There are fish swimming through walls and ducks swimming above your head as if you were walking on the bottom of a pond. An eight-foot flamingo wearing a cowboy hat greets you and all the furniture wear cowboy boots on their feet.
And here’s the strange thing: It’s all surrounded by elegant watercolor paintings inside a classy art gallery in Ketchum.
R.C. Hink’s world is filled with odd characters, mystical adventure, exquisite furniture, and enough sawdust to make a logger jealous. He is a whimsical wood sculptor whose world-renown work is on the edge of eccentric and imaginative. He is the creator of Bootleg Furniture, named for the trademark cowboy boots that give his functional pieces a fanciful flair.
The colorful elegance surrounding Hink’s work is the creation of his wife, Lynn Toneri. She carries a camera on the couple’s worldwide adventures and she impressionistically paints what she photographs – with a twist. She paints how she feels about the subject, rather than how it looks. Her love of nature translates to her intuitive interpretation of the subjects. Most of her subjects are alive in nature so she brings them to life with vivid watercolor.
So we have R.C. Hink, the humorous wood sculptor, and Lynn Toneri, the fun watercolorist. They live in the Wood River Valley simply for its beauty. Both are wildly creative and respected in the art world – but, oddly enough, they met while swing dancing.
“We’re both very creative people and we understand how our minds work because they aren’t traditional,” Hink says. “We know each other’s creative character.”
Hink began working with wood during his teenage years in Montana. His family still uses some of his first furniture pieces, which attests to its quality and durability. In the mid-1980s, Hink fell in love with fly fishing. While catching and releasing beautiful trout, he thought, “Why don’t I carve some of these?”
So he did. His first artistic carving was a rainbow trout, which he promptly cut in half and affixed to opposite sides of a wall to give the feeling that the fish was swimming through it.
A few years later, Hink took off his old worn boots one day and thought, “I gotta carve those suckers.” And the
entire western line with trademark cowboy boots was born. Since then, Hink has carved thousands of boots that function as anything from furniture legs to flower vases. Among his creations are cowboy saddle barstools (which rock back and forth as if you were riding a horse), moose chairs with large antlers as arm rests, and trout lamps with fish swimming in and around the base.
“I’m always trying to challenge myself,” Hink says. “You see all these fun things start happening when you let your mind go have fun. I never grew up – I’m carving the toys of my youth and selling them as artwork.”
By the time Hink started selling his work, Toneri already owned an art gallery. A California native with a college degree in fashion merchandising, she took a ski vacation to Sun Valley in 1968 and is still here.
Toneri has owned her art gallery for 27 years. Nine years ago, the couple married and now their lives center around running the business, creating new pieces and traveling the world’s off-the-beaten-path locations. They lovingly critique each other’s work, as “four artists’ eyes are better than two.” Their work has been sold all over the world.
“We like to do things more adventurous than most people,” Lynn says.
To enter the Lynn Toneri R.C. Hink Gallery in Ketchum (corner of Sun Valley Road and Leadville Avenue) is to enter the minds of its creators. It’s elegant, fun, colorful and lively. Toneri is in charge of the gallery’s design. It reflects her visually-orientated flare for vibrant color. It also reflects the couple’s sense of humor. Hink carves the bottom side of various water creatures – such as ducks and fish – and attaches them to the gallery’s ceiling, giving visitors the odd sensation of walking on the bottom of the pond.
“There is a lot of comic relief throughout the gallery,” Hink says. “If people come in and they’re not smiling or they’re in a bad mood, I don’t want to talk with them. If we can’t cheer them up by showing them this stuff, they’re unreachable.”
Rosie is the happiest flamingo in southern Idaho. The giant pink bird standing outside the gallery is one of the most photographed icons in Ketchum by tourists. Admirers make tributes to Rosie, such as hanging beads
around her neck during Mardi Gras and a sombrero during Cinco de Mayo. It’s fun and it makes people smile, which is the reason Hink carved Rosie – or any of his artwork, for that matter.
The gallery also represents over 30 guest artists at any given time. All levels of art collectors can find a spectrum of unique choices. Among the handfuls of galleries in Ketchum, the Lynn Toneri R.C. Hink Gallery is perhaps the most unique – as are its owners. Neither follows the rules and they describe their lives as “artistic channeled chaos.” The couple seems to fit together like a pair of cowboy boots, one balancing out the other.
“You should do what you love; it’s not about money,” Toneri says.
“Follow your passion,” Hink adds.
The couple’s world has become much like a swing dance: Its purpose isn’t to wind up in a certain place when the music stops – rather, it is to enjoy each step along the way.
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