A downtown Boise icon hasn’t been within almost a mile of downtown Boise for ten years.
It was charming.
It made people smile.
It was admired by Boiseans and visitors alike.
Can you guess what it was?
If not, it’s because you’re a newcomer who’s never seen it or it’s been so long since you have seen it that you’ve all but forgotten it.
It’s Keepsies, the sculpture of kids playing marbles that occupied a place in the Grove public plaza and the hearts of its admirers from 1987 to 2012. It was “temporarily” taken down and moved a decade ago to make way for a construction project.
And it still hasn’t returned to where it belongs, to where it should be displayed and enjoyed in one of the city’s most public settings. Its supposedly temporary location has been at the Dick Eardley Senior Center, 690 Robbins Road.
Eardley was a Boise mayor. The center named for him is in a quiet neighborhood in East Boise. Too quiet, arguably, for a piece of public art that should be in a busier, more public place.
“It’s in a lovely little quiet square, but there used to be so much traffic and so many more people who saw it at the Grove,” Mary Grandjean said. “Children and old people and everyone in between loved that piece. It speaks to everyone.”
Grandjean has a personal interest in Keepsies. Her children were the models for the kids in the sculpture. And Ann LaRose, the artist and former Boisean who did the sculpture, is a good friend of hers.
“It was Ann’s first life-sized sculpture, and she really put her heart and soul into it,” Grandjean said. “That’s why it’s touched so many people and why they respond to it the way they do. I’d love to see it back in the Grove so it can be seen by more of our citizens. It’s truly a jewel.”
Keepsies may have been LaRose’s first life-sized sculpture, but it’s far from being her last. She sculpted the figures of Esther Simplot and three children at the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Center, a larger than life (nine-foot) statue of College of Idaho Founder William Judson Boone and a life-sized sculpture of grocery store magnate Joe Albertson and his wife, Kathryn, which graces the headquarters of the Albertson Foundation.
Her work can be found in public buildings and private homes around the county. She’s done sculptures for the owner of the Chicago Cubs. Her bust of an admiral and Medal of Honor recipient is the only sculpture by a woman at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Keepsies remains special for her “because it was my first,” she said. It was the first time I had to think about how I was going to go with my career and not let any negative comments get to me or change my style. I had to remain true to what I wanted to do, and it established my later work. People looked at Keepsies and said, ‘Oh, yes. We want something in that style.’ It was the base that I worked from.”
Like Grandjean, she’d like to see Keepsies back at the Grove. Its current location at the senior center “isn’t a terrible setting,” she said, “and I’m sure the people there like it. But it’s not where it’s supposed to go. When the city called and told me they wanted to move it and asked if that would be okay, they told me it would be brought back, that it would be temporary.”
Neither she nor Grandjean – or I, for that matter – could remember what the construction project was that made the city want to move it. Not surprising after ten years.
Anyone who grew up with them can relate to playing marbles. It was a favorite pastime in the neighborhood of my youth. We’d draw a circle in the dirt of an alley and play for hours. We played keepsies, of course; I kept the marbles I won in a bag with a drawstring and spent hours admiring and polishing my favorites. Those were happy times.
Do kids still play marbles today? I don’t know. My kids didn’t, but the first place they went when we took them to the Grove was Keepsies. It didn’t matter that they didn’t play marbles. They could relate to the kids playing marbles in the sculpture.
Grandjean plans to hand-deliver a letter to Mayor Lauren McLean asking that Keepsies be returned to the Grove.
In a Facebook post, Grandjean wrote that Keepsies “has been known, loved and treasured by young and old for over three decades. It represents what we as Idahoans and Boiseans value – childhood, family, community, and the pure joy to be experienced on a summer day with a couple of friends and a bag of marbles.”
Her post led to dozens of people ‘reaching out to me on Facebook and Instagram. People from all over the U.S. and even Europe – friends and friends of friends … People have come out of the woodwork. They couldn’t believe Keepsies had been moved. They want it back.”
“It’s nothing against the senior center,” LaRose said. “It’s a nice location for the right piece. They could have a sculpture in both places.”
Mayor McLean, if you read this, I hope you’ll look into having Keepsies moved back. It’s part of what made downtown Boise a fun place to go for a long time, and ten years away is more than long enough. It needs to go home.