By: Toby Reynolds / Benefit Photo by: Joel Riner
I’m following Steve down stairs to get a look at some of his originals
when his legs give out and he drops straight down to sit safely on the steps. He says nothing.
I wait a moment.
“Shall I help you up,” I ask, and he seems relieved that together we can just be normal regarding his battle with ALS. I reach under his arms and lift him to his feet. Then, we continue on into a basement filled with fabulous art. It’s a treasure trove, really, and I feel a bit like Indiana Jones, with the bare stone walls, and the room filled with rows and rows of magnificent artifacts. As I admire the surroundings, I become strikingly aware of how I feel regarding a particular Robert Grimes piece that I do not have on reserve/layaway down here. Steve told me I’d regret it. And, well….
“It doesn’t hurt,” he says as we walk to the back of the trove. “The muscles just stop working sometimes.” But it’s all happening so fast. I’m worried. “In a few more weeks I won’t be able to wash my own hair,” he says, and lifts the one arm that’s still listening to him as high as he can. He can barely reach the top of his head.
Steve was diagnosed in June. It’s only September.
On Oct. 15 my wife and I find ourselves at a local club. Not really our scene, but tonight we make an exception. We stand on a dance floor shoulder to shoulder with the crowd, music loud over the sound system. Many of them are strangers to us, yet tonight we are also friends. As I raise my hand to join their upraised glasses in a toast directed by Cris Lucas of The Rub (Cary Beare, Michael Koep and Cris), we toast to love. We toast to Steve Gibbs. And in doing so, we are toasting a life of adventure, a life of art, and life well lived. So well lived, in fact, that it is both for and because of Steve that we are here tonight. Hence, we are all friends, because any friend of Steve’s is a friend of mine.
“Do whatever you do intensely.
The artist is the man who
leaves the crowd and goes
pioneering. With him there is
an idea which is his life.”
Robert Henri, The Art Spirit
As I recall, it was a sunny summer day the first time I stepped through the door of The Art Spirit Gallery. The first art to catch my eye was a piece by Robert Grimes. It struck me, and I stood for some time admiring it. Taking it in. Trying to understand why I felt the way I did about it. It was then, while pulled completely out of the mundane world, that I first met Steve Gibbs.
“What do you think,” he might have said. I don’t remember exactly. But my reply was “I love it. It moves me. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Of course, Steve then proceeded to introduce me to Mr. Grimes via Robert’s work and Steve’s close interaction with the man. He described him to me, telling me of his stature, his quiet mannerisms, his dedication to his art and his method. It was clear to me at that moment, that here was an artist describing an artist. Indeed, describing a dear friend. I have since come to understand this was the norm for Steve. He loved his artists, and they loved him. Steve, then proceeded to give me a tour of the entire gallery, speaking in slightly less detail about every artist that made me pause. We did not, after all, have all day.
After the tour, I mentioned an artist of my own. An artist named Joseph Cowman, whom I thought Steve would appreciate. And Steve, as is his way, took sincere interest. He went to his computer and looked him up so we could discuss his work a bit.
I did not know then, but it is with this same passion that Steve approached life, this same intensity that would cause him to ski every month of a year, and that would find him in a kayak on smooth waters watching the sun come up and/or go down. It was with this same passion that Steve began bolstering an art community that would take root and grow into what it is today.
Capturing memories with his lovely Debi Terracciano.
This was the Steve Gibbs I met, and The Art Spirit Gallery took root in a tender corner of my heart, and with it, Steve Gibbs.
“A great painter will know a
great deal about how he did
it, but still he will say, “How
did I do it?” The real artist’s
work is a surprise to himself.”
Robert Henri, The Art Spirit
When Steve moved to Coeur d’Alene in 1994, it was not his intention to open and own an art gallery. That had come as a surprise, a suggestion from artist and friend, John Thamm. He’d come to pursue his interest in fine art. He’d come seeking an instructor. John’s instruction turned out to be good for much more than art creation, and his friendship invaluable.
Steve speaks easily, completely at peace with the unexpected change of plans and careers. “I sort of miss not having done that,” he says, speaking of producing his own fine art. “But on the other hand, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve done with the gallery. So I couldn’t complain about that.”
There were several other surprises. For instance, Steve hadn’t intended on serving four terms as art commissioner for the State of Idaho, nor had he thought he’d be so key in the formation of Coeur d’Alene’s Arts and Culture Alliance. I doubt he imagined his idea to start an ‘ArtWalk’ would become such a mainstay for downtown Coeur d’Alene. He certainly hadn’t thought his hand in nurturing the art community should have earned him so much credit and appreciation, so much love from both artists and the community in general.
Indeed, Steve’s work has truly been a surprise to himself. This July, The Art Spirit Gallery will celebrate their 20th year and 200th show.
“The end will be what it will
be. The object is intense
living, fulfillment; the great
happiness in creation.”
Robert Henri, The Art Spirit
I’m so sorry, Steve, that I was not able to finish this story before you left. I’d have liked for you to read it, if only to feel how much you were appreciated and loved by this community. Yet, I think you knew. And it would seem this story could not have been completed any other way.
I attended Steve’s memorial. The greatest part for me was when the artists were asked to stand. There were so many. Many of them I recognized. Many more I did not. Steve made a difference in so many lives. Although his memory will continue to do so, Steve is done with that now. I imagine him sitting in a celestial kayak, looking over a sunset like no other, and saying to all of us whose lives he’s taken part in, “Now, it’s your turn. Go do something good for someone. Go make a difference. Be selfless.”
Shakin’ and Groovin’ at the Steve Gibbs Benefit hosted by The Rub, and surrounded by masses of loving friends.
“I have no regrets,” Steve recently told me, a peaceful smile on his lips. I’ve heard others say that as they tried to bury guilt, or hide behind it to guard from their fears of what they felt was true. Perhaps they were merely trying to be strong. But this is not the case with Steven J. Gibbs. It shows brightly, honestly, in his countenance. “I have no regrets,” he said. And I believe him.
On Oct. 15, as we leave the party, I look back for one more glimpse at what Steve has created. Steve is on his feet dancing in the midst of more friends – loved ones – than I believe he imagined he’d ever have. Debi, his dear partner, leans in, stretching to her toes to reach him. She says something sweet into his ear, her eyes sparkling. Steve throws back his head, the most genuine smile brightening his face as he, laughing, continues to dance to music played especially for him.
Steve was especially particular when choosing his successor. During his battle with ALS Steve, Blair and Kacey collaborated tirelessly to ensure the gallery would continue on the path Steve had set. The Art Spirit Gallery has recently partnered with the University of Idaho in an effort to provide special opportunities for the community to experience art.