Debbie Edgers Sturges, a 41-year resident of the Wood River Valley, passed away in the early morning hours of Friday, Sept. 5, at home holding hands with her loving husband, Brian. Debbie had been battling cancer for the past year and a half.
Debbie was born June 15, 1951, in Seattle and grew up in the Blue Ridge neighborhood of north Seattle. Debbie learned to ski at an early age and spent her winters at the Yodelin Resort at Stevens Pass. During the summer, she could be found on Fox Island in lower Puget Sound where the family had a 30-acre farm. She loved to pass her time searching for critters living in the kelp in the cove next to their cabin. Debbie was an accomplished flute player but when she was introduced to painting in high school, she found her true passion in life.
Debbie attended the University of Washington where she earned her bachelor’s of fine arts in painting. Later she would be accepted to the prestigious School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and receive her master’s of fine arts in painting. Debbie taught college credit classes for the College of Southern Idaho for almost 20 years as an adjunct professor and introduced many budding artists to a career in the arts.
After college, Debbie was drawn to Sun Valley for the skiing and the lure of participating in an artist community with the newly formed Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities. She worked one day a week at the Center’s Potato Gallery on the Sun Valley Mall as a “Spudette” and got a free ski pass. She often brought her pet skunk to work with her. Debbie got so good at skiing that she was invited to the first Women’s Mogul Competition in Copper Mountain, Colo., in 1975 and was proud to make the first cut. In 1976, Debbie decided to start a coffeehouse and gallery and named it the Ketchum Coffee Grinder and Gallery. She recruited artists from the Center to make the tables, counters, plates and mugs for the new venture. Byron Goheen was her first customer. A few days after opening her doors, two women walked into the space and asked, “What is this?” Debbie proudly replied “A coffee house and art gallery.” They rolled their eyes and said, “Good luck,” and walked out. The coffee house, now owned by her dear friend, Nicola Potts, is still serving espresso today.
Debbie was a true artist. People often asked her where she got her ideas. She told them, “I have plenty of ideas, I just need time.” Even when she was losing her hair and didn’t have much energy, she found time to go into her studio and create. Debbie was a signature member of the Society of Animal Artists. Her work was awarded a Top 100 Achievement in the Arts for the Parks Competition. She was proud to have been invited to participate in the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival Quick Draw as well as the National Museum of Wildlife Art Quick Finish.
Debbie loved wildlife and had a special connection to bears. On several occasions, just because she loved it so much, she traveled to photograph different species: coastal grizzlies in Kukak Bay, Alaska, polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, and black bears in Ely, Minn., and Yellowstone National Park. Debbie felt that it was important to know the habits and personality of the animals she painted so she always worked from her own photographs. Debbie and her husband’s yard in Hailey is known as a sanctuary for wandering bear, moose, raccoons, skunks and flying squirrels. She often told people she was a third-generation raccoon feeder. “I hope to inspire others to personally examine with a curious heart all that surrounds us in the natural world.”
A memorial service has taken place Saturday, Sept. 13, at 5:30 p.m. at the Kneeland Gallery in Ketchum. Many memories, stories and big laughs were shared by all who attended. Donations in Debbie’s name may be sent to the Boulder White Clouds Council, Living with Wolves Foundation, or Hospice and Palliative Care of the Wood River Valley.