It’s 10 o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday, and Bradd Skubinna and Larry Ellingson are standing in the bathroom. It’s hardly your average john: there are no tubes of toothpastes or bars of soap in sight. The walls of Ellingson’s bathroom are covered in Peruvian retablos, demonic masks, and just off the corner of the tub, a full-sized terra-cotta warrior from China.
Skubinna, a fellow member of the Saranac Art Projects, a local nonprofit artist cooperative, has stopped by to paw through Ellingson’s house. He walks in and out of the bedrooms, meanders through his living room. It’s something Ellingson has agreed to for the purposes of one of two art exhibits happening this month at the Saranac — a show called ARTifacts.
The idea behind the show is to offer a glimpse into the minds of the artists of the Saranac, but this time not through the work they do. Skubinna, as juror, walks through the homes and studios of each of the co-op’s 21 artists, picking interesting objects that they surround themselves with.
“Doing another show of our work seemed kind of boring,” Skubinna says. “It would be more interesting to choose things people have around them.”
In some cases, the objects are “creative touchstones”: things that inspire each artist. In others, it might be an object they look past every day that simply jumps out at Skubinna.
Skubinna, who also teaches art at Spokane Falls Community College and Whitworth University, seems to know that it’s an odd idea for an art exhibition. And he admits it’s not as easy as he thought to pick out objects from each artist. “I thought it would be really simple,” he says. “I’ve felt more invasive … here’s this guy walking around their houses.”
But Ellingson is enthusiastic about Skubinna’s arrival. His South Hill home is a gallery in itself: works of Northwest artists like Mel McCuddin, Robert Grimes and Andrew Bohl cover the walls of his living room. His bathroom is a shrine to masks. His studio is filled with artifacts of every kind: yellow road stripes, a G.I. Joe, bowling trophies, old trumpets.
His bedroom is covered with ceramic tiles from around the world. There’s a brightly colored Friedensreich Hundertwasser composition made from old faxes. A mannequin wearing a dress made of sticky notes and to-do reminders. A Ganesh statue.
Ellingson leads him to something else, though: on the table in his bedroom sits a realistic set of human teeth with bright pink gums attached to a rotary handle of sorts. It’s an old dental articulator — a macabre-looking device.
“When I was growing up, they would take castings of teeth and they’d match the gums that way,” Ellingson says. “My Ferrari and my cabin at the lake are pretty much in my mouth because I’ve had terrible teeth all my life.” He chuckles.
“So this speaks to you,” Skubinna says.
But not all objects showcased in ARTifacts are necessarily sentimental. From surrealist artist Ryan Babcock, Skubinna selected a set of three photographs that he found in his house. The photographs — a portrait of John F. Kennedy, a snapshot of a boy named Jack and a photo of mobsters holding machine guns — belonged to Babcock’s grandparents. “But they didn’t know who Jack was,” Skubinna says.
Porcelain Madonnas and folk art paintings, amateur paintings done by family members, photos of famous artists — they’ll all sit side-by-side in this show.
And now, a set of someone’s teeth.
ARTifacts • On display Fri, July 5 through Sat, July 27; open Thu from noon-5 pm, Fri and Sat from noon-8 pm • Opening reception: Fri, July 5, from 5-8 pm • Saranac Art Projects • 25 W. Main Ave. • saranacartprojects.wordpress.com