Community July 24, 2008

Sun Valley Vintage

When Kristin Owens set about decorating her new home at the base of Baldy, she knew exactly what kind of tone she wanted to impart: vintage Sun Valley.

She hung vintage art of the Sun Valley Lodge and other Sun Valley scenes throughout her house. And she augmented them with an antique sleigh and wooden toboggans, which she hung on the walls along with old skis and ski boots.

“I have an intense love for the whole Sun Valley thing—the history, the beauty of the area,” says Owens, who lives here part-time with her husband Michael. “It’s a magical place for me. And I want to evoke some of that feeling in my house. It’s not tremendously over-the-top-Sun Valley, but it does offer a flavor of the area.”

Owens’ association with the area started with her grandparents, who owned the first PepsiCo bottling company in the Northwest in Astoria, Oregon. They came to Sun Valley when it was in its heyday and built a board-and-batten house in Ketchum near Ernest Hemingway’s house.

Owens’ father, a Twin Falls doctor, brought his family here whenever possible. And she and her siblings relished the opportunity to snowmobile to the Hemingway house, race toy boats down streams, learn ice skating from Herman Maricich, sled on red lunch trays they borrowed from Dollar Mountain Cabin,  and ski Baldy in old leather boots.

“We loved it here so much that we spent every minute we could,” Owens recalls. “We wouldn’t even go home Sunday nights—my dad would get us up at 4 Monday mornings to drive us back to Twin Falls to school because we wanted to spend as much time here as we could. Whenever anyone asks me to go to my happy place, it’s always Ketchum.”

Owens’ nostalgic decorating approach is not unusual, says Barbara Browning, saleswoman for Stulhberg & Co., a Ketchum home furnishings store.
“It’s all about memories. We all like to relive how it was when we were children. My husband, for instance, was born in the Sun Valley Lodge when it was a hospital. So I’m always looking for little things that commemorate the lodge.”

Second homeowners, in particular, love to decorate with Sun Valley memorabilia, vintage Sun Valley artwork and rustic outdoor furnishings. And with good reason, says Lori Berier, who owns Topnotch Furniture.

“Sun Valley has such a strong, rich history with our sheep industry, which brought the railroad and subsequently made it possible for Averell Harriman to choose Sun Valley as a destination ski resort. People appreciate our Sun Valley heritage and they want to incorporate it into their lifestyle. It is a beautiful place and they want to show off why it is they love Sun Valley.”

Topnotch tries to incorporate Union Pacific and Sun Valley memorabilia into homes, where practical, Berier says. And they have plenty to choose from—from a 5-foot-long Union Pacific sign to an advertisement of Sun Valley that boasts:  “Splendid steam-heated rooms with radio, blinds, shared bath. Doubles $3-$7.50.” >>>


Canoes can be hung from high ceilings to display their beautiful underside. Or, lights can be mounted on them turning them into a functional piece of artwork.

Ore carts and old logging sleds have been turned into coffee tables, representing the area’s mining and logging history. Many people collect and frame Wagon Days posters to display the area’s Wild West aspect.

Old ski signs from Galena Lodge or trail signs pointing the way to Alpine Lake evoke pleasant thoughts of the area’s skiing and hiking. Antler chandeliers and coat racks play up Sun Valley’s wildlife. And fly rods, woven fishing baskets and waders can be arranged to tell the tale of the area’s superb fly fishing.

“More and more we see women getting involved so we try to give the fly-fishing theme a little touch of femininity,” Berier says. “We even have a beautiful hand-painted wooden sign of a woman fishing in the Big Wood River.”

For many people, the more kitschy, the more campy, the better, says Susan Seder, owner of Fox Creek Interiors.

“Some people like to mount replicas of old ads promoting Sun Valley that appeared in magazines like Harper’s. They’re kind of hokey little ads—really kind of funny. I’ve even seen people mount the old white cardboard shirt boxes that Sun Valley returned laundry in. Others display the old china from Union Pacific.”

A number of stores carry vintage Sun Valley signs, including Welcome Home of Sun Valley and Country Cousins.

One of the premiere places to get your Sun Valley memorabilia fix is the Sun Valley Village.

Sun Valley Gifts offers freestanding coat racks made out of wooden skis with cable bindings that cost between $795 and $895. There are picture frames boasting the names of Sun Valley ski runs and leather pillows for $255 that feature the familiar picture of Sun Valley’s Olympic gold medalist Gretchen Fraser.

Old travel ads mounted on tin cost $76.

“For skiers who want everything . . . up to the instant facilities . . . the time of your life,” says one.

“Welcome to our winter retreat, Sun Valley, Idaho . . . You’re among friends,” says another.

Signatures in Sun Valley offers even more items, including commemorative Sun Valley millennial plates and Four Seasons pictures by Jane Wooster Scott featuring people enjoying Sun Valley’s golf course, swan pond, ice rink and Baldy.

There are giclée prints of Trail Creek, buckskin-fringed pillows of the old Sun Valley buses, 18-inch handmade bronze Sun Valley suns, Sun Valley bells manufactured in Innsbruck, Austria, handmade Sun Valley wool rugs, vintage Union Pacific calendars, hand-painted kiln-fired tiles featuring scenes of Sun Valley and Sun Valley ornaments made of mouth-blown glass that have been hand-painted inside.

Several shops, including Stuhlberg’s, carry Nancy Liston’s hand-painted clayware featuring the Sun Valley barn, Pioneer Saloon and other local landmarks.“People love to display these or even give them as weddings gifts because everyone who comes here knows the Sun Valley barn and the Pio,” says Stuhlberg’s Browning.

Also popular are black and white photographs of the old single-chair chairlift on  Exhibition and other nostalgic pieces by Ray Atkeson and Warren Miller that range in price from $80 to $170.

“They’re especially popular with those who have been coming here for a while or who have lived here for a while because they evoke a memory or help them to see part of the mountain in a new light,” says Jerry Hadam, owner of Saddletree Gallery. “I love the one of Roundhouse Slope, for instance, because it’s one of my favorite runs. I don’t know how many times I’ve hiked up to get in those three extra turns. Another might look at this one and say: That’s the South Slope! That was a big winter!” >>>


Sun Valley memorabilia truly is within anyone’s price range.

You can buy the familiar poster of the skier with Sun Valley’s ice rink and opera house in the background for $25 at Saddletree.

Put it on Art Care Restore, which resembles poster board with glue on it, put it in a hot press and you have a nice reinforced poster that won’t wrinkle, says Richard Rush. Laminate the poster and you can hang it in bathroom and sauna. Or, dress it up by setting it on a fabric mat and framing it with a rustic wooden frame.

Those willing to spend more can pay $1,325 at Topnotch for a 5-foot-by-3-foot framed computer-generated piece that’s considered an actual work of art. Or even commission an artist such as Nancy Liston to create a painted version of your favorite cover (copyright laws permitting), such as the 9-foot-tall rendition of the 1936 Life magazine cover hanging over the fireplace at the River Run Lodge.

The latter was painted on canvas in France and sent to the United States, Browning says. “They’re not originals but they look very nice and very authentic. And they serve as the focal point for your wall so you don’t have to buy several pieces of art.”   

The objects that can add a finishing touch to your display of Sun Valley memorabilia are getting harder to find. Topnotch, for instance, combs auctions, estate and antique sales to find wooden toboggans, snowshoes and skis that evoke Sun Valley’s past. Sometimes they need to be repaired before they can be put out on the sales floor. Always, they get a coat of wax to bring out the highlights of the wood.

Vintage Sun Valley memorabilia can be found on eBay. But you have to be careful, cautioned one store buyer. Not only do you have to know what you’re looking for but you have to be prepared for the bidding to escalate sharply just before it’s due to end.

Sometimes Sun Valley memorabilia may be easier to find elsewhere. Barbara Shelton, for instance, began collecting it in antique and junk shops in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she and her husband Dick lived before moving to Sun Valley recently.

She found a folder of ten 15-inch vintage travel ad pictures that she framed for her hallway with special spot lighting. She found Life magazine covers of Sun Valley dating back to 1937.

She found vintage Sun Valley postcards, including a 1945 postcard that a Navy man wrote on while convalescing at the Sun Valley Lodge during World War II. She found sheet music for such songs as “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” which she says Glenn Miller introduced in the movie Sun Valley Serenade. She also found decorative plates featuring the Challenger Inn and other Sun Valley scenes that she’s displayed above her kitchen desk.

“We came here for a long weekend in the early 1990s and we kept coming back,” she says. “We collected Sun Valley memorabilia because we wanted to live here so badly. It’s easy to find back in the Midwest because they don’t know where Idaho is. And now that we’re here, we’ve found that they’re great conversation pieces—Sun Valley has such a rich history.

This article appears in the Spring 2008 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.