to 20 inches tall by 16 to 24 inches long.

Conklin specializes in the painting, because, Sullivan said, she has an artistic, light touch and paints to reflect the breed. Popular sellers include the beagle, Labrador retriever, Bernese Mountain dog and the golden retriever.

Each dog gets a brass license tag and a red cowboy bandana around their neck.

Other Dog Park Bark sculptures include, but are never limited to, concrete alphabet blocks, a totem pole, a carved wooden car, a 12-foot tall coffee pot, in which Sullivan hopes to house a coffee pot museum, and a toaster, which is 45 feet long, complete with a wooden plug and fake electrical port. The hard, wooden toast is removable.

“I leave it to others to determine if it’s art,” Sullivan said. “But it is sculpture.”
Sullivan said he never tires of it. And with all his fame, just maybe, neither does Toby.

-If you go
WHAT: Dog Bark Park and Inn Bed & Breakfast
WHERE: 2421 Business Highway 95, Cottonwood, Idaho
WHEN: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Sunday
COST: $98 per night double occupancy. Includes breakfast. $10 per additional person. Single occupancy is $92. Dog chainsaw sculpture prices range from $49 to $124 and can be purchased in person or at

As seen in May 23 issue of Inland360.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

From ruins to retirement: University of Idaho professor retires after 40 years

Lindsey Treffry | Inland360

David Giese has traveled in time. After 40 years of teaching — 36 at the University of Idaho — the man who creates ancient Roman ruins and discovers mythical monuments has finally decided to retire.

“It’s time to retire when you overhear your students having a conversation and you don’t know what the hell they’re talking about,” said Giese who plans to travel to Rome during its off-season.

Dean Hare |
David Giese stands with the grotto fountain
he built in his back yard for both personal enjoyment
and as an example of his work to prospective
clients on Monday, May 13, 2013, at his home in Moscow.
Giese claims to have discovered the remains of the fictitious Villa Bitricci, art pieces he created in the 1980s, while traveling in Northern Italy.

“I just thought of this kind of reconstructed version of history,” he said. “Because I tell these stories and incorporate real events, but I kind of twist them around so there’s a sense of humor about them.”

In Giese’s story, Villa Bitricci is the longest continuous private residence in Western civilization, where famous citizens and artists reside. Giese said the name, Villa Bitricci, came about when Dante’s mistress, Beatrice, was accused by an overzealous priest of being a witch and a harlot. She then fled Florence and sought sanctuary in the villa.

“And from that time forward it has always been called the Villa Bitricci,” Giese explained. “Bitricci is an endearment for Beatrice in the town.”

The pieces of Bitricci are composed of concrete, paint, flotage and mixed media. Giese said he usually starts by casting a flat, which takes two people. With the more recent help of his assistant, Noah Kroese, they create a wooden frame, staple on a propylene fiber, pour an expandable foam on the back of an open-mesh work and then stand on pieces of plywood wrapped in plastic.

“And so the foam expands and it creates the thickness, the depth of it, but it makes it quite lightweight. All of this decoration is kind of cast individually and then collaged onto the surface,” said Giese, who can create 10 pieces a year.

A one-person retrospective of Giese’s work is on display at the Prichard Art Gallery in downtown Moscow through Sunday.

“It covers quite an expansive range,” Kroese said. “People will be not only be blown away on the work itself, but the evolution of the work over the years.”

Kroese said the volume of Giese’s work is astounding as well, because of its quality.

“He’s been making art regularly the entire time he’s been at the University,” he said. “You’re looking at a history of history. I’ve never seen work like David’s anywhere else.”

A reception will conclude the Prichard Art Gallery retrospective 5-8 p.m. Friday, while a retirement soirée will take place 8-11 p.m. Saturday in the UI SUB Ballroom.

While Giese said he’s well known for throwing great parties — such as the dinner parties he’s hosted in his Italian-inspired home of 15 years — the UI celebration may be the biggest this year.

“This year I haven’t done as much because I’ve been so focused on this endowment and ready to retire and all that,” he said.

As a retirement gift to the university, Giese created an endowed fellowship to support the costs of bringing visiting artists to campus to work with classes.

“The only criteria is the individual’s work must be interdisciplinary by nature,” he said.

The soirée will host live and silent auctions on Giese’s bowling shoes, glasses, hand-made and salvaged office furniture and a T-shirt that reads, “Is there life after Giese?” Four pieces of his office artwork will be raffled for $20 per ticket. A video will feature past students and faculty members, who submitted video, pictures or anecdotes for the event. Wine and beer will be served and a separate room is available for dancing.

“As impressive as David’s work is, he’s such an individual and he was such a dynamic personality,” Kroese said. “He is just as impressive as his work.”

Despite his retirement, Giese will keep a studio on the UI campus.

“I consider myself extremely fortunate that I’ve loved my job and I think I feel really privileged to be part of a very important, critical phase in an individual’s life when you’re really dealing with the true formation of who you are,” Giese said. “And I take that responsibility very seriously.”

If you go:
WHAT: Gallery reception; Retirement soirée
WHEN: 5-8 p.m. Friday; 8-11 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Prichard Art Gallery; University of Idaho SUB Ballroom
COST: All admissions are free.

As seen in May 16 issue of Inland360.

Drag 101: TabiKat drag queens, kings lay down stage statutes

Lindsey Treffry | Inland360

After more than 18 years of shows, the leaders of TabiKat Productions can tell you that performing in drag is more than just clothes, make-up and dance.

Kathy Sprague | Courtesy
Bill Pfister (Kathy Sprague) and Claudia Stubblemeyer pose
for a photo at a TabiKat Productions drag show.
Led by Kathy Sprague and Tabitha Simmons, the monthly performances in the area give drag queens, kings and faux performers a chance to get on stage and dress up (or down) to the nines.

But Sprague, also known as drag king Bill Pfister, said, “If you’re going to be an attitude problem, that usually doesn’t correct itself. That’s a lot harder to fix than walking better in heels.”

So, TabiKat is offering Drag 101 to give interested or “virgin” performers a chance to learn the ropes of basic drag etiquette and TabiKat house rules at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Moscow Moose Lodge.

Sprague will lay down some rules and regulations, along with tips and tricks to help new performers meet higher standards:

1. Be responsible and safe.
“Inappropriate behavior is the number one thing that will get you fired,” said Sprague, who notes that performers get paid. “It is a job.”

Only performers are allowed in the dressing room. Sprague said that increases their safety, protects belongings and keeps the temperature down in a small space.

Drag queen Aquasha DeLusty recommends the buddy system when going to and from shows.
“Don’t show up to the show alone,” DeLusty said.

Because alcohol is served to those over 21, Sprague said some attendees can get a bit rowdy. Bouncers and security staff are on hand.

“They will have your back,” Sprague said. “They will walk you to the car at the end of the night, so nobody jumps you, because sometimes that is an issue.”

Outside of shows, DeLusty suggested setting a good example for fans.

“Be smart about what you put out” on your Facebook page, DeLusty said.

2. Without music, there’s no show.
“Once you have been booked, once I give you the OK, you have to contact God,” Sprague said.
“God,” or Simmons, is in charge of all music.

“No matter how good you look in a dress, no matter how much you rehearsed, if we don’t have the music, you can’t perform,” Sprague said.

Sprague said music downloads must be purchased.

“If you love Cher so much that you want to do a number or perform Cher numbers, then she should get a chunk of that money,” Sprague said.

Simmons requires music files the Thursday before Saturday performances, to ensure sound quality and to prevent overlap.

“The audience is not paying cover for a show when they’re going to see the same song four times,” Sprague said. “That’s boring for them.”

DeLusty suggested different musical genres. A mix of hip hop, country and Broadway is better than being a Hip Hop Queen, DeLusty said.

“You are going to find that you actually like doing other things,“ DeLusty said. “Because I was like, ‘Oh god, I’ll never do country. I can’t stand country,’ and it’s actually one of the funnest show lists to do.”

3. Get the hair and makeup right.
Sprague is also co-owner of Safari Pearl and Eclectica, which houses costumes, wigs and stage makeup.

“At the Drag 101, I’ll break out the crepe hair and chop it up and let everybody play with it,” said Sprague, who generally sports a blond, reddish mustache with thick sideburns when dressing in drag.

Makeup kits will be available for those who want basic palettes, as long as they private message “Bill Pfister” on Facebook before the Sunday event.

4. Know your power.
Sprague said TabiKat is one of the few events in which those under 21 can take part.

“The first time I realized how much some of the kids in the community looked up to me, it’s terrifying,” Sprague said.

“The dance floor is the most interactive place that you want to be,” said DeLusty, adding that is where tips are made. “Focus on the kids.”

Sprague said their younger audience can be the most vulnerable members of the community and performers must set a good example.

“It’s like Spiderman. With great power, comes great responsibility,” Sprague said.”If you don’t respect that, and you’re not careful with it, you become the problem.”

5. Don’t be afraid.
Drag 101 may help the curious decide whether TabiKat drag is for them. If so, the rules must be followed, Sprague said, and if all goes well, TabiKat will have a few virgin performers.

“The one thing I can suggest is have fun on stage,” DeLusty said, “because if you’re having a blast doing your number, the audience will have a blast with you.”

Drag queen Claudia Stubblemeyer said virgins are put early in a set, because it’s nerve-racking to wait.

“Never look at the person before you,” DeLusty said. ”You’ll build your own following and your own way of performing.”

With more than 30 RSVPs so far, Sprague said most of the attendees are excited about becoming performers and the majority have never performed before.

“There are a couple of people who are attending, who actually have been performing for years, but have not gotten the rules,” she said. “This is the important part of it, because then we don’t have misunderstandings, and we don’t have absolute chaos backstage.”

Drag 101 is free for attendees who arrive on time and are well-prepared. Late arrivals will be charged $10 for the class.

If hired, some virgins will perform at TabiKat’s June 22 show at Moscow Moose Lodge. The next drag show will take place on May 25 at T’z in Lewiston.

If you go:
WHAT: TabiKat Drag 101
WHEN: 6:30-9:30 p.m.
WHERE: Moscow Moose Lodge
COST: Free, $10 if late
OF NOTE: RSVP on Drag 101 Facebook event

As seen in May 16 issue of Inland360.