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Julia Davis Grows New Public Art

Downtown park prepares for public art overhaul

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Over the last century, downtown Boise's fields and orchards have given way to grids of streets and towering buildings as Idaho's capital city has taken shape.

Now, one of the Treasure Valley's first agricultural areas, Julia Davis Park, is being used to tell the story of the city's farming history, which made possible Boise's growth into the thriving metropolis it is today.

In 1862, brothers Tom and Frank Davis headed west from Ohio, hoping to strike gold in Idaho. Tom purchased and developed thousands of acres of agricultural property in the Boise area and helped map out a blueprint of the city. When Tom's wife, Julia, passed away in 1907, he deeded the 89-acre Julia Davis Regional Park to the city in her memory.

Now, with the help of the Julia Davis Park's Second Century Coalition--a volunteer organization led by Diane Myklegard, a descendant of Tom and Julia Davis--the park will be home to a series of public art installations designed to celebrate its history.

"When I first started working for the city, I didn't really know who Julia Davis was," said Karen Bubb, public arts manager at the Boise City Department of Arts and History. "I feel like over time, we've added things that tell that story to the public so they can have a better sense of what's happened to make the park."

The 2012 addition of the Agriculture Pavilion was the first step in a series of changes slated for Julia Davis Park. Other artistic additions include a Grand Plaza, a History Walk and a series of small towers, called bollards, which will highlight the city's historic landmarks.

Local artist Ward Hooper has been involved in the planning and design process for many of the new elements. Hooper said the designs incorporate park-wide agricultural themes, with an emphasis on commemorating the apple orchard that once occupied the park.

"The bollards are representative of tree trunks. They're on a grid similar to what an orchard would be," said Hooper. "These bollards come up out of the ground and stand about 3 feet tall, and on top of them, you'll be able to see a picture of a past building that used to exist--such as the Natatorium or the old Ada County Courthouse. It'll tell a little bit about the city's beginning and growth."

Hooper also designed a bronze medallion that will serve as the centerpiece of the Grand Plaza, which is intended to create a hub between the Rose Garden and Zoo Boise.

"It's envisioned to be halfway between what Julia Davis Park is now and what the Grove is--it's a place for people to meet and have events and to celebrate the history of the beginning of the city," said Hooper. "The center would be the most polished part of a big courtyard starting with the bronze, which represents a seed of the city. It ripples out from there with paths representing roots of the tree. There's another pathway called the History Walk that will branch off toward the river. That will be lined with little nodes shaped like leaves, which will tell a story starting with the Davis family and all these important agricultural things that the city was built on."

The Agriculture Pavilion will grow as well. New public art pieces are planned to be added to the pavilion, including a laser-etched wheat field in the building's gable, picnic tabletops designed by area students and a 7-foot-tall, three-dimensional map of the Gem State, conceived and designed by metalworker Irene Deely.

"We're taking satellite images to make a three-dimensional, topographical image of the map of Idaho. I'll go in and embellish that to make some of the different areas that are more well-known kind of accentuated. ... The map invites people to come in and move their hands over the mountains and across the rivers," said Deely.

With the exception of one city-funded piece in the Cancer Survivors' Plaza in the east end of Julia Davis, all of the planned art projects will be supported by grants and donations; the Second Century Coalition is soliciting contributions independent of the city. Though total funding needs won't be known until designs are finalized, project coordinator Ben Gin said plans are moving forward.

"The Grand Plaza and the Agriculture Pavilion are considered Phase One. Phase One has been under way for the last three or four years and will probably be completed in the next two," Gin said. "For the time being, I think Phase One is really coming together pretty well. We're over halfway done with our fundraising needs for Phase One. It's definitely a sliding timeline based on incoming funds."

Gin hopes to begin installation of the Idaho map in October. The timeline for construction of the Plaza, History Walk and bollards is still in the air.

"We won't see any major construction projects like the restroom and pavilion were last year," said Toby Norton, city parks development project manager. "We're advancing on plans. Depending on how funding goes for that, we would like to be in construction by the end of summer or fall."

For those involved in the park's facelift, public art is a natural part of Julia Davis' continuing growth and development.

"All the artwork is really highly integrated into the structures and the landscape. It's really meant to be part of the whole park and not something that stands alone," said Bubb.

"We see Julia Davis as the cultural-type park. It has an art museum and a history museum and the zoo, so this ties in very nicely with that, in contrast to something like Ann Morrison Park, which is more of a sports field-type park," added Norton. "We see it as a cultural hub, so adding art to that is obviously a good fit."

To Hooper, these additions are a way to celebrate the Davis family, the park and its history, which have all helped build Boise into the city it has become.

"This is a storytelling opportunity," Hooper said. "It's a story that's never really been told in one place. People can come and stand on the piece of property that the city started from and have the whole story told in a cool, interactive and artistic way. As the city grows, the park needs to grow with it."

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