Story by Pamela Kleinbrink Thompson, Photos by Jim Peterson
Eagle’s colorful history is now accessible in black and white. A series of large-scale sketches depicting iconic scenes from Eagle’s history is hanging in Eagle City Hall. A four part series of drawings by Meridian artist Byron Schexnayder includes an 8 foot by 4 foot presentation of the broad daylight Bank of Eagle robbery by Idaho’s Bonnie and Clyde–Dora Douglas and Oliver “Derby” Jones–in 1924. (To read more about the Bank of Eagle robbery see the article by Pamela Kleibrink Thompson in the March/April 2014 issue of Eagle Magazine.)
Another penciled scene shows city pioneer Thomas Aikens campaigning for a bridge over the Boise River at the tail end of the 19th century. The City Council’s chambers is home to a scene of the digging of irrigation canals in what is now Eagle. Schexnayder’s drawing of the bucket brigade that helped save the Eagle Merc from a blaze sparked by fireworks July 4, 1946, hangs in Mayor Stan Ridgeway’s office. The first design Schexnayder did was of the Mercantile fire. “That really showed the character of the town where even the town leaders were frantically shoveling buckets of water because they loved their town so much,” stated Byron Schexnayder.
“I wanted to touch on what made the community what it is,” shared Schexnayder. Instead of generic landscape and waterway scenes, he offered a connection to the town’s history.
“The four scenes are dramatizations of actual events that were derived from my two months of research on this project,” reflects Schexnayder. ”Working very closely with Alana Dunn, the Eagle City Historical director, I picked four stories that we both agreed resonated the town of Eagle in those days. I wanted something that showed the strong commonwealth that the people shared and what made them who they are. And of course the bank robbery was just something I couldn’t resist because I’m such a big western fan!”
Schexnayder chose the final four from 12 different subjects, including the old produce factory, the old penitentiary that was used for farm land, the front of the mercantile building, the Jackson’s store, the trolley rail, and others.
“The Breaking Open of the Boise River was what I considered the inception of the town as the leaders of that time understood that they needed more water to feed all the new residents that moved into the area for the mining business. There was a photograph of a man working these two horses and I thought that would be perfect to create this dramatic effect of the water bursting out behind them with the leaders surveying the project. The famous daylight robbery of the Eagle bank where the bank clerk was locked up in the vault with his daughter and the culprits were caught the next day had such an old western pulp fiction comic feel to it that that’s how I designed the mural. And the Boise River Bridge Vote I found so interesting because of what Thomas Aikens did to win the vote. He went to the old civil war veterans retirement home, got some old vets, put them in a fancy carriage, threw a big picnic, and put up a big banner and gave a big speech. Politics in its essence! And it was a perfect scene for the assembly room where it is displayed.”
Schexnayder was awarded a $12,500 contract to decorate City Hall. His concept of a four-part series of history-inspired drawings was installed last year. Schexnayder is originally from Tupelo, Mississippi, and is a professional artist specializing in portraiture, illustration, printmaking, comic books, and mural art. “I am currently applying for other mural projects and I am always donating artwork to raise money for charities. I am also the director of the America Arts Research Institute that I am helping to establish a local branch of that institute here in Boise, ID. This is an internationally renowned art organization that has 70 branches throughout the world.” Look for their debut art show at the Grove Hotel in June 2017.
Mayor Ridgeway believes public art has a role to play in preserving memories of Eagle’s past. “Eagle has a really rich history,” Ridgeway said. He points out that Eagle’s farmland is being developed and converted to subdivisions. With a commitment to public art, he feels he can help preserve history at the same time. “To capture our history before it gets away, I think, is very important. And that’s one of my focuses: to bring all of this together and make sure Eagle remains what people moved here for.”
Meg Glasgow, a former chairwoman of the Eagle Arts Commission, framed Schexnayder’s project at her business The Gallery at Finer Frames. “Eagle has the potential to be one of the best small art towns in America,” noted Glasgow. “Through public art programs, the City can continue to preserve our community’s heritage while looking to the future. Art allows people to experience history in new and meaningful ways. Byron’s pieces are a perfect example of that.”
Ridgeway and Glasgow, with the help of artists like Schexnayder are pushing Eagle’s art and historic preservation culture forward.
For more info about Byron Schexnayder visit byronschexnayder.com or his Facebook business page.