Long-time art professors Stephen Fisher and Garth Claassen have offices across the hall from one another on the second floor of the Langroise Center for Performing & Fine Arts.
Anyone near their offices on a particular day earlier in April might’ve caught a glimpse of a fun scene.
“Garth was in his office and I was in mine and we were both watching the jury,” said Fisher, who has been at the College for 32 years. “Garth got through, his work made it through the first round, so I ran in and we high-fived and then disappeared back into my office.”
Claassen, who has been at the College for 28 years, did the same when Fisher advanced through the first round as well.
The scene repeated itself as the two veteran art educators continued to advance through the judging process to earn prominent fellowships with the Idaho Commission on the Arts. Over 70 qualified artists from across the state of Idaho applied for the Idaho Commission on the Arts Visual Art Fellowship. Claassen and Fisher were two of the three selected, along with Caroline Earley of Boise State University.
“It’s a blind jury,” said Claassen of the judging process. “They (the judges) don’t know who we are or anything like that. They just pick what they feel are the strongest works.”
This is the third time that Claassen has earned a fellowship with the Idaho Commission on the Arts. It’s the first recognition after several attempts for Fisher.
“It’s a big deal. It’s validation of our work,” said Fisher, who specializes in ceramics. “When you’re working in your studio, you can kind of be off in the middle of nowhere. Then you put your work out there and to get a response like this is really cool.”
Even though Claassen, who specializes in drawing and painting, has received this honor before, it’s still exciting.
“Relieved, surprised, delighted,” Claassen said of his feelings. “The last time I got the fellowship was 2008 and then, every time I applied, no luck.”
The fellowship recognizes Idaho artists whose work demonstrates a commitment to a sustained exploration of their art form and engagement with contemporary practices. This category includes several skills such as ceramics, painting, photography, sculpture, or other art forms that are primarily visual. The state-wide fellowship is awarded every two years and is highly competitive – so much so that the two veteran educators took turns running across the hall to celebrate as the other advanced.
The fellowship comes in the form of a $5,000 award that is co-funded by the Idaho Commission on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. The award stipulates the money must be used to support the development of the fellow’s artistic practice. According to John McMahon of the Idaho Commission, the maximum number of fellowships one artist can receive is three and Claassen is only the fourth person to reach three honors since the fellowship was introduced in 1986.
“It’s a very welcomed infusion of support, both on the practical side and also on the reputation level,” Claassen explained.
Fisher agreed and, after nearly two decades of hearing “no,” finally hearing “yes” will become a teaching tool for him in the classroom.
“It’s developing persistence,” he said. “If you don’t get it, keep going. Do some self-analysis, ask ‘how could I have done better,’ and then try again.”
The College of Idaho has a 130-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition, and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.