Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Basement Gallery's New Owners

It's a Britain-to-Boise Connection


Each month, it was the same dilemma. Jane Brumfield, then in her early 20s, would glance around her bare Hastings, England, apartment and ponder how to divvy up her remaining pounds. She could invest in necessities--a proper bed, a refrigerator, food--or she could follow her gut and splurge on art.

Jane, a shop girl by day and volunteer gallerina and artist in her off time, was cultivating an art addiction that would soon become an all-consuming habit. Though her floors lacked furniture, her walls never lacked original artwork. Eventually, after years working for museums and galleries, Jane's art obsession led her and husband Mike Brumfield--an off-shore oil worker with bicep tats and a welcoming Louisiana drawl--to open the Weekend Gallery in Hastings. A few years later, they cast their gaze across the pond and narrowed their sights on Boise's Basement Gallery.

"It's all Bill Carman's fault that we bought the gallery," said Jane, laughing. "We had decided that we absolutely weren't going to do it for at least another year or two years. And then I came into the Bill Carman show and I just loved his work so much and ended up buying a lot."

Six months before Jane slipped in to the cavernous space beneath the Idanha Hotel and began snatching up Carman's pop-surrealist pieces, the previous owner Perry Allen had quietly put the gallery up for sale, "just for kicks." When Allen later approached Jane, half-jokingly, and asked, "Hey, why don't you just buy the gallery?" she took him up on his offer.

The Brumfields' plan from the get-go has been to maintain the space's existing frame shop and also integrate work from artists represented at both of their galleries.

"I already had artists and existing clientele over [in England] and the idea of starting completely from scratch again was really quite daunting," said Jane. "During the time that I build up my clientele here and get to know the artists and the arts scene here, we can always bring work over from England. With the idea, then, that we will also be taking work from America over to England."

This exchange process is already chugging along, though it has hit a few potholes. When Carman and British artist Len Shelley debuted a joint show at the Weekend Gallery in January, a number of Carman's pieces got stuck in English customs. And then a blizzard completely shut down the town on the day of the opening. Nonetheless, Carman sold two thirds of his work, which isn't bad for a newbie on the Hastings scene. The Weekend Gallery, with its collection of eclectic illustrators and printmakers, has an aesthetic that fits nicely with the pop-surrealist niche Allen carved out at Basement Gallery over his 13-year reign.

"When I first heard, I thought, 'Oh, boy, I don't know if I'm going to keep selling here because I don't know what she's going to be like, so this is a trial thing for us,'" said Carman. "But the Hastings partnership has worked out really well so far."

But Jane also had another motive for keeping the Weekend Gallery open.

"I needed to keep a toe in England," she confessed. After the couple's previous unsuccessful move to the art-deprived community of Twin Falls--to be closer to Mike's two daughters from a previous marriage and four grandchildren--Jane was hesitant to come back to the States. Luckily, both Boise and Basement Gallery ended up being a natural fit.

"The one thing that has appealed to us about [Basement] Gallery, and where we felt there was a connection with our own tastes and the kind of things that we like, is the sort of contemporary-figurative-narrative nature of the work that is here. And the slight eccentricity," said Jane. "We like the eccentric."

And the Brumfields don't have any intention of throwing the eccentric baby out with the bath water. The couple invited Basement regulars like Ben Wilson and Erin Ruiz to participate in January's "Noise in the Basement" exhibition, and they also have an open door policy for other artists who have previously shown at Basement. Their latest exhibit "Contemporary Printmaking," which opened at the beginning of March, features well-known locals Tarmo Watia and Kirsten Furlong alongside Boise State printmaking students Benjamin Love and Matt Bodett and British printmakers Alison Read and Sarah Ross-Thompson.

"We still want to promote the new and up-and-coming artists to get involved and show us their work," said Mike. "But we're also trying to intermix that work with more established artists."

This expanded focus pleases Love, a first-time Basement-ite who is showing a collection of large monoprint woodcuts based on old dictionary illustrations in the exhibit. After the closing of J Crist Gallery last year, Love says he hopes to see Basement take up the contemporary, cutting-edge gallery reins.

"For me personally, the really illustrative pop surrealism that is, or was, the Basement Gallery--it's cool that it's expanding beyond that," said Love. "For this show, in particular, they're including people who work in traditional processes, but aren't thinking about them in traditional ways."

Carman, whose career is already well-established both locally and internationally, plans to continue showing work at the new Basement Gallery for the time being as a way to maintain a foothold in the Boise art scene.

"I can get more money for my work outside of Idaho, but the reason for showing here was never about the money, it was about the presence in the community," said Carman. "I still want to have that, so I have a show coming up [at Basement] in September and October."

As the Brumfields continue to meet new artists and learn more about their new community, one thing in particular has made Jane fondly recall her early days of art obsession.

"The thing that I found really impressive, and I know that this is something that Perry particularly nurtured, is the age group of buyers. In England, I have to wait until they get over 40 before they even start thinking about spending money on art. Here, a lot of the buyers are in their early 20s, mid 20s, and that's fantastic because obviously they're going to carry on developing their collections," said Jane. "It just becomes compulsive, I know that personally."