By Ben Olson
Publisher’s note: In any small arts town, there are always a handful of individuals who quietly do the important work of building a community. These are the people who show up to board meetings on hot summer nights to discuss fundraising, who paint murals and create public art for Sandpointians to see, who bring culture and organize events that span generations. This series of articles aims to shine a light on some of those locals who often don’t get the recognition they deserve. If you would like to nominate a local to be featured in this new series, contact Reader Publisher Ben Olson at [email protected]
Chances are, even if you don’t know Doug Jones, you’ve seen his artwork around Sandpoint. Jones’ family moved to Sandpoint from the small southern Idaho town of Rupert when he was 11 years old. From an early age, Jones knew he wanted to become an artist.
“I’d been drawing on the chalkboard since I was 4,” he told the Reader. “I’d always been interested in art, making animated films, painting. I always knew I wanted to do it [as a career].”
Jones grew up in a house on the corner of First Avenue and Dearborn Street and attended Sandpoint Middle and High schools. His first art class was from Dr. Bailey, a local character who owned the Woodworkers of the World building that used to be located at Fourth Avenue and Alder Street, where the new Bonner General Health building now sits.
“He was a big guy, a perfect small town character,” he said. “He wore this little beret and lived in a trailer out in Trestle Creek, and would give little housewife painting lessons. He would say things like, ‘Remember to put some holes in the trees for the birds to fly through.’ My twin brother and I took that painting class.”
After a few years of college at Spokane Falls, Jones traveled around Europe before eventually gravitating back to Sandpoint.
“I got stuck back in the pit,” he said with a smile. “Sand pit.”
Jones always wanted to be an architect or animator. After he moved back to Sandpoint, he dug into the emerging artistic cultural movement the town experienced during the 1970s and ’80s. He taught art classes, designed T-shirts, produced paintings, ran the film projector at the Panida Theater and lived the starving artist lifestyle the best way he knew how.
One day, while sitting on the sand at Sandpoint City Beach, Scott Glickenhaus (who originally built the Cedar St. Bridge) saw Jones and asked if he’d like to contribute some design sketches for what the bridge would ultimately become.
“I worked on that project for four years until it was completed,” he said. “I completed the concept drawing on a Sunday night while watching the ash build up on May 18, 1980 [when Mt. St. Helens erupted]. The next day they had the city council meeting in the old City Hall and approved the design.”
Jones also worked closely with then-Schweitzer Mountain Resort owner Bobbie Huguenin to draw some of the first trail maps for the ski resort.
“Bobbie was a very big patron, as well as a friend and supporter of mine from the early days,” he said.
Jones participated in the first Sandpoint Arts and Crafts Faire, which gave birth to the Pend Oreille Arts Council more than four decades ago. After ArtWalk got started, he sold a few of his paintings over the years and helped contribute what he could to make sure it came back strong every year.
One of Jones’ largest public murals is the tree painted on the north side of the Eve’s Leaves building next to what is known as the “old Arlo’s building,” which has now been demolished. It’s hard to see the mural now over the construction barriers, but it’s still there — at least for the time being.
Prior to 1984, the Dalby family owned a service station next to Cedar St. Bridge. The space turned into an artsy shop with the Cottage Craftsman gallery located there, thanks in large part to Susan Dalby and Marilyn Sabella.
Sabella, who owns Eve’s Leaves next door, used to have her shop across the street but made the move to her current location when the building became vacant.
Sabella tapped some of the local artists in town to help paint artwork on the wall, including Jones, Dan Shook, Susan Dalby, Mark DeLavergne and others.
“There were all these people that came out, so we bought some beer and pizza and Doug was the ringmaster,” Sabella told the Reader. “He’d hand you a can of paint and say, ‘This is dark green, you do the stems; this is light green, you’ll do the leaves; here’s a can of yellow, you’ll do the little dots at the center of the flowers.’ I’m glad you’re shining a light on Doug. He’s so amazing.”
After the inside artwork was finished, Sabella tapped Jones to produce a big mural on the north-facing wall.
“She wanted an Eve’s Leaves theme, with an apple and the forbidden fruit concept,” Jones said.
After a painter air sprayed the wall with blue and green shades of paint to produce the foundation for the piece, Jones rolled up his sleeves and got to work producing the mural.
“It was all hand-painted, mostly with sponge brushes,” Jones said. “The one-inch brush was perfect for layering all of those leaves and highlights on branches.”
Jones said he borrowed a pump jack for the scaffolding, which only allowed him about 14 inches in width to stand on.
“I’m not a big heights fan,” Jones said. “Hanging off a chairlift, though? No problem.”
Jones would mix up a tray of paint, climb up carefully and piece together the mural using latex paint.
“Because it’s north facing, it hasn’t faded much,” he said. “I looked into doing a seal coat, but it would’ve yellowed, so I was advised against that. I learned a lot of this when I worked at the Paint Bucket after I got out of college in 1978 or so, so I knew a little bit about that.”
The completed work of art was actually the first public art mural in Sandpoint, followed soon after by many others at the old Belwoods building, Foster’s Crossing and more.
With the demolition and new construction looming, Jones said the fate of the tree mural on First Avenue is in question.
“I know it’s going to disappear,” he said. “I’ve seen Sandpoint change from a one-horse logging town to one that’s desperate to become another Aspen or Tahoe. I guess it doesn’t really bother me [if the mural is replaced]. It’s seen its day. It has meaning for people beyond what I’d ever thought. Over the years so many people have had their pictures taken in front of it.”
Another iconic piece of art Jones created was the old cartoon maps of Sandpoint that most of us who have been around for a while still remember. (Publisher’s note: I used to spread those maps on my living room floor as a child and “drive” my toy cars around the streets, making sure to stop carefully at every intersection.)
With all the new construction and new faces in town now, it’s easy to overlook the contributions that artists and community leaders made decades ago. The loud voices often receive the most attention, while the quiet ones who do the work and act as stewards to the community are often overlooked for the important contributions they have made.
“[In the 1980s] we helped to change the direction, the fabric and approach of Sandpoint to keep it young, educated,” Jones said. “To sustain that kind of artistic community there needed to be a major donor. But now that opportunity is gone. … I gave up hoping a long time ago. I’m not a noise maker, I guess I’m kind of a grease in the mechanism. I don’t mind being a little tailor, stitching away. I’ve gotten by. The universe has provided, and I’m doing quite well considering. I’m still holding onto the mantle of a starving artist.”
Comparing the Sandpoint he knew going back to the late 1960s to the Sandpoint of today, Jones said he’s mostly accepted the change.
“It’s inevitable,” he said. “I’ve seen so much change. I accept what’s going down. It’s very precious memories of those — now getting to be fewer and fewer — people who shared all that and can recall.
“I don’t know that a lot of these people who arrived here [recently] even have a clue or a grasp of what community is like and how you build community. You don’t just step into it, and you certainly don’t treat it like, ‘I just discovered this place, it didn’t exist before I laid eyes on it,’” he added. “I know the value of contributing as a member of a community, which all comes about from life in a small town, watching things grow, seeing what a small group of people can do. Even if you throw a bunch of money at something, it’s not the same as rolling up your sleeves and doing the work.”
Whether it’s his artistic contributions to the community, or the quiet, thankless tasks like weed-whacking behind the Panida Theater, Jones exemplifies what it means to be a steward to a beautiful place like Sandpoint. Thanks to his — and many others’ — work, our town is a little brighter.
The more of Old Sandpoint we cover up and destroy, the further we travel from that community that drew us — or kept us — here in the first place.
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