The old brick building on the corner of Main and Fifth streets in Moscow had recently undergone a facelift. What were once weathered lavender window frames and a bland beige door have been transformed into contrasting shades of dark gray with a lime green door.
The words “Prichard Art Gallery” on the door and window turned into “Contemporary Moscow”. A step through the door would reveal the thin, diagonal wood floors that led to a vast space with a ceiling that seemed to last forever.
This is not the first time that the sun around which the artistic community of Moscow, one of the three galleries in the city of 25,000 inhabitants, has undergone a major change.
When Roger Rowley took over as gallery director at the University of Idaho’s Prichard Art Gallery in 2004, there was a giant void running along the top of the great wall where it failed to hit the popcorn ceiling. There was also a crack along the same wall, extending almost to the floor. The back room was designed as a half-finished studio, divided into three separate rooms too small to do anything other than storage boxes.
Even with her flaws, Rowley saw enormous potential in the space for galleries, exhibitions, and education.
“We used to cram the kids into this little room, and it was sheer chaos,” Rowley said with a laugh. “It made some great photographs. ”
When Rowley offered a renovation plan to the building’s owners, asking to open up the space at the back and turn it into a large room, they began construction the next morning.
Years later, the space is now renamed by Rowley after UI purchased the retiring police station, revealing plans to install the Prichard in the building down the street once a new one is built. police station completed.
“He’s a really interesting guy,” said Gregory Turner-Rahman, associate professor of art and design at UI. “He has a vision of what he thinks, well not what he thinks, but what he knows, will really suit this region. We will have the Moscow Contemporary gallery, we will have our university galleries, and there are a host of other galleries, like the one in City Hall, which have made a very vibrant arts community for years. Roger made the Prichard the linchpin of this.
After spending a lifetime working in studios and galleries, he finally created his own. But the path to his goal was sometimes treacherous and spontaneous.
Rowley’s journey began with photography. After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he received his BA in Fine Arts, Rowley traveled to Rochester, New York, to work in a visual arts studio and earn his masters in fine arts.
“This place was crazy,” Rowley said. “It was basically a warehouse, and each semester the students spent their first few weeks cleaning the place, making sure we could work there. There was no concierge staff to clean it for us. We did it ourselves.
From Rochester, Rowley turned to Washington State University after being offered a position as Curator of Exhibitions and Manager of Collections. He and his growing family moved to Moscow on Halloween 2000. Three and a half years after accepting the job at WSU, Rowley’s job was terminated. He applied and was accepted as director of Prichard at the end of 2004.
Rowley said the first time the Dean of the College of Art and Architecture, who was Joe Zeller at the time, met him after Rowley accepted the job, he was told “You were my second choice.”
After 17 years as the director of Prichard, Rowley had established himself as an icon in the community. The rebuilding of the Prichard was only one of the feats he accomplished.
Toward the end of Rowley’s time at college, one of the exhibits he brought to the gallery was that of world-renowned contemporary artist Zimoun, who filled the Prichard with a variety of sounds essential to his work as part of his 2019 exhibition in Moscow.
Imagine the giant wall, the same one that previously had a crack through to a void at the top, covered with over 100 boxes. Inside each of these boxes is a small electric motor spinning a wire with a cotton ball attached, bang bang constantly banging against the cardboard. Other rooms were filled with dance sticks, which echoed off the wooden floors of the gallery as they whirled wildly.
While the art exhibit itself was not the most eye-catching piece with its monotony and industrial colors, the sense of community it gave was well worth the expense of exhibiting a renowned artist. international at Rowley.
“There was a girl who came with her mother and she had sensory issues,” Rowley said. “I was afraid she would have a hard time seeing the Zimoun exhibit, but she walked in and looked so relaxed. She would walk in and spend hours in one of the smaller rooms, listening to the sounds. Her mother brought her several times.
Rowley said that something that a lot of people get confused about is trying to judge it by the appearance of the works rather than the substance of what it might mean, what inspired the creation. He continues to make the gallery a place where the community can come to find inspiration and learn.
After Rowley’s position at UI ended, he was again excluded from an art college program. He now wishes to continue on a new path with the Moscow Contemporary, where he can still be involved in the Moscow art scene and be free from any restrictions related to his affiliation with a larger organization.
“I think he wants to bring the city, and all the good things you get in the city in terms of art, to us here,” Turner-Rahman said. “And I think what it does is it makes people, it expands people’s worlds, their horizons, that shows them that kind of world outside of the potential weird ideas that grow a new art.”
Anteia McCollum can be contacted at [email protected]