Walk into Irene Deely's Woman of Steel art gallery on Chinden, and you walk into the singular world of the artist's own vision and construction. Through the front door and under a fabric swag, the room opens into a vast space of art gallery/bar/gothic cathedral hybrid that smells pleasantly industrial. Facing the entry is a long bar with fireplace and seating area to one side, and doorways leading to more gallery space on the other. Behind the bar, the room's visual focal point, is a large, sharp-peaked steel triptych-like piece that seems to be a bar mirror but on second glance is a window into the welding area where Deely coaxes art from metal. Patrons can have a drink at the bar and watch Deely work. An enormous wine rack next to the bar is likewise welded steel. Taking in the room is a steel treasure hunt. There's a bistro-styled table and chairs set with steel legs welded into twisted, organic shapes resembling gnarled tree trunks. A steel log sculpture rests in the gas fireplace. The more one looks around the aptly-named gallery, the more one sees how anything that can be fabricated from steel, is.
The summer solstice on June 21 marks the gallery's second anniversary. After her children left home, Deely returned to Boise State to finish the degree she began years before. Professor Al Kober exposed Deely to steel sculpture and she graduated in 1999 with a B.F.A. Deely bought the property that houses Woman of Steel to avoid renting studio space; she gutted the building, transforming a former Chinese restaurant into the charming space it is today. Deely says she soon realized she had not only a welding studio, but a showroom as well.
Deely's studio has abundant light from skylights and the building's vast front window, keeping the studio from feeling like a dungeon with its dangerous-looking equipment abundant scrap metal. Deely's sculptures themselves vary-at times organic, disturbing, haunting, whimsical or sweet. Pieces in her Horns series are smooth and hard, but those in Bag Lady seems to cave in on themselves like overripe fruits. Liberty: Let's Roll depicts the Statue of Liberty with a leg thrust out in a kick-boxing stance. Many of Deely's pieces, as well as her artistic statement, are available for viewing on her Web site, www.ideely.com. Despite the perception of welding as a typically masculine endeavor, Deely says, "I think that gender is irrelevant. As far as my artwork speaking to one gender more than another, it doesn't." She says that people have commented that her art has a masculine feel without losing a feminine touch.
The gallery also boasts a cigar bar. With a private upstairs lounge, a member humidor and a deck overlooking Cycle Nuts and Bolts, the HOGS club (Harley Observation and 'Gar Smokers) is a cozy space reminiscent of an old-fashioned men's club. Some corporations have purchased club memberships to use for client meetings.
Public response to the gallery has been encouraging, Deely says. She finds scrap steel offerings at the gallery's back door, sometimes with notes expressing hopes that art might come of something otherwise discarded. Built almost entirely by word-of-mouth, the Woman of Steel gallery has developed a loyal following-people bring guests from out of town and some are interested in renting the space for special events. "Those are things that I didn't foresee at all," says Deely.
Deely is committed to the interactive nature of the gallery, the pervasiveness of the art throughout the space and the consanguinity between the studio, gallery and patrons. She says, "Here there's a connection between the gallery where they see a finished product-they can look through into the studio space and see the birthplace of that work."
Besides Deely's sculptures and ornamentation, the walls of the gallery hold art by other area artists. On an approximate eight-week rotation, Deely gives over all of the wall space in the gallery to one artist. Right now, works by Eric Narad are on display. Former Boisean LaRinda Meinberg will exhibit her recycled paper sculptures in May. According to Deely, "It will be a really interesting, unusual exhibit." Beginning April 5, espresso and pastries from Java will be sold, and Deely is also planning a miniature gallery within the gallery-two exhibits where viewers enter one at a time. Many, mainly women, have expressed a desire that Deely conduct a sculpture class, and she will offer a workshop covering both the technical and artistic aspects of steel sculpture.
Deely's own current projects include benches and tables for the front of the gallery, signposts for the exterior and a sculpture of a woman rising like a phoenix-in homage to the Chinese Lantern's owner-which will be mounted on the roof.
Irene Deely, Woman of Steel art gallery, 3640 Chinden, 331-5632, www.ideely.com.