Yellowstone Art Museum turns 50

December 01, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The former Yellowstone Art Center opened in October 1964 in a building that formerly housed the Yellowstone County Jail. As the Yellowstone Art Museum marks its 50th anniversary, the Billings Gazette is collaborating with the YAM to spotlight art in the museum’s permanent collection over the coming months.

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  • The Yellowstone Art Museum staff refers to its Visible Vault as the community’s “treasure house.”

    And it is. The vault holds significant moments in Montana’s history, dating back to territorial days. It is a record of cultural legacy as told through personal accounts by artists, photographers and sculptors.

    And what better facility to keep these treasures than the state-of-the-art vault, located on North 26th Street, just east of the museum. Every one of the 7,400 works of art and artifacts were donated to the museum or purchased using community donations. So, in essence, it’s our stuff.

    The collection began the year the museum opened in 1964 in the former county jail. A committee of artists, YAM staff, and community members helps decide what works should be included in the collection. In a way, seeing these works is like holding up a mirror to see ourselves and our past. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s mixed-media work, “Tongass Trade Canoe,” shines a harsh light on the logging industry and Kevin Red Star’s rich oil on canvas, “The General,” depicts a proud native warrior wearing military garb.

    These images are bold representations of where we’ve been. Others hint at where we are headed.

    “Some people’s view is if it’s not C.M. Russell cowboys and Indians, it’s not Montana,” YAM director Robyn

    Peterson said. “A surprising amount of our Montana collection doesn’t have horses. The works deal with a vast variety of universal themes.”

    A primary part of the YAM’s mission is to preserve, conserve and exhibit the art of this region and a big part of that is building the permanent collection, YAM curator Bob Durden said.

    “The legacy of any civilization is described by what it leaves behind, as a document of its existence — the accomplishments, concerns, insights and innovations of the age,” Durden said.

    The vault’s collection is available for public view any time the museum is open, which means history or art classes can study specific works by an artist or Billings residents can show off their favorite Charlie Russell painting to visitors. A glass cube was constructed in the center of the vault, which opened in 2010, to allow visitors to look into the archives. Given a day or two notice, registrar Kelly Everitt will locate works and put them on display at the vault.

    Peterson said opening the archives to the public is rare in the museum community.

    “I only know of one other museum, one in Detroit, that keeps its storage open to the public,” Peterson said. “People are curious, and we’re happy to accommodate them.”

    On the 50th anniversary of the YAM, The Billings Gazette is featuring works from the permanent collection, which are indeed treasures to our community and region. Those works, including the 4,900-piece Will James Collection, help tell the story of Montana and the West.

    Peterson said contemporary art is informed by the past. So the trove of historic works, including works by C.M. Russell and photographs by L.A. Huffman, have influenced some of the region’s finest contemporary artists, including Deborah Butterfield, Kevin Red Star, Ted Waddell and Russell Chatham.

    Arlynn Fishbaugh, director of the Montana Arts Council, said Montanans should be proud of the YAM, especially its collection of Montana artists’ work.

    “The state of Montana underscored the significance and value of this collection through the seed funding it provided through the Montana Cultural Trust, funded by coal tax, which matched major private donations to launch the collection 30 years ago,” Fishbaugh said.

    As part of an effort to showcase the permanent collection in a bigger way, the YAM opened “Boundless Visions” in the downstairs gallery in 2012 where 80 to 100 pieces are on display throughout the year. The YAM rotates in pieces that relate to events in the world and Billings. For example, during the Chinese New Year, works showcasing horses were added to the exhibit because 2014 is the year of the horse. Most of the works that will be showcased by The Gazette in coming months will be placed on exhibit in that gallery. Others will be showcased in the Visible Vault.

    Peterson chose to lead off the series with one of the earliest works in the collection, a photograph taken in the late 1870s by Fort Keogh photographer S.J. Morrow and printed by Miles City photographer L.A. Huffman in 1913. The photograph shows the Little Bighorn Battlefield three years after the historic battle took place along the Little Bighorn River.

    The series of works that will be showcased in coming months will also include one of the YAM’s signature artists, Deborah Butterfield, whose welded-steel horses have been displayed at the museum since the 1980s.

    The collection stands as a record of what artists have observed, Durden said. Those personal accounts give testament to a broader culture and to cultural and personal concerns. Visual art helps bring Montana’s stories to life and the YAM is committed to sharing those stories.

    “As a matter of practice, Montana has historically exported its resources — gold, silver, coal and agricultural products — to other places,” Durden said. “The arts in Montana are not immune to this exportation as a simple matter of survival. The permanent collection at the YAM protects a portion of the region’s visual resources from being completely dislodged or dislocated from their points of origin.”

  • L.A. Huffman wasn’t the first photographer working in Montana in the late 1800s, but he was one of the few who stayed to chronicle the story of the West.

    Huffman grew up in Waukon, Iowa, taking photos alongside his father, P.C. Huffman. In 1878, the young Huffman headed west on a wagon train, but it was turned back in Kansas after a close call with Chief Dull Knife’s warriors who were fleeing the 4th Cavalry. The next year, Huffman took an unpaid position as photographer at Fort Keogh in Eastern Montana.

    Over the next five decades, Huffman would photograph some of the last buffalo hunts on the northern plains and Indian chiefs before they were sent to reservations. The 40 black and white and hand-tinted Huffman photographs that the Yellowstone Art Museum has in its 7,400-piece permanent collection help tell Montana’s story.

    Huffman chronicled the frontier, from the days of tribal-controlled native grasslands to fenced properties and settlers, according to Mark Browning, former executive director at the Custer County Art and Heritage Center in Miles City. The center is now known as the WaterWorks Art Museum and holds one of the largest collections of Huffman’s images.

    “He was most prolific with his imagery of the turn-of-the-century cowboy, the last of the non-reservation natives, and all their surroundings,” Browning said.

    Working with crude equipment in his dirt-floor studio at Fort Keogh, Huffman became well known for creating a gathering place for soldiers, scouts and Indians who stopped by to enjoy a drink and a cigar with Huffman. He served one term in the Montana legislature in the 1890s.

    YAM director Robyn Peterson said beyond chronicling events in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Huffman’s work also has an aesthetic value that wasn’t always found in photographers of that time.

    A Huffman photograph of the Little Bighorn Battlefield was donated to the YAM by St. John’s Lutheran Home. It will be placed on display at the YAM’s Visible Vault, 505 N. 26th St., through March 10, as part of a special series on the permanent collection produced by The Billings Gazette and the YAM.

    Peterson said the print donation was made to the museum, then known as the Yellowstone Art Center, just eight years after it had opened in 1964. Businesses and community groups often donate works to the museum for safekeeping and to allow others to view and study the works.

    “We keep these photographs because the museum is collecting artifacts that have aesthetic import,” Peterson said.

    The title of the photograph, “Custer’s Hill, One Year after the Battle,” is misleading because most records indicate the photo was probably taken in 1879, not 1877.

    Helena collector Gene Allen said other vintage prints from the series are more appropriately titled “Where Custer Fell.”

    To illustrate the value of Huffman’s work, Allen said a recent show and sale in Reno, Nev., an album of Huffman’s vintage prints was sold for $280,000. In 1976, Huffman became the only photographer to be inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center in Oklahoma City, Okla. Huffman even got in on a hunt in 1901 along Hell Creek where the first T-rex fossils were discovered.

    Peterson said Huffman’s early photographs are examples of the new field of photography. To put his work in perspective, his photos from the 1880s were taken around the same time Thomas Moran was exploring Yellowstone National Park with Dr. Ferdinand Hayden painting iconic scenes like Tower Falls. In those days, there were arguments in the art world about whether photography was even an art form, Peterson said. Huffman’s work is certainly art, she said.

    “When you look at Huffman’s work, you can easily tell it is his because of the way he composed his images,” Peterson said. “He had an active foreground and then the image disappears into a placid background.”

    Huffman took over from Stanley J. Morrow as photographer at Fort Keogh. As was the custom in those days, photographers often hand-tinted or printed other photographer’s negatives to sell. In 1879, before Huffman arrived in Montana, Morrow traveled to the Little Bighorn Battlefield with Capt. George K. Sanderson to chronicle the effort to rebury the remains of the infantrymen at the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Morrow’s photographs from that excursion showed haunting piles of sun-bleached horse bones, which were left to decompose after the battle in 1876.

    Allen said troops were sent to the battlefield on at least two occasions to rebury the dead because the bones were dug up by coyotes and other scavengers.

    In the YAM photograph, which is 8 inches by 7 inches, the horse skeletons are a reminder of the bloodshed that day of when hundreds of infantrymen and Native Americans died on the plains of Montana.

    Allen said his fascination with Huffman came about because he grew up in North Dakota and came from a farming background, much like Huffman’s early years back in Iowa.

    “I spent a lot of time being among people who were still part of the old West,” Allen said. “They did real roundups and had real brandings. Every Saturday, I went to the shoot ‘em up movies.”

    Allen said Huffman, who operated the first ranch in the Rosebud Valley, could anticipate what was going to happen when he photographed the everyday life of cowboys. Some would argue that his most important work was recording the open-range cattle industry. While Allen appreciates the cowboy images, he said Huffman’s most important historic photographs were of buffalo hunts. Huffman died in 1931 of heart failure while visiting a daughter in Billings.

    “Huffman came and stayed 51 years until he died; the others came and went,” Allen said. “His commitment to Montana, the old West and photography was impressive. He is not as well known as (Evelyn) Cameron, who came later, and Edward Curtis, and Huffman was never appreciated as much as he should have been.”

  • James Reineking’s sculpture “Rim” is a triple winner.

    First, it took the genius of renowned minimalist sculptor Reineking to engineer a way to get just the right curve on a three-ton slab of steel to replicate the Rims. Then, the Billings-raised artist had to balance another three-ton slab on top to evoke our big sky.

    The Yellowstone Art Museum took on the role of middleman, finding a way to fund a site-specific sculpture as a gift to Billings. Led by former director Donna Forbes, the YAM staff understood back in 1988 that too many of the works of Montana artists were leaving the state. The museum, which was then the Yellowstone Art Center, felt a responsibility to collect Montana works before it was too late. And in 1985, the Montana collection became part of the YAM’s permanent collection. Two other Reineking sculptures are in the permanent collection.

    Forbes sought the financial help of a passionate arts supporter, the late Miriam Sample, to donate funds to commission a piece by Reineking and transport it here from Germany, where Reineking has lived since the 1980s.

    That’s the story of how “Rim,” a 6-ton piece of sculptural art, found its way from Reineking’s studio in Koln, Germany, to its current home outside the YAM, just behind Gary Bates’ work, “Will He Drill?”

    “Rim” is 16 feet long and nearly seven feet high. Nestled between pine trees on a patch of grass between the YAM and Denny’s Restaurant, you may have walked or driven by it without fully appreciating how the rusted steel echoes the Rims or how the top slab balances on the edge of the lower slab.

    The two pieces are not welded together, but perform a mysterious balancing act. It’s a bit mind boggling to think that the top piece, which looks thicker and heavier but is the same weight as the bottom piece, is just resting on the other slab, held by gravity.

    Reieneking could not be reached for comment for this story, but a onetime curator at the YAM, Gordon McConnell, interviewed Reineking in 1988 about his conceptual process.

    “There should be things that you look at that don’t make sense, until you walk around, because that sculpture is not just one space or one place, it’s multi. It goes up and down and around,” Reienking said in an interview published by the YAM.

    “Rim” was originally installed on Aug. 1, 1988, in the courtyard of the old Yellowstone Art Center. It was moved to its present location when the museum was renovated in 1998.

    “I had this very strong emotional feeling, this very strong idea about what Billings was to me and what Montana has been to me,” Reineking said. “It’s very flat in the eastern part of Montana; it’s cut through with arroyos, these slits; and in the distance to the west, you always see the mountains. The mountains just sit on top of the horizon; they just pop up.”

    Reineking was born in Minot, N.D., in 1937, but spent most of his childhood in Billings. He studied sculpture at Eastern Montana College in 1961 and 1962 during the heyday of the minimalist movement before moving to Bozeman to finish his degree from Montana State University. Minimalism was viewed as a reaction to abstract expressionism and it started after World War II. Reineking earned his master’s of fine arts degree in 1967 from the San Francisco Art Institute.

    His niece, Jenna Reineking who grew up in Billings and now is working as a professional artist in Wyoming, said James had an impact on her even though he has lived in Germany all her life.

    “Something that really stuck with me all these years is when I was about 6 and he was home and we were sitting around having a big family dinner at grandma’s house. He drew a picture of my dog on a napkin with a speech bubble, saying, ‘Hi Jenna.’ I thought that was so cool that he could draw something so effortlessly and I wanted to be able to do that. I still have that drawing.”

    Jenna said that James lived in New York’s East Village during the 1970s when it was a “petri dish for modern art” and she felt like he has lived the artist’s dream life.

    “How cool is that?” Jenna said.

    Billings artist Patrick Zentz, who was a staff member at the YAM in the early 1980s, appreciates the way Reineking used the vernacular of minimalism and brought it to a site-specific sculpture.

    “It’s a tremendous asset to the collection,” Zentz said.

    On a recent visit to the YAM, Zentz pointed out the various patterns on the surface that occurred through the rusting process. Originally, the work was the bright orange of new rust and now it is more of a brown color with circle patterns on one side reflecting the affects of moisture on the piece. Zentz said some people view the sandstone cliffs of the Billings skyline as static, but they are not.

    Zentz also discovered a gouge in the underside that likely occurred when the slabs were cut, probably by a plasma cutter used by a shipbuilder in Germany. Reineking would have given the specifications for the piece to the builder and dictated how tight to make the curve in the bottom slab. He would also have calculated where to rest the top piece so that it would sit level.

    “It has incredible permanence; it feels like it will be here forever. That’s kind of how the Rims feel,” Reineking said. “They’ve been here; they will be here forever.”

  • Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Yellowstone Art Museum. The Billings Gazette is collaborating with the YAM to spotlight art in the museum’s permanent collection.

    Nobody else shaped and painted clay quite like Rudy Autio.

    They called him the “Matisse of ceramics” and for five decades young artists flocked to Autio to explore the joy in sculpting with clay. Autio, who died in 2007, impacted hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ceramic artists as a professor at the University of Montana for 28 years. He was a sought-after workshop leader for students across the globe and a force behind the Archie Bray Center in Helena. But perhaps his greatest contributions to the art world were his relentless experimentation and his efforts to broaden the definition of ceramics from craft to fine art.

    ‘Silver City’

    Autio left a legacy of clay murals across Montana and sculpted hundreds of signature vessels known for their bright painted images of horses and nude women and their bulbous shapes. The Yellowstone Art Museum has 10 Autio pieces in its permanent collection. One of the works, “Silver City,” will be on display in the Murdock Gallery this spring.

    Yellowstone Art Museum curator Bob Durden called Autio an ambassador for ceramic art.

    “Along with his friend and college classmate Peter Voulkos, Rudy Autio was a father of contemporary ceramics in Montana and beyond,” Durden said.

    Sell her soul for an Autio piece

    From his humble beginnings in Butte where his father Arne was a miner, Autio became an internationally renowned artist creating murals and sculptures in Asia and Europe and across Montana.

    “If I could have one piece of Rudy’s, I would come close to selling my soul,” said Billings ceramics artist Linda Snider.

    Autio’s widow, Lela, who lives in the family home in the Rattlesnake area of Missoula, recalled when she and Rudy lived in Helena and got by on just $200 a month as parents of two sons, Lar and Arne. Then, in 1957, the president of UM called.

    “He didn’t even know Rudy had a degree,” Lela said. “He called Rudy up to hire him and then after we got to Missoula, he asked Rudy, ‘Do you have any degrees?’ ”

    Autio did hold a bachelor’s degree from MSU in Bozeman and an master’s of fine art from Washington State University at Pullman. It was a huge jump in pay for the Autios and Lela remembers being bowled over that Autio earned enough to buy their home in the Rattlesnake. Daughter Lisa and youngest son Chris were born in Missoula.

    Prices go up

    Lela recalled a time when Autio completed a 40-foot clay mural for $4,500.

    But at the time of his death, Autio’s large sculpted vessels were selling for $35,000 to $50,000.

    Because Autio had once been an architecture student at MSU, he knew several professional architects working in Montana in the 1960s and ‘70s. Lela believes those connections helped Autio earn commissions for murals in Great Falls, Butte, Anaconda and Missoula. Autio also worked in bronze and created the grizzly statue on the oval at UM.

    But Rudy’s favorite animal to paint was a horse. His weren’t the horses of Charlie Russell. Autio’s horses are red and blue and orange and have hooves that caress women’s faces or backs that arch high as if in a dance.

    “The first day, he would build the form,” Lela said. “The second day, he would draw into it. That was the fun because nothing was ever pre-planned. He would just take this little spatula and start drawing with it, sometimes it was his thumb.”

    Lela said it was curious how much Rudy loved to paint horses because he saw so few of them in Butte, possibly only at parades because the rest of the time they were work horses being used underground in the mines.

    Autio’s youngest son, Chris, said his favorite period of his father’s work was just before his death. When Rudy was undergoing chemotherapy to treat his leukemia, Chris said his dad was weak and didn’t want to travel. But, what Rudy wanted to do was work in the studio sculpting up to four hours a day almost until the end.

    “If he wasn’t sculpting, he was making drawings of the family or his political cartoons that he would send to friends,” Chris said.

    Rudy was an inventor and taught himself how to sail and to fly airplanes. He built a vacation home for the family at Flathead Lake.

    “I think of Rudy as really a problem solver, a very hard worker,” Chris said. “He was generous, he was fun. He was proud of his kids.”

  • It’s hard to consider the work of Montana artist John Buck without also appreciating the iconic horse sculptures by his wife, Deborah Butterfield.

    They both enjoy a place of prominence on the international art scene. But before Buck turned to sculpting full time, he was a lonely art professor at Montana State University in the 1970s missing his new wife, who was teaching at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

    “I set a trap for her,” Buck said. “I rented this little ranch house close to the mountains outside of Bozeman. It had a horse corral so she could ride English style. When she came to visit, she thought it was wonderful. She saw that everybody in Montana had a horse in the backyard and that was the life she wanted.”

    Butterfield quit her job and moved to Montana to be with Buck and her horses. They now share homes near Bozeman and Hawaii. The Yellowstone Art Museum holds works by both artists in its permanent collection.

    You can’t enter the museum’s “Boundless Visions” exhibit in the first-floor gallery without walking around Buck’s 10-foot wood sculpture, “The Music Book.” The work is thought provoking — a wood carving of a naked woman whose head is a giant outline of a book that holds symbols of music, including a songbird.

    The sculpture is part of a series of Buck sculptures involving nudes with books for heads.

    “I’ve done a number of pieces touching on this idea of shapes that are related to sound. It comes from the fact that I am pretty deaf, sometimes words don’t sound like they do in my mind,” Buck said.

    Butterfield’s metal horse sculpture has been used for years as the defining image of the YAM. Both artists support the YAM as members of its National Council, executive director Robyn Peterson said.

    In 2002, when “The Music Book,” was up for sale at the YAM’s annual auction, a group of 19 area arts supporters pooled their resources to purchase the piece for the YAM’s permanent collection.

    Peterson said the acquisition was a historic moment for the YAM because it helped preserve work by an important artist like Buck, who isn’t a Montana native but has spent several decades working and living here. Only a handful of works in the collection have inspired this kind of group donation effort.

    “John’s work is replete with layers of personal symbolism, visual puzzles, and political and social comment, all packed into a visual form that demands your time. You must invest something of yourself to unravel it,” Peterson said.

    The YAM’s permanent collection includes seven woodblock prints, one large collaborative piece by Buck and Butterfield and four Buck sculptures.

    Steve Corning, of Billings, has become a fan of Buck’s and in recent years he purchased two of Buck’s colorful and symbolic woodblock prints.

    “John Buck’s work, especially his sculptures, are really expensive and his wife, Deborah, is one of the superstars in art,” Corning said. “Her work is in the San Francisco airport.”

    The two prints Corning purchased include “Rising Phoenix,” which shows the humble dodo bird surrounded with symbolism, and “Red Jesus.”

    “It’s the graphic symmetry and the color — those are the immediate things you see. When you approach the prints at 12 inches in front of your eye, then you begin to see all the nuances, the activity around the main figure,” Corning said.

    Buck said the woodblock prints, which also require carving into wood, ease his imagination because he can work with ideas that don’t require the same technical process as large sculptures. They are spontaneous and the bright colors are cheerful, he said.

    “A lot of times I make these woodcuts that include imagery from the sculpture and vice versa,” Buck said. “They feed into each other. They go hand in hand as far as how I develop. Some of my earliest work is 2-D. It came from the fact that I was doing drawings, then I was cutting out wood shapes and reproducing the items from my drawings.”

    Buck likes big. Even his woodcut prints are 6 feet high. His wood sculptures are even larger, standing from 6 to 20 feet tall. Buck said working in large proportions makes seeing his work more of an experience.

    “It’s like theater. Why is a theater so big? It’s the scale. It’s what you are presented with,” Buck said.

    He tends to create more woodblock prints while living in Hawaii during the winter and builds his sculptures in Montana, where he hires assistants to help in the studio.

    “Sometimes I walk in there and say, “That’s big,’ ” Buck said. “I feel fortunate to have help.”

  • In the 1950s amid New York City’s bustling art scene, a handsome, dark-eyed painter made his mark as an abstract expressionist.

    His son is much more well known today because of his acting credits, but the late Robert De Niro Sr. was a renowned artist who influenced the next generation of abstract artists.

    With his wild black pompadour, De Niro cut a striking figure in New York City’s art scene. Unlike many abstract artists, De Niro’s work was figurative. In addition to his study of color and space, De Niro often painted nudes and still lifes. That set him apart from other artists, said Jennifer Bottomly-O’Looney, senior curator of the Montana Historical Society.

    “He was really rather prolific,” Bottomly-O’Looney said. “He did painting and he did drawings with pastel. Some artists would use thick layers of paint and carve into it using a palette knife or a stick. Some artists would express with lines like De Niro. Some would be throwing stuff at the canvas trying to achieve a gesture.”

    De Niro’s 40- by 46-inch painting “Seated Figure” is part of the YAM’s permanent collection. It will be on display through the end of May at the YAM’s Visible Vault.

    The 1970 oil painting came to the YAM in 1977 as part of the Poindexter Collection, which included works donated to the Montana Historical Society and the YAM by a former Dillon rancher, the late George Poindexter, and his wife, Elinor. The couple lived on New York’s Fifth Avenue and operated one of New York’s pivotal art galleries from 1955 through 1975.

    George, a successful commodities broker, made for an unusual art enthusiast. A highly successful businessman, George had money and friends, yet he yearned to understand the cultural phenomenon of modern

    art. He called that exercise the “most difficult journey” he had ever undertaken.

    “On his way to work, he would walk by the galleries and see abstract expressionist paintings and he was very confused,” Bottomly-O’Looney said. “He said it looked like messy colors. So he started to study it to understand. He bought pieces and became friends of artists. One morning, he had an epiphany. It became clear to him that the black marks in the paintings were balanced elements.”

    By the 1960s, George decided he wanted to share this love of abstract expressionism with the people of Montana. He identified two venues that could properly keep these important works of art — the Montana Historical Society in Helena and the newly opened Yellowstone Art Center, now the Yellowstone Art Museum.

    The Montana Historical Society Museum was given 99 works of art, 18 of which were De Niro’s paintings and lithographs. The collection includes works by Jackson Pollock, who was born in Cody, Wyo., Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline.

    The YAM has 400 works in its Poindexter Collection, 38 of which are by De Niro.

    Gordon McConnell, former curator at the YAM, recalled one memorable trip to New York with former YAM director Donna Forbes. They visited Elinor in the early 1990s after George had passed away.

    “She was lovely,” McConnell said. “She was in her 80s and very elegant, kind of fragile, very thoughtful and courteous. All of her closets were filled with paintings. We picked out about 30 pieces that day and the family donated them to the museum.”

    McConnell, himself a professional artist, was impressed with Poindexter’s large and important collection of works. When so many of the pieces of their collection were donated to Montana venues, it was a boon to the entire state of Montana, not just the artists, McConnell said.

    Some of Montana’s most noteworthy artists, including Bill Stockton, Isabelle Johnson, and Bob and Genie DeWeese, were developing modernist works at the same time the Poindexters were in New York acquiring works by abstract expressionist artists, McConnell said. Others, including Neil Jussila, longtime art professor at Montana State University Billings, used George Poindexter’s essay on appreciating modern art to help his students understand the movement.

    “I loved the title, ‘One Man’s Journey Through Space - and Color’ and continue to admire it,” Jussila said. “The title, in few words, really nailed the meaning of abstract art. And for a sophomore level art major in 1962-63, it made me aware not of what art is but what art can be.”

    Jussila said that seeing the Poindexter Collection led to his own “sojourn through time, space and color and I am grateful.”

    Jussila is still actively painting abstract works and in March, his piece was the top-selling item at the Yellowstone Art Museum’s annual auction, selling for $6,750.

    Abstract expressionism is not a style, like pop art or impressionism, Jussila said. It is an ongoing, open-ended approach to painting.

    “It’s an expression of soul. It’s alive and filled with spirit. This is the stuff of the street. It’s meant for anyone fed up with an uptight, little life who wants to get out of it and throw paint around,” Jussila said.

    The Poindexter Collection at the Montana Historical Society is the second most requested collection, second only to the Charles Russell Collection, Bottomly-O’Looney said. It has traveled to 14 states where the collection has been featured in 50 art exhibits. The latest request for the collection came from a gallery in Alaska.

    “It’s a highlight of tours we provide for art students,” Bottomly-O’Looney said.

    McConnell said the Poindexter Collection enriches the cultural landscape of Montana.

    “Modern art is not universally loved,” McConnell said. “I love the idea that Poindexter felt that given the right amount of education support, anyone could appreciate modern art. It does require a little context, but modern art is not an elitist thing. Little kids can get it if they are given the opportunity to view modern works.”

  • New Mexico artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith was thrilled when she discovered she could escape poverty and racism when she opened a book or picked up a pencil to draw.

    Then, she got the lecture.

    “My professor called me into his office and said, ‘You’ll never be able to be an artist. Women are not artists,’” Quick-to-See Smith said in a 2012 interview.

    Eventually, she earned an art education degree from Framingham State College in Massachusetts and by the time she graduated, Quick-to-See Smith had already exhibited her abstract-expressionist paintings in solo exhibits. She was indeed a working artist.

    Three works by Quick-to-See Smith have been donated to the Yellowstone Art Museum by collectors John and Carol Green, of Billings. They are on display through Aug. 24. Two monoliths — “Melon Mask I” and “Buffalo Amulet I” — are part of the “Face to Face, Wall to Wall” exhibit in the second-floor gallery and her triptych multimedia work, “Tongass Trade Canoe,” is on display in the downstairs gallery.

    The triptych takes up an entire wall at the YAM, measuring 60 by 150 inches. Green, red

    and black paint form the outline of a canoe and news clippings bring attention to the debate over logging. A herd of caribou is painted across the top and a quote applied to the right side of the panels brings fire to the logging debate, describing the effects of clear-cut logging: “BETHEL-Most of the reindeer on Nunivak Island have disappeared and are presumed to have died, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

    “My process begins with thinking through a plan, a series, doing a lot of research and yet being open to following my hunches, being open to allowing exploration without clear answers until I reach a stopping point,” Quick-to-See Smith said in an interview with The Gazette on Thursday.

    The Tongass National Forest, which includes 17 million acres of old-growth forest in Southeast Alaska, has suffered from clear-cut logging and the debate continues about further logging. It is the largest national forest in the U.S., containing some of the last existing old-growth forest in the country.

    Curiously, 10 flimsy multicolored plastic baskets sit above the canvas panels of Quick-to-See’s work, resting there on a plain plywood shelf. Yes, the baskets are part of the piece, an example of Quick-to-See’s sly humor.

    The Greens called the work unique and beautiful and they have a theory about the baskets.

    “Just looking at it, it is so interesting,” Carol Green said. “The baskets are a petroleum-based product and here they cut down the forest, wasted the forest, to make plastic baskets.”

    Quick-to-See Smith said it is not her intention to bombard viewers with her political agenda without also offering them beauty and humor.

    “My cultural heritage gives me in-depth and political content, a narrative in my work, a worldview as well as design elements that are based on nature,” Quick-to-See Smith said. “It also helps me to see the flip side of things, a particularly Native way of applying humor, which is part of survival.”

    YAM curator Bob Durden said her work grabs you visually, then it encourages you to interpret the meaning of the work, according to your own background.

    “You enter it at your own pace without feeling like you’re being talked down to or feel like if you have a different point of view, you are wrong,” Durden said. “She isn’t trying to beat people up for their belief systems.”

    “Tongass Trade Canoe” is a favorite work among the docents giving tours to students because it is so stimulating, Durden said.

    “‘Tongass Canoe’ seems pretty fresh to me even though it was finished in 1996,” Durden said. “She is making a reference to the environment and people’s place in the world. There was a particular point in her career when the work became more didactic. I think she’s wise enough now that she understands that some people are never going to change.”

    Quick-to-See Smith, now 74, lives in New Mexico, where she received her master’s degree in art in 1980 from the University of New Mexico. She was born in St. Ignatius, part Cree on her mother’s side and Flathead, Metis and Shoshone on her father’s side. Her cousin, Gerald Slater, was a founder of Salish Kootenai College, and Quick-to-See Smith said he is like a brother to her. She visits Montana and the Flathead Reservation often.

    “Rounding the bend on Highway 93 by Moise and seeing the Mission Mountains takes my breath away,” Quick-to-See Smith said. “Tribal life, ideology, reverence for nature all give my work a solid basis, a narrative, stories that have no beginning or end. My worldview is shaped by my tribe. I am always thankful for their influence.”

    Her dad spoke Salish and was raised in the old ways by his grandmother. He never learned to read or write and he warned Quick-to-See Smith that if she read too much it would damage her brain.

    Quick-to-See Smith treasured every drawing her father gave her and she would carry the scraps of paper he drew on in her pocket. Her mother left the family when Quick-to-See was 21/2, so her father raised her, teaching her and her sister how to round up horses and build corrals.

    The Greens first met Quick-to-See Smith in 1988 in Missoula. A few years earlier, they had purchased one of her works at the YAM’s annual art auction. Quick-to-See Smith’s paintings reminded them of the work of Robert Rauschenberg, a late-20th-century artist they both admire.

    Quick-to-See Smith invited the Greens to visit the Flathead Reservation with her and she introduced them to some of her Salish-Kootenai family members who still live there. They also visited her home in Corrales, N.M.

    “She had set up a studio apartment in New Mexico so artists could come live and work with her,” Carol Green said. “She’s a fairly private, reclusive person about working. She has a very public life and she speaks on Native issues and women’s issues. She still likes to teach, though, and work with other artists.”

    Quick-to-See Smith has conducted more than 180 workshops at universities and museums around the world and exhibited in 90 solo exhibits.

    “Jaune is a Montana-born artist and is one of the few Native artists from this area who has built an international following,” YAM executive director Robyn Peterson said. “She has left a lasting mark on the art history of the West, American art history and Native American art history.”

  • From under the bed and into the gallery.

    That’s the expression used by a gallery owner when she got wind of a New York City couple, Dorothy and Herb Vogel, donating 2,500 works of art, with 50 pieces selected to go to each of the 50 states.

    Cats and turtles with their art

    The Vogels weren’t wealthy collectors. They were a modest couple. Herb was a postal worker and Dorothy was a librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library. Beginning with their marriage in 1962, the couple devoted all of Herb’s salary to purchasing art and most of their spare time to meeting artists.

    They lived on Dorothy’s modest salary and lived simply with few furnishings and no car. They never had children, but at one time had seven cats and tanks for fish and turtles.

    Their tiny one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side once housed 4,000 pieces of art.

    “There were boxes, there were crates and there were piles of art with all these cats walking around the stacks,” one artist noted in a documentary film about the couple, “Herb & Dorothy: 50 X 50.”

    The Yellowstone Art Museum was the Montana recipient of 50 pieces of art. The seven pencil drawings by the late Stephen Antonakos, known as one of the minimalist artists who helped

    establish neon as an art form, are on display through July at the Visible Vault.

    Cinematic art

    Robyn Peterson, executive director of the Yellowstone Art Museum, said the Antonakos works are cinematic in nature because when you view all of them together, the geometric shapes appear to bounce around, giving the drawings movement. When the YAM’s share of the Vogel collection arrived in 2009, it was like opening a Christmas gift.

    “All of us were excited when the package arrived,” Peterson said. “We were surprised at how diverse it was.”

    The YAM’s share of the collection is depicted in “Herb & Dorthy,” the second of two films about the Vogels by Megumi Sasaki. It will be screened on Thursday, June 26, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the YAM.

    Peterson said the YAM was selected as Montana’s recipient of a portion of the collection because of its commitment to contemporary art. Dorothy, now 79, said in a recent phone interview that she has never visited the YAM, but Ruth Fine at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., recommended the YAM as a suitable recipient of part of their vast collection.

    The Vogel’s collection is worth millions of dollars. The Vogels chose art from the minimalist and conceptual art movements and were able to purchase drawings, paintings and sculpture from emerging artists in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s in New York City. They visited artist studios and attended openings at galleries in SoHo and Manhattan.

    Dorothy talked about meeting Antonakos at his SoHo studio decades ago. Antonakos, who was born in Greece but lived most of his life in New York, died last August at the age of 86.

    “Stephen’s studio was in a beautiful loft. His apartment and studio were so clean and lovely. Mine was utter chaos,” Dorothy said. “He told us about the projects he was doing. The process was way beyond me. It had to do with gases. We just appreciated the aesthetic of it.”

    Dorothy took painting classes to better understand art, but Herb was the more accomplished artist of the two.

    “We were going to all the openings and starting to collect works and then we realized that other people were much better than we were. After a while, we gave up painting,” Dorothy said.

    But Dorothy did manage to save works by Herb and herself and for the first time, they will be on exhibit at Bozeman College in Maine later this year.

    “I’m excited to be an exhibited artist,” Dorothy said.

    If it fits, buy it

    Sometimes they argued over which piece to buy, but in the end they always came to an agreement over the artwork they added to their collection.

    “The only rules were, ‘Can we afford it and will it fit in our house,’” Dorothy said.

    Dorothy said she and Herb were inspired to donate their collection by the distribution of the Kress Collection, which provided for European works being donated to every city where there was a Kress variety store.

    In his later years Herb was blind and so the couple quit going to exhibits and Dorothy said she has quit collecting since Herb passed away in 2012. Dorothy is content with giving the collection away, even though it was such a big part of her life for four decades.

    “People ask me how I feel about giving it all away. It’s not in my apartment, but I still feel it’s mine because it’s still in our name. I’m happy we could do that,” Dorothy said.

  • Whether he is capturing a look between General Custer and a Sioux warrior or a mother watching her daughter ride into a rodeo arena, South Carolina artist John Hull finds the drama of the moment.

    When Hull visited Billings in the late 1980s, former Yellowstone Art Museum curator Gordon McConnell took him for the ride of his life — a visit to the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Hull wanted to see the ground where the battle was fought on June 25 and 26, 1876, because he’s spent a lifetime reading about it and imagining the battle.

    “Growing up in the West, in Oregon, I think it’s hard to get away from history, particularly the history of the West that is tied up with the Indian wars,” Hull said in a recent interview with The Gazette. “I grew up with the great Paxton painting of the Battle of Little Bighorn. Trying to make my own version of that Paxton painting was part of my intention.”

    Seduction of challenge

    Hull, 62, said Edgar Paxton’s painting of the battle, which was on the cover of one of his favorite books when he was a kid, “Indian Wars,” helped inspire him to be an artist. Years later Hull was able to see Paxton’s painting on display at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo.

    Hull was seduced by the challenge of painting the battle even though it has been depicted by hundreds of artists, most notably Paxton, J.K. Ralston, and Charles M. Russell.

    The sketches Hull made based on his visit to the battlefield with McConnell became a 52 by 32-inch acrylic painting,

    “Last Stand: Study.” He donated the work to the YAM in 1995 for its permanent collection. That work is on display in the YAM’s Visible Vault through July 31. The full final painting, which measures 96 by 60 inches, was purchased by Land’s End for display in its corporate office in Dodgeville, Wis.

    McConnell credits Hull with taking a fresh look at the battle, studying photographs, and looking at uniforms, weapons and American Indian regalia to accurately depict the details.

    Inspired by literature

    At the time Hull painted “Custer’s Last Stand,” he was teaching at Yale University and had access to the Peabody Museum collection, which included specific items of 1870s Lakota clothing and weapons. Hull now teaches at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

    A Marine veteran, Hull has been a lifelong student of military history. He immersed himself in literature about the Little Bighorn, and is especially fond of Evan S. Conell’s Custer book, “Son of the Morning Star.”

    There are more figures in the full painting than in the study, and Custer, who is on the ground dead with other cavalrymen leaning over him in the study, is alive and standing with his gun drawn. But a Sioux warrior has his pistol pointed right at Custer’s chest and is charging toward him on a horse.

    Losing an ear

    A cavalryman in the foreground of the study has fallen with his horse and the U.S. flag he was carrying is lying on the ground. In the full painting, the flag is not there and a Sioux warrior is using a knife to cut off the cavalryman’s ear.

    Crazy Horse is at top left in both paintings, with one hand raised and a battle cry on his lips. He is covered in white dots, which he painted on his torso because he had a vision the night before of being in a hailstorm.

    Hull said he borrowed stylistically a horse from a Russell painting, and a calvalryman who is falling backward was inspired by a photograph of the Spanish Civil War by Frank Capra.

    When YAM staff members looked over the painting Friday, McConnell pointed out the white forehead of one hatless cavalryman because he’d lost his hat in the battle and his forehead had likely never been exposed to the sun.

    It’s that attention to detail and the focus on human emotion that sets Hull’s work apart from the other artists who have painted the Battle of the Little Bighorn, McConnell said.

    “This is painted with acrylic which makes it less translucent but it allows the artist to be more spontaneous. The color is well observed and this is more action packed than most of John’s work.”

    Passion and suffering

    When the full painting was completed in the early 1990s, it was exhibited at the YAM, along with other works by Hull. In a lecture Hull presented at the opening, he said he attempted to interpret the passion and the gravity of suffering at the battle. Hull said he attempts to portray “the gesture inside the dilemma of the human heart” in his work.

    “What I sought to describe were ordinary men, at grips with contradictions, vulnerable to retribution, privation and death,” Hull said.

    Robyn Peterson, executive director of the YAM, said Hull disproves the mistaken, but frequently encountered viewpoint, that contemporary artists no longer create epic historical paintings.

    “In fact, re-envisionings of history or retellings that place historic events into more contemporary contexts are stock-in-trade for many contemporary artists.”

    Peterson said she appreciates that Hull does not always focus on glorious images of the West, but rather looks for everyday moments that ordinary people can relate to.

    Hull’s six works that are on exhibit at Catherine Louisa Gallery, 118 N. Broadway, show the scenes behind the rodeo arena. Hull said he just returned to South Carolina after spending the spring in Cody, sketching scenes at the Cody Night Rodeo. He has also started a series of paintings of professional wrestlers since his son, Isaac, began competing as a professional wrestler.

    “I make paintings about how people live and how they interact with one another. The Buffalo Bill just bought one of the rodeo paintings I did at the Ucross. In the painting, the rodeo is to the right and you see all of the ropers waiting to go on. That’s what interests me. Everybody else is looking into the ring and I’m looking off to the corner.”

    Catherine Louisa Eithier said Hull’s paintings are especially popular with the rodeo crowd because they understand those moments Hull paints that happen outside the arena.

    “It feels like you’re watching an intimate moment,” Eithier said.

  • Montana-born artist Peter Voulkos was never timid with the clay.

    Voulkos was known for his assaults on the ceramic vessels he made in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s that revolutionized the medium.

    Josh DeWeese, a professor of art at Montana State University, said every ceramic artist working today was influenced by Voulkos. His personality was brash and he often intimidated the new people he met, but underneath that rough exterior there was a softer soul.

    “He got labeled as an ogre a lot of times,” DeWeese said. “You can imagine him looking like the old man and the sea. He was a gnarly old man when I met him who smoked cigarettes like a chimney. But he was the most generous spirit in the world. He was a giving person and his friends just loved him so much.”

    The dichotomy of Voulkos’s personality came across in his ceramic works. He used a mallet to pound the clay into the shape he wanted. And the pieces are so heavy, they require a forklift to move them around a gallery. Even though Voulkos’s technique might have looked savage to the casual observer, DeWeese said Voulkos worked intuitively and with an innate sensitivity to how far to push the clay.

    “Clay is such an interesting material to work

    with,” DeWeese said. “It has such a wide range of qualities as it dries. He’d make full use of that time frame. He knew just what to do with it at the right time.”

    One of Voulkos’s best friends was the late Missoula ceramics artist Rudy Autio, who joined Voulkos as the first two resident artists and managers at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena. Even though the two men were about the same age and worked side by side, their styles were polar opposites.

    Autio was known as the Matisse of the ceramic world and his large vessels were sculptural and filled with bright colors and designs that worked with the shapes of the vessels. Voulkos’s most influential works were three and four-foot-high vessels, known as stacks, that were wood-fired and left the natural color of the clay. They are big and raw and rough, with deep gouges and slabs of clay pushed into the form.

    In Montana, there are only three known examples on public view of Voulkos’s stack vessels. The Yellowstone Art Museum acquired one of the known works, “Untitled (Stack),” when it was purchased in 1997 at a Sotheby’s auction, with the purchase funded by the late Miriam T. Sample. The work was completed by Voulkos in 1989 and is on exhibit in the YAM’s Murdock Gallery through the end of August.

    Voulkos’s personal experiences influenced his art, DeWeese said. Voulkos was born in 1924 in Bozeman to Greek immigrant parents, Harry John Voulkos and Effrosyni Peter Voulalas. After serving as a rail gunner in World War II, he returned to Bozeman to study painting and then ceramics at Montana State College, now MSU. His first painting teachers at the college were DeWeese’s parents, Bob and Gennie DeWeese. During his senior year, Voulkos enrolled in a ceramics class, taught by longtime MSU professor Frances Senska.

    “He fell in love with clay. He had an exceptional touch or feeling for working with material. It was a combination of that really inquisitive, intelligent mind and his touch,” said DeWeese, who served as director of the Archie Bray for 15 years.

    Voulkos was able to change how ceramic art was viewed around the world. When he began working in clay, ceramics were considered to be more of a craft or a hobby, not a fine art.

    Robyn Peterson, executive director of the Yellowstone Art Museum, credits Voulkos with redefining ceramic sculpture and helping establish Montana on the international scene as an important center of ceramic art. She also credits the Archie Bray with helping that cause.

    “Peter Voulkos changed the way clay is seen, and began the process of breaking down the wall between the fine arts and the applied arts, which is a process that inches forward to this day,” Peterson said.

    Most of Voulkos’s career and reputation revolve around institutions in California, where he moved in the 1950s and lived for many years. He has works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and many museums throughout the world.

    DeWeese said once you met Voulkos, you were forever in awe of his electrifying personality. When you see his work, you can still feel some of that macho demeanor.

    “He was just about as macho as you could get. When you say that, it sort of has a derogatory feel to it. But he had the capacity to pull that off and to excite people. Anytime he was around, it was like the king has come to town. Even Rudy Autio would say that,” DeWeese said.

  • Former Montana ceramic artist Richard Notkin can turn even the humble teapot into a symbolic meditation on war, society or the environment.

    Notkin and his artist wife, Phoebe Toland, lived and worked as studio artists in Helena for more than two decades. In June, they moved to Vaughn, Wash., throwing a farewell party at the Archie Bray Foundation in April that Helena won’t soon forget.

    It was the Archie Bray that brought Notkin to Helena when he served as an artist in residence in 1981. Notkin grew up on the South Side of Chicago, inspired by his father, who was an immigration attorney and anti-McCarthy Democrat. Notkin’s family attended a synagogue in Chicago where some of the congregants were Holocaust survivors. The experience would forever change Notkin’s world view.

    “I only wish to live long enough to see a sane world,” Notkin told The Gazette. “Our political system has gone amok; our elections are now auctions, not elections.”

    Notkin conducted an interview via email from Italy, where he is teaching a ceramic arts workshop.

    After finishing his master's of fine arts degree at the University of California-Davis, he established himself as an artist with a bent for irreverent, anti-establishment humor and pop-surrealist imagery. Notkin returned to Helena in the mid-1990s.

    His work is shown and collected by museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Portland Art Museum.

    Yellowstone Art Museum Executive Director Robyn Peterson said she stumbled across one of Notkin’s works at an art museum in Norway.

    Notkin’s work is full of surprises as well as political and social messages, said Bonnie Laing-Malcolmson, curator of the Portland Art Museum. The museum owns one of Notkin’s major works, “The Gift,” a ceramic wall mural of 1,120 three-inch square tiles that was completed in 1999.

    “It is often the piece schoolchildren choose to write about when visiting,” Laing-Malcolmson said. “The photo-real quality of the powerful black and white image of an early nuclear test explosion on closer examination surprises the viewer, as it is comprised of hundreds of three-inch-square tiles modeled with images of skulls, bombs, coffins and other detritus that would result from a nuclear holocaust.”

    Laing-Malcolmson said “The Gift” is one of the most important works in the Portland Art Museum’s permanent collection.

    The Yellowstone Art Museum has four works by Notkin in its permanent collection, including one of his 300 teapots. The 2000 work, “Nuclear Nuts Teapot (Variation #12)” is on display in the “Un/Conscious Bent: A Survey of Regional Surrealism” exhibit in the Charles M. Bair Family Gallery at the YAM. It was donated by the late Miriam T. Sample in 2001. The exhibit is on display through Aug. 20.

    Notkin’s teapots are not the cute ones in your mom’s kitchen. “Nuclear Nuts” has a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion on the lid and petroleum barrels form the spout. Dark humor plays a big role in Notkin’s work, so the teapot is resting on a pile of peanuts.

    The irony of this work and Notkin’s other teapots is that they use anti-establishment symbolism but they are created with consummate care, showing the influence of Chinese Yixing teapots. Peterson described Notkin’s work as being executed with a jeweler’s precision.

    “Dick is a socially and politically engaged artist, and his work addresses specific concerns with precise and unambiguous use of carefully rendered details,” Peterson said.

    Notkin said he always worked against the grain of the times and he learned to accept that.

    “I chose to make things that were highly crafted, and was often criticized by my peers for being too ‘small, tight and precious.’ At first it upset me, but when I realized that just meant I was different and following my inner passions, I learned to take that criticism as a compliment.”

    Notkin’s 1999 solo exhibit at the YAM, “Passages,” consisted of more than 2,000 individual components, including 1,000 ceramic ears of varying sizes and colors. The work was titled, “Legacy,” because it provided a mirror into the past and a window into the future. At the time, Notkin said he was reviewing the superficial hype of entering the year 2000 but as a nation not heeding the lessons of the past.

    “The idea of moving into another century with the mindset of cavemen and the technology of ‘Star Wars’ was a very frightening prospect to me,” he said.

    Even though Notkin has left Montana, he said he will continue to follow the legislative sessions in Helena with hopes for a more enlightened Legislature in the future.

    Meanwhile, he plans to use his art to make a statement, but he does not criticize other artists or arts patrons for simply enjoying the aesthetics of art.

    “The wonderful thing about art is that it has so many forms of expression, so many different media and styles. If we all thought alike, nobody would really be thinking, and, besides, it would be boring.”

  • When Bently Spang pulls on the gold jumpsuit and white platform shoes to become “Indian of the Future,” it’s hard to understand his ancestors’ influence on the Northern Cheyenne artist.

    When his character gets in the circle with break dancers and traditional native dancers, it becomes a little more clear. And that is where Spang really shines.

    Spang is a multidisciplinary artist and teacher who lives in Billings and exhibits his work all over the world. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Montana State University Billings, Spang earned a master’s in fine arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1996. During the ‘90s when raves were big in the Midwest, he experienced the frenzied dancing where there was a release of energy and the expression of emotion. It reminded him of tribal

    dancing back home in Montana. He calls the genre he created “Techno Powwow.”

    “My character comes from the Clown Dance of my people,” Spang said. “It used to be a competition, and the part I liked about clown dancing is that it puts everyone on the same level.”

    Spang has created four Techno Powwows around the country. His work has been displayed at the Seattle Art Museum, The Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janiero, and many other museums across the world. Spang’s artwork is also included in the Yellowstone Art Museum’s permanent collection. His 1994 multi-media piece “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” is on display at the YAM in the “Boundless Vision” exhibit, where it will be up through the end of the year.

    The piece incorporates glass, deer rawhide, wood, stone, steel and bone. It is the only piece by Spang in the YAM’s collection, and it was purchased by the museum in 2004 using funds donated by Mary Roberta Jones in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Jones.

    Spang’s work is inspired by more traditional Cheyenne bead artists he studied in 1994 under a Smithsonian Fellowship that allowed him to spend six weeks in Washington, D.C., and New York City examining Native artwork in their collections.

    As the new artist in residence at the YAM’s Visible Vault, Spang was working earlier this month on pencil drawings inspired by “crazed beadwork,” where a beader uses only what beads are left in the bottom of the bead pouch and creates a work without traditional patterns.

    In the new series, he grabs a fistful of colored pencils and draws circles and loops, continuing the movement as long as his arms and wrists hold out. He recorded the action using a fisheye video camera strapped to his chest.

    “Drawing has always been important to me,” Spang said. “It’s a duration drawing; I draw until my arms fall off. That’s how I work, I do something with the spark of an idea.”

    In 2012, when the Ash Creek Fire near Ashland burned his parents’ home and 20 other homes, Spang felt compelled to record the experience from the perspective of the trees, still standing but charred. He took rubbings from the charred bark by using large sheets of white paper and rubbing them into the tree.

    “I was interacting with the burned tree,” Spang said. “They were telling the story of the fire. When I looked at the first few, I said, ‘Oh my God, that looks like the fire.’ He titled the series ‘On Fire.’ ”

    Some of those drawings were shown during a recent residency at the University of Wyoming, and Spang said he was happy to learn that a group of young children, inspired by his work, went outside to take rubbings from trees.

    Robyn Peterson, YAM executive director, said despite the extraordinary work done by indigenous artists, there is still a stereotype that Native American art should follow certain traditions and look a certain way.

    “It is a straitjacketing way of thinking, and the large number of Native artists, Bently among them, who pursue their art in a completely different manner give viewers a much more thought-proviking, rich and even confusing body of work to consider,” Peterson said.

    Spang is a visionary who uses art experiences to express complex ideas about interactions between people, animals and the environment that eveoke feelings that lie just beneath of the surface of our awareness, noted Reno Charette, director of American Indian Outreach at MSU Billings. She has worked with Spang on several projects, and in October she will work with him again as he begins an installation project at the Northcutt Steele Gallery in the Liberal Arts Building.

    “He is a totally-out-of-the-box thinker and believer in a community’s potential to see the profound expressions of everyday life interactions,” Charette said.

  • When Billings artist Jon Lodge speaks, a different language flows through him.

    It’s a world where art and the printing business and jazz engage. It’s a world where random meets contrived and the natural world meets the industrial.

    Big Timber artist Jerry Iverson, who exhibited with Lodge at the YAM in 2000, said Lodge sounds like a wild man, but he’s actually very down to earth.

    “He sounds obscure and spacey and distant and he talks about things in a different world,” Iverson said. “But when you get to know him and get to know his work, he is very practical. He is influenced by the materials of his daily life. He is surrounded by inks and paper and film at Artcraft Printers.”

    Lodge has worked in the printing business for years, managing Artcraft Printing in Billings. His work reflects some of the materials from the printing business. A series he is working on involves dropping white paint into squares created by a grid. He then lays carbon paper on top of

    the wet drops, waiting to see how much carbon is absorbed by each drop.

    “It’s setting up the rules then letting it run the course,” Lodge said.

    His 2000 multimedia work, “Stochastic System No. a3P,” is part of the YAM’s permanent collection. The piece, which uses graphite, carbon, body color, ink and thermal paper on canvas, is on display in the YAM’s Visible Vault through the end of August.

    YAM executive director Robyn Peterson considers Lodge one of Montana’s most fascinating and “mind-bending artists.”

    “When I look at Jon’s work, I see paradox materialized. I see focus combined with distraction, order and randomness, the rich colorfulness of non-colors, and sound made visible.”

    Lodge frequently uses sound as part of his artist talks and demonstrations. He studied arranging, jazz improvisation, and composition at Berklee College of Music and performed jazz from 1964 to 1973 in the Boston area before returning to Montana.

    When the 2000 exhibit, “Native Eloquence,” opened at the YAM, Lodge invited several community members, including Marvin Granger, former director of Yellowstone Public Radio, to read different publications in unison. He said he chose the group because of their vocal pitch.

    For this article, Lodge invited a reporter to create a work of art, using his explicit instructions, including listening to the sound produced by the spray of gas-propelled aerosol adhesive. The project involved gluing nine sheets of clear mylar to a white sheet of paper. The yellowish bubbles from the adhesive could be seen in the shiny mylar windows. Lodge jumped up and clasped his hands in excitement at the subtle nuances of the squares.

    “Look at this one, it looks like Yellowstone Park with the ground bubbling up, only this is a toxic chemical. Isn’t this great!”

    Lodge’s childlike wonder at things and his enthusiasm for experimentation are part of his charm.

    “He pays attention to very minute things. I love that sensibility, it’s extremely subtle. It’s from the gut,” Iverson said.

    When Lodge presented a solo exhibit at Catherine Louisa Gallery on North Broadway in Billings last fall, his invitation was an art project that invited the participants to explore static electricity.

    “His work forces viewers to search for small things and to notice the barely noticeable,” Iverson said.

    Lodge encourages viewers to vocalize their impressions about his artwork and for an experiment, he asked that random viewers without any prior introduction to his work view one of his pieces and respond to it.

    Michelle Kay brought her 11-year-old daughter Makayla to the Visible Vault to view Lodge’s piece, “Stochastic System No. a3P.”

    “I thought it looked like sheet music or wood when I first saw it,” Michelle said. “But when I see it from close up, it looks like scratch paper.”

    Jordan Webber said it felt like an experiment that could lead to something else.

    “I have no visceral or cerebral reaction to it,” Webber said. “Perhaps hate is too strong a word, but it reminds me too much of crunching data for my thesis.”

    Makayla said it reminded her of a road map. When asked whether or not she viewed it as art, Makayla said, “I would probably say no.”

    “It looks like a kindergartener did it,” Makayla said.

    Lodge was not in the room when the three people viewed his work, but he said he did interact with a young volunteer at the YAM’s annual art auction who confronted him about his work.

    As the young woman was holding his multimedia piece just about to walk across the platform where it would be sold at the live auction, she looked over at Lodge and asked if he was the artist. When he confirmed he was, she said, “How can you call this art?”

    Lodge said it was one of the greatest moments of his life.

    “She was expressing something about the piece, her gut reaction to it. It was fabulous,” Lodge said.

    The work, like so much of Lodge’s work, relates to jazz and to the king of that genre — Miles Davis.

    Davis is so important to Lodge that Lodge noted on his resume the first time he heard a Davis recording, which was when Lodge was 16 in 1961 and living with his family in Red Lodge.

    “The story is that John McLaughlin came to Miles and said ‘I don’t know how to come in on guitar.’ Miles said, “Just play like you don’t know how to play guitar.’”

    Lodge said that is the concept behind his artwork, removing the obsession with technique and focusing more on the process.

    As a kid growing up in Red Lodge, surrounded by beautiful mountain peaks and rivers, Lodge said he was more attracted to the crumbling concrete, rusted steel gears and the orange water flowing out of the old mines there.

    “I didn’t want to make pictures of nature. I tried to get out and find out what makes nature work. I was looking for the surface tension of the molecules and their relation to the atmosphere.”

    When you view Lodge’s work, he suggests that you look for the energy in it. When creating his artwork, he is concerned with the way it looks to him but just as important, Lodge said he craves the pure stimulation of a piece of art.

  • Billings teacher and artist Edith Freeman is remembered as a gracious lady with talented hands.

    Freeman, who passed away in 1992, had a can-do attitude about life and art. When her hands became crippled with arthritis in her later years, she tied doorknobs to them so she could steady them enough to carve one-inch-thick sheets of fir into woodblocks to make her detailed prints.

    Marylee Moreland, co-owner of the Meadowlark Gallery, said when she visited Freeman’s studio in the early 1970s, she was impressed with Freeman’s warmth and charm.

    “She reminded me of Julia Child — a very proper lady but down to earth,” Moreland said. “It was very enlightening. There were buckets of flowers everywhere. She showed us a stainless steel spoon that she used to press the rice paper into the woodblock. You have to be gentle or you’ll break the paper.”

    The technique of making woodblock prints is a centuries-old tradition in Japan. When Japan opened itself to the world and to commerce with the West in the 1860s, one outcome was an awareness of woodblock prints, said Robyn Peterson, executive director of the Yellowstone Art Museum.

    The YAM is displaying one of Freeman’s

    prints, “Along Alkali Creek I,” which was No. 16 of 21 woodblock prints from the series made in 1978. It measures 21 inches by 30 inches and may be viewed in the Visible Vault, 505 N. 26th St., through Sept. 30.

    The YAM owns 66 of Freeman’s woodblock prints, some that were purchased in the 1980s with a major grant from the Montana Cultural Trust, which was funded by the coal tax. The trust enabled the YAM, then the Yellowstone Art Center, to purchase a number of important works by Montana-based artists to add them to the YAM’s Montana Collection.

    Freeman also provided 50 of what she considered her best woodblock prints to the YAM in her will.

    With her typical can-do attitude, Freeman worked and lived on her own until she fell ill just before Christmas in 1992. Not wanting to bother anyone, she drove herself to the hospital where she died.

    Freeman taught for 30 years, beginning in rural county schools, then teaching sixth grade at North Park, Garfield and Broadwater elementary schools in Billings. Former MSU Billings professor Marcia Selsor described Freeman in 1993 as a woman with a great heart and a curiosity about new experiences. Freeman took a ceramics class from Selsor and experimented with surface texture and color. In the class, Freeman created a ceramic piece, “Purple Rain,” as a response to a radio interview with rock performer Prince. Freeman told Selsor that the interview inspired in her a new appreciation for rock music.

    But more than anything, Freeman was known for celebrating the landscape of Eastern Montana, said Liz Harding, associate curator for the YAM.

    “She portrays our area, that some people don’t necessarily think is beautiful, in such a beautiful way that people are giving it another look,” Harding said. “She was able to show the beauty around us.”

    Harding curated the exhibit, “Montana Seasons,” for display at the YAM in 2011 and prepared it for travel across Montana. The show, which includes 16 prints and some of Freeman’s carving tools, has traveled to museums in Missoula, Kalispell, Bozeman, Sidney and Red Lodge and is currently on display in Martinsdale.

    Harding said people don’t always understand the precision required in making woodblock prints.

    “Wood is incredibly hard. When we did the show here, we had a staff project to make woodblocks so the staff could see how hard it was to get that precision, to get the details. You are working backward and thinking about the negative space.”

    Woodblock printing was more commonplace in the 1970s, Harding said. But these days, there aren’t as many artists working in the medium.

    “I think it’s one of the most misunderstood processes. I think people hear the word, ‘print,’ and they think it’s not an original,” Harding said.

    Each print is made individually with several layers of colors pressed into the paper. For most of her designs, Freeman made only 15 to 20 prints.

    Gary Temple, co-owner of The Meadowlark Gallery, said in the 1980s Freeman’s prints went for $35. Now, they are $3,000. And finding the actual woodblocks is getting harder and harder.

    Stockman Bank, 402 N. Broadway, has a framed woodblock for public view in a first floor conference room.

  • Former Montana artist Molly Murphy-Adams once described humor as tragedy survived.

    Her work often uses irony and humor to express dark moments in the history of indigenous people. Murphy-Adams is part Oglala and Lakota Sioux and was raised in Western Montana. She now lives in Tulsa, Okla., but considers Montana home.

    The Yellowstone Art Museum is exhibiting one of her large, wool felt and glass bead wall hangings. “Snake Dance” is a companion piece to a work owned by the Missoula Art Museum, “Forced North.” You could call them bookend pieces for Montana because they sit on opposite sides of the state at Montana’s two largest contemporary art museums.

    “Snake Dance” is on display in the YAM’s “Boundless Visions,” exhibit on the first floor of the museum and it is part of the YAM’s Permanent Collection.

    Murphy-Adams finished the two beaded works in 2007, not long after she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine art in 2004 from the University of Montana.

    Murphy-Adams’ work illustrates the blending of culture, identity and history and she borrows from multiple disciplines to create fiber works representing diverse backgrounds and traditions.

    “Snake Dance” shows the pattern of the procession at the annual July 4 powwow celebrated by the Salish Tribe on the Flathead Reservation. The dance is unique in that it is a line of Native dancers led by a drummer.

    When Murphy-Adams was young, the procession was led by the men, followed by the women and then the children. The 400 felt circles she sewed on her piece in a snakelike pattern represent the number of people who dance in the procession.

    “It is an aerial view of it,” Murphy-Adams said in a recent telephone interview with The Gazette. “No person can ever see the patterns you make, but a bird would be able to see it. You are participating in something that is larger than yourself.”

    Stephen Glueckert, curator of the Missoula Art Museum, said it is important that Montana’s two large, contemporary art museums own works by Murphy-Adams because her voice is strong and she brings a contemporary influence to Native American issues.

    “It’s hard to think in a historical sense when someone is making work so contemporary, but she hasn’t forgotten her history,” Glueckert said.

    “Forced North” tells the story of the Salish tribe being forced to move north after the Hellgate Treaty was signed. In her multimedia piece, Murphy-Adams chronicles that move from their homeland in the Bitterroot Valley to the area they are now located in north of Missoula in the Jocko Valley.

    “The issue is a microcosm to what happened to the tribes across the U.S.,” Glueckert said. “It is something that we all have to live with. There is darkness in our history.”

    Contemporary artists of Native American heritage, such as Murphy-Adams, remind us that culture is something that is living and breathing, he said.

    Karen and Michael Fried were so impressed with Murphy-Adam’s way of articulating important issues through art involving Native Americans that in 2012 they purchased “Snake Dance” and donated it to the YAM.

    “She is a wonderful example of somebody who rose way above it all through her intelligence,” said Michael Fried, who is a member of the YAM board of directors.

    Fried helped organize a two-day conference in 2012 called “Art Trails” with the YAM and Rocky Mountain College, where Murphy-Adams presented her work. Fried said Murphy-Adams’ lecture was so thought-provoking, it prompted participants to do some serious thinking about art and culture, Fried said.

    “In the case of Molly, you know you are talking to a very bright woman,” Fried said.

    Murphy-Adams will show 30 works in April at the University of Montana’s University Center Gallery. She said she continues to incorporate the beadwork she learned when she was 7 years old with other elements, including copper plates. Murphy-Adams said it is tough to push back against the stereotype of Native American artwork, but that is something she strives for in her work.

    “The materials I use reflect who I am today. I’m part Native, but I am also the granddaughter of Irish immigrants,” Murphy-Adams said. “I have a lot of different kinds of history to tell.”

  • Molt artist Tracy Linder’s home and studio are six miles from the nearest paved road, and a passing vehicle is a rarity.

    Much more common for Linder is seeing hawks swooping in the wind currents or hearing the bawling of newborn calves in the barn just outside her studio window.

    The spread she shares with her husband, Yellowstone County sheriff Mike Linder, is surrounded by sunflowers and grassland. On a bright October afternoon, Tracy looked out the window of her turn-of-the-century studio to see almost nothing but land and sky.

    So it should come as no surprise that her work is rooted in issues relating to farming and world food supplies.

    Five mixed-media pieces from her “Shovel” series are part of the Yellowstone Art Museum’s Permanent Collection. They were included in a major solo exhibit of Linder’s work curated by the YAM in 1999. Longtime YAM supporters Linda Shelhamer and Stephen Haraden purchased the works for the YAM collection and the shovels were later kept on display for two years in the “Boundless Visions” exhibit.

    One of the shovels, “Shovel # 2,” merges the man and the man-made tool with the plant life that is both nurtured and disrupted by human intervention, YAM executive director Robyn Peterson said.

    “Linder finds the poetry of visual form in the commonplace and elevates the mundane to a level of sharp focus and poignancy,” Peterson said. “I am aware of no other rural artist whose work has such power that it can make the viewer wish she could cradle a sheaf of wheat in her arms or speak to a long-dead farmer and apologize for our collective indifference.”

    Linder said one of the greatest moments in her career was when she was informed that her work was going into the YAM’s Permanent Collection.

    “I am proud to be one of the artists showcased that way,” Linder said.

    Linder grew up between Billings and Laurel, raising Angus cattle for her 4-H projects to show at MontanaFair and observing the relationship between farmers and ranchers and the land.

    After earning her master’s degree in fine art in 1991 from the University of Colorado in Boulder, she returned to Montana. Her work is held in public collections throughout Montana and Wyoming. An exhibit in 2010 at the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper, Wyo., gained her a new fan, organic farmer Laurel Graham.

    Graham said when she visited the Nicolaysen to see Linder’s work, it was the first time she walked into the gallery even though she had lived in Casper for 10 years. Graham said memories of visiting her uncle’s ranch in the San Joaquin Valley came flooding back to her after viewing the series “Gloves,” where Linder applied resin to worn leather work gloves to pose them in the gestures of hands at work.

    “For once my feeling of the soul being part of the earth was not weird, not alone, not some ‘California’ thing,” Graham commented after the show.

    For a recent exhibit at the Missoula Art Museum, Linder constructed 100 Angus cow heads of paper, placing two shafts of fescue grass on each head. Linder said contemporary artists like Ted Waddell, who like Linder, graduated from Laurel High School, blazed the way for her.

    “I never felt like my way of life was being reflected in a contemporary way,” Linder said.

    In her studio, Linder has several projects she is working on, including a new series of newborn calves that she will cast in bronze with umbilical cords made from sisal twine covered in beeswax.

    She is also sketching a large drawing of a cow’s face using a 3-millimeter pencil. It is tedious, repetitious work. But that’s what Linder loves. She has been working on the drawing since she was the first artist-in-residence at the YAM’s Visible Vault several years ago.

    Linder’s life-size horse, “Terra Equis,” which was created for the Horse of Course public art project in Billings, is on display in the baggage claim area of the Billings Airport.

    One of her most compelling works is a new series, “More Than Enough,” which shows a life-sized chicken in a paper bag, which is slightly larger than the area many laying chickens are kept in.

    But mostly, Linder creates artwork that allows the viewer to find their own message.

    “I like it more when it’s up for conversation instead of having the message so obvious,” Linder said.

  • The late Grass Range artist Bill Stockton called himself a lone wolf in a 1970s interview because he hadn’t read an art magazine in 15 years and “had nothing to do with the art world.”

    Stockton was an opinionated man who some colleagues described as a curmudgeon. Although he studied art in Paris and Minneapolis, Stockton spent most of his life on his sheep ranch studying the “harsh, abstract, semi-wilderness qualities of central Montana,” he told former Yellowstone Art Museum director Donna Forbes in 1993.

    Stockton’s influence is felt throughout the Northwest and beyond because he brought abstract painting techniques to landscapes, exploring patterns in nature. He often mixed turpentine with cattle markers to make a heavy oil paint. Cattle markers are oil-based grease markers used to mark cattle at auctions.

    Neil Jussila, longtime professor of art at Montana State University Billings, gave the eulogy at Stockton’s memorial service in 2002. Jussila said Stockton was an admirer of C.M. Russell, but Stockton chose to respond to a feeling of place instead of presenting a “staged interpretation of the landscape” like Russell often did.

    “The gift of his expression, which comes from the earth, is a reminder of how precious life is — weeds and all,” Jussila said. “And we, who love art, remain blessed in his passionate quest.”

    The Yellowstone Art Museum has 90 works by Stockton in its permanent collection. His 23-by-29-inch livestock marker and pencil work on paper, “Lone Pine,” is on display in the Boundless Visions Gallery through the end of the year.

    Some pieces were donated to the YAM by Stockton, but most of the works were donated to the YAM by the late Stockton admirer Miriam Sample. One painting done with cattle marker and pencil was donated by a one-time fishing guide and psychologist who met the artist during Stockton’s final year of life.

    Mike Lawler met Stockton in 2001 when he visited Stockton’s sheep ranch. Lawler was introduced to Stockton by former YAM executive director Robert Knight who took Lawyer to see the artist because Lawler kept returning to the museum to sit and stare at Stockton’s works.

    “I visited with Bill out on his ranch and sat by his bedside to talk. It was a great privilege,” Lawler said.

    Lawler purchased two large works depicting an apple tree with a lone apple left on it that was growing in Stockton’s yard. The sunnier, more cheerful piece Lawyer kept for himself and the darker, moodier painting Lawler donated to the YAM.

    “A lot of his subject matter was right outside his window,” Lawler said. “He painted the everyday, mundane things that he saw and he painted them in an incredibly emotional and personal way that somehow reaches out to us.”

    Stockton attended Rocky Mountain College for a year, working in the dairy barn and studying agriculture. It was during that time when he met Isabelle Johnson, who taught painting at Eastern Montana College. The two remained friends throughout their lives.

    Stockton served in France during World War II, which is where he met his wife, Elvia. After the war, he returned to Paris to study art at Ecole de la Grande Chaumiere. He also studied at Minneapolis School of Art and exhibited his work in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    Mark Browning, longtime director and curator at the Miles City Art Center, which is now Waterworks, helped get Stockton’s book, “Today I Bailed the Hay to Feed the Sheep that the Coyotes Eat,” published through the Montana Institute of the Arts.

    “He was a grizzly, old curmudgeon of a guy,” Browning said. “The first time I came across his work it was the early 1970s, and he broke all of the rules.”

    Some writers thought Stockton’s book needed some prettying up, but Browning argued that the stories, paired with loose gesture drawings, were gritty but true to Stockton’s character.

    “He was such a coarse character, yet his paintings had such a sensitivity to them,” Browning said.

    Stockton’s son, Gilles, who lives on the family ranch with his elderly mother, Elvia, said his father found beauty in common scenes in Eastern Montana, inspiring a generation of younger artists to explore the landscape in their own styles. Gillis remembers sitting around the kitchen table with his dad’s artist friends, Isabelle Johnson, Genie DeWeese, Frances Senska and Jessie Wilbur.

    “I knew it was different from when the neighbors came over. It was like having a foot in two different worlds. This was the group that brought modern art to Montana,” Gilles said.

    There is a wild story about arts supporter Miriam Sample visiting Stockton one day when he was so discouraged he started to bury his paintings in the yard and she rescued them. Gilles said the story is only half true. A chimney fire had frightened his dad into building a steel vault for his paintings, which he thought he would bury in the yard to protect from a potential house fire. Sample discouraged him from burying them because humidity would damage them. Sample arranged for the purchase of the works and donated them to the YAM.

    “Unlike some of his contemporaries, who sometimes never sold a painting, my father was always selling, but not always for a lot of money,” Gilles said. “But there was enough encouragement there to keep him going.”

    Lone wolf artist, hard-working rancher, lover of the plains, curmudgeon — Stockton was all those things.

  • Internationally acclaimed artist Deborah Butterfield has done more to bring attention to art in Montana than any other Montana artist since C.M. Russell.

    That’s a bold claim, but Robyn Peterson, executive director at the Yellowstone Art Museum, said it would be hard to find a Montana artist who is better known throughout the world than Butterfield.

    Many Billings folks know Butterfield through her 1990 horse sculpture, “Ferdinand,” which greeted visitors to the YAM when it stood for years near the front door.

    “Ferdinand,” made of welded found steel and donated to the YAM in 1991, has become a symbol for the Billings museum, the largest contemporary art museum in Montana.

    The weathered red steel horse stands with his neck

    extended and his head bowed in calm reflection. He measures 77 inches tall and is 116 inches long from tail to snout. “Ferdinand” is currently on hiatus from his front-door post in preparation for being sent out on a traveling exhibit about art of the “Big Sky,” which will start out in Louisiana. He’ll be back, though.

    Butterfield has spent four decades studying and sculpting horses, yet in a 1990s interview, she said her work really isn’t about horses, but rather the horses are an abstract metaphor for social commentary and personal statements.

    Butterfield spoke with The Gazette recently about the fateful day in the late 1980s in Bozeman when she discovered the cast-off metal letters that became part of Ferdinand’s body.

    “Claurice Dreyer was teaching sculpture and had to take a break. John (Buck) and I filled in for her. I was sort of panicking. I was walking around the sculpture lab and in the backyard were these big red metal letters. I was able to buy those letters very cheap and it gave me the inspiration for ‘Ferdinand.’”

    Butterfield said she envisioned the letters representing brands on Montana livestock, and they reminded her of the letters used in judging dressage, an English style of riding that Butterfield has participated in for many years.

    She named the sculpture “Ferdinand” because that was the name of the winner of the 1986 Kentucky Derby, which was the first derby she got to see in person.

    Butterfield has admired horses almost since birth, perhaps feeling a connection to them because she was born on the day of the 75th Kentucky Derby on May 7, 1949.

    When her husband, acclaimed artist John Buck, moved to Montana in the 1970s to teach at Montana State University, Butterfield stayed behind to teach at the University of Wisconsin. So Buck hatched a plan to get his wife here. He invited her to visit the farm where he was living.

    “She saw that everybody in Montana had a horse in the backyard and that’s the life she wanted,” Buck told The Gazette earlier this year.

    Ten years later, in 1986, Butterfield and Buck were living together in Bozeman and raising their first son, Wilder, when they created a rare collaborative piece, “A Collaboration,” that is part of the YAM’s permanent collection. It takes up an entire section of the “Boundless Visions” exhibit on the first floor of the YAM.

    Butterfield said she and Buck, “hammered collaboratively,” finding pieces of cast-off metal and adding objects from Buck’s studio that Butterfield described as “a cabinet of curiosity.” They kept building and attaching new pieces to the work until it felt complete.

    “When we finished, the curator said, ‘What does all this mean?’ We said we’re not sure, then we realized it, we had intuitively created a piece about marriage,” Butterfield said.

    Butterfield, who splits her time between studios in Montana, Hawaii and Washington, said it was more important for her to learn welding in college than many other subjects she studied. She described welding as much less complicated than knitting.

    Butterfield exhibits her work in galleries in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco at the Paule Anglim Gallery.

    Gallery owner Paule Anglim has represented Butterfield for many years.

    “I’m a great admirer of the ideas that she realizes and the energy that she puts in her work,” Anglim said.

    When she builds her sculptures from scrap metal, Butterfield said she starts right out making it in 3-D.

    “There is no sketching, I just start making it. The sketching I do is taking a piece off with a welding torch. Often by the time the piece is done, I have taken as many pieces off as I have put on. It is trial and error.”

    Butterfield said she has been banned from some junkyards, including one in Bozeman, where she used to wander around looking for scrap metal to use. Other junkyards have celebrated her visits. After she accepted an invitation by the owner of a Rockford, Ill., junkyard, he required his foremen to visit her exhibit and later gifted her 50 tons of junk metal, delivered to her door in a dump truck.

    Butterfield said she instructs the metal what shapes it needs to take in order to fit into her sculpture in the same way she instructs her horses.

    “It all becomes part of the narrative, part of the energy you feel, the meditation on how the piece came to be. Sometimes I don’t know how it came to be. The energy of how it came to be, the wind or the fire or the machine, that’s the story waiting to be told.”

    Butterfield said she’s rather jealous of “Ferdinand” because there will never be another horse sculpture quite like him.

  • Her eyes were piercing and her hands were weathered from standing in the freezing cold to paint or feed cattle.

    What the late Montana artist Isabelle Johnson saw with those intense eyes were not the lush green fields of the Midwest. Rather, Johnson saw the harshness of Montana winters and the rugged landscape near her family’s ranch outside Absarokee. So that’s what she painted in colors that fit the natural palette of the Northern Plains.

    Former director of the Yellowstone Art Museum Donna Forbes remembers Johnson as a good friend and mentor. Johnson was a strong woman who was a gifted teacher and role model.

    “Her great statement was, ‘You have to learn to look and see, not just look,’” Forbes said. “The depth of your seeing has to grow and hers did constantly.”

    The Yellowstone Art Museum holds 827 Johnson-related works in its permanent collection, most of which were

    donated to the museum by Johnson. One painting, “Pilot and Index Peaks, Wyoming,” was donated to the YAM in 1995 by Carol L. Cooper Ferguson, David L. Cooper and Joanne L. Morrill in memory of their parents, Lyle and Connie Cooper. The 1952 oil painting on canvas is on display in the “Boundless Visions” exhibit in the Scott Gallery.

    The YAM is hosting a solo exhibit of Johnson’s works in November and December of 2015. The oil and watercolor paintings were completed by Johnson between the 1940s up until just a few years before her death in 1992 at the age of 91.

    Johnson’s parents, Albert and Irene, were Norwegian immigrants who built their Stillwater County ranch up to 6,000 acres through hard work and frugal living.

    All four of the Johnson children went to college and Isabelle earned a history degree at the University of Montana and a master’s degree in history from Columbia University in New York. She studied painting and sculpture at Columbia University and was selected in 1946 by Henry Varnum to participate in the first class of his experimental Skowhagan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhagan, Maine.

    By the time Johnson returned to Montana in the 1940s, she was forever changed by her experience in the East.

    Jim Baken, longtime art professor at Rocky Mountain College, grew up in Absarokee and was a box boy at the IGA store in 1968 when he met Johnson as he carried groceries out to her car.

    “I didn’t know anything about painters back then. I thought great artists were all over in Europe,” Baken said. “I did know she was one of the Johnson sisters and that they were a bit eccentric.”

    Years later when Baken was in grad school at the University of New Orleans, he wrote a research paper on Ted Waddell and began to see how much Johnson had influenced Waddell when she taught art at Eastern Montana College.

    “I give her credit for being one of that first generation of modernists in Montana. Ted Waddell is in the second generation and I am part of that third generation of modernists in Montana,” Baken said.

    Patricia Vettel-Becker, head of the art department at Montana State University Billings, where Johnson served as department head from 1954 to 1961, is researching Johnson’s life as part of a catalogue for the YAM exhibit.

    Vettel-Becker said the details in Johnson’s paintings were never as important to her as capturing the essence of place.

    “In some of her work there is almost an immersion of herself into the land. There is no distance. Some of her paintings are right there in the viewer’s face. It’s almost like the landscape is surrounding her,” Vettel-Becker said.

    That sensation of melting into the landscape speaks to Johnson’s intense relationship to the natural world. She was as rugged as her surroundings, never fussing much about her hair or wardrobe, Forbes said.

    “When we would go out to paint together, she would look at a field or a stream and say, ‘It’s not pretty country, it’s handsome country.’ She would paint outside when the watercolor would freeze to the paper. She was tough.”

    And Johnson admired toughness in others. Her family archives at the Museum of the Beartooths in Columbus holds family letters and journals written by Johnson. Vettel-Becker is enjoying the process of discovering the Johnson family stories.

    Because none of the Johnson children had children, the ranch was left to the last surviving sibling, which was Isabelle. She bequeathed it to Montana State University in Bozeman to be used by its veterinary program. The ranch was eventually sold to a private party, and plans are in the works to host concerts and other cultural events there, Vettel-Becker said.

    “Peter Halstead, who owns the land, has a lot of vision for it. He has taken photographs of sites on the ranch that she has painted. He discovered that sometimes she took some artistic license with her paintings. Sometimes the creek isn’t the creek she named in the painting.”

    Johnson lived the life many of us wish we could, working for a time and then traveling to the East Coast or to Europe to see opera and visit art museums. She viewed it as part of her artistic training, Vettel-Becker said.

    She brought all of those influences back to the place she loved the most and Montana arts patrons and artists are the richer for it.

  • At the heart of Kevin Red Star’s bold, modernist paintings is the tradition and history of the Crow Tribe.

    When one young Crow student viewed his work, she told her mother that Red Star is painting her ancestors. And the young woman was right on. Red Star has used historic photographs of his Crow ancestors, some taken by Edward Curtis and others from his family archives, to get the details right.

    The Yellowstone Art Museum is exhibiting its only Red Star painting in the “Boundless Visions” exhibit through 2015. It is titled “The General.”

    Dispelling stereotypes

    YAM docent Virginia Bryan led a tour of elementary students through the museum and asked them to comment on the painting that shows a Crow leader wearing a U.S. cavalry jacket and holding a large feather. Bryan said it was a good opportunity to dispel the stereotypes about Native Americans by explaining the details of the painting to students.

    “One thing that I thought was interesting was the stereotypes that kids have about the painting,” Bryan said. “One student said, ‘He probably killed the man and took his jacket.’ But the Crow didn’t fight the U.S. Army. The Crow were scouts for the U.S. Army because of a dream one of the Crows had that the white man is coming and that they should make friends with them. Kevin told me that probably an Army officer had gifted this jacket to the Crow leader.”

    Santa Fe writer Daniel Gibson pointed out that the outfit Johnny Depp wears in his portrayal of Tonto in the 2013 film “The Lone Ranger” looks much like one of Red Star’s paintings where a warrior is wearing a raven as a headdress. Red Star laughed at the idea of Depp owning one of his paintings, but he noted that he doesn’t always know who buys his work. Red Star remembers when newsman Tom Brokaw purchased one of his paintings several years ago.

    Historic accuracy

    Gibson and his photographer wife, Kitty Leaken, collaborated on a new art book on Red Star, “Kevin Red Star: Crow Indian Artist.” A book signing at the YAM with Red Star will be scheduled for early May.

    The painted faces, bird headdresses and feathers in the hands of Crow leaders are all historically accurate, and to illustrate their accuracy, Gibson and Leaken selected Curtis photos to run alongside Red Star paintings in their book. Gibson said he admires Red Star for his strong, dignified portrayal of the Crow people.

    “He is one of a handful of pre-eminent Native American artists. He has had a long career and has created a huge body of work. He is prolific and works diligently,” Gibson said.

    Red Star, now 71, paints his ancestors with such reverence and stark simplicity that the paintings are immediately recognizable as Red Star’s work, former YAM executive director Robert Knight said.

    When Red Star, whose Crow name is Running Rabbit, had a solo exhibit at the YAM in 2005, Knight wrote, “Championing stark figure-ground compositions and heroic-scaled canvases, Kevin Red Star has evolved a compelling and powerful synthesis of traditional and contemporary imagery.”

    Born painter

    Elizabeth Guheen, who is now director of the Bair Family Museum in Martinsdale, curated the YAM exhibit. She noted that Red Star was a born painter.

    “The most interesting thing about Kevin and his work is it is modern and contemporary, yet it is rooted in some of the oldest traditions in the U.S.,” Guheen said. “Visually, what you see is very contemporary, but the roots are ancient.”

    Red Star has a studio and gallery in Roberts and also spends time on the family ranch near Lodge Grass.

    Red Star grew up speaking Crow and did not speak English until he started kindergarten in Lodge Grass.

    He showed promise as an artist at a young age and was encouraged by his parents, but Red Star said he was discouraged by school counselors from pursuing art as a viable career. Instead, they suggested he consider a career as a plumber.

    Red Star said his parents were both artistic, and culture was a big part of their home life. When a representative from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe visited his reservation and invited the then 16-year-old Red Star to study art at the noted school, Red Star took his first plane ride to get there.

    “I had watched planes flying overhead and was curious,” Red Star said. “It was an adventurous time for me.”

    Witnessing history

    A few years later when Red Star was studying art in San Francisco, one of his teachers from Santa Fe chartered a plane and took three students to a big festival happening on the East Coast — Woodstock.

    “We set up a tepee to show our artwork. When the movie came out, we didn’t see anything about the arts, but we were there.”

    Back in San Francisco in 1969, a friend invited Red Star to take in another historic event — the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Alcatraz.

    “A friend of mine said to me, ‘This reminds me of Fort Peck,’” Red Star recalled.

    Red Star is a quiet man who is respectful of all people, Gibson said. He has a sly humor and his wide grin is one of his trademarks.

    “It’s a myth that Indians are stoic,” Gibson said. “You get to spend a lot of time with a person if you do a biography, and it was a real pleasure to work with Kevin.”

    Bryan said Red Star’s work and mentorship for young artists is important to the Crow tribe.

    “My daughter Ellie is Crow, and we were talking about his subject matter. She said he paints my ancestors. There is just a connection there that is so vital and so strong.”

    Beyond the reservation, Red Star is important throughout the country and his artwork is revered worldwide. He is gearing up for a show in May in Paris, and in October, Red Star talked about his work in Germany to an audience filled with enthralled fans. Gibson and Leaken helped arrange Red Star’s visit to the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, where some of Red Star’s work is on display.

    “People leaned forward in their seats and listened to every word Kevin said,” Leaken said. “They couldn’t get enough of his stories.”

    Gibson said Red Star’s life story is so unique because he came from such a simple, rural environment and now he travels the world.

    “He had to leave Montana to establish himself, but culturally his familial ties really link him to Montana,” Gibson said.

    Bryan described Red Star as the “Charlie Russell of the Plains Indian artists.”

    “There is never going to be another Kevin Red Star. The way his life has unfolded is so unique and the way he paints, I just think he’s one of a kind,” Bryan said.

  • Almost every Montanan knows the name of the cowboy artist Charlie Russell.

    There are schools, museums, hotels, streets, a wildlife refuge and bars named for Montana’s most recognizable artist. Russell chronicled the changes that came to the West during his lifetime and envisioned the scenes that occurred before he arrived here in 1880.

    Russell painted with so much sincerity that you can feel his paintings in your gut, said Neil Jussila, longtime Montana State University Billings art professor.

    Jussila’s eighth-grade teacher in Butte back in the 1950s, Miss Stone, had corresponded with Russell and framed his letters for the students to see. Even though Jussila pursued contemporary art and is one of the region’s most lauded abstract artists, Russell’s work impacted him.

    “Russell is why I became an artist,” Jussila said.

    Painting the Old West

    The Old West quickly vanished during Russell’s lifetime and some of those iconic scenes he painted, like herds of bison thundering across the prairie, were already gone by the time he arrived in Montana Territory. Russell painted those long-ago scenes in a style reminiscent of European Impressionistic painters, such as French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who was born the same year as Russell — 1864.

    After a short stint at a military academy in New Jersey, Russell talked his parents into letting him head to Montana Territory, which President Lincoln designated a territory the same year Russell was born. Russell was only 16 when he tagged along with a family friend who owned a sheep ranch in Judith Basin.

    But Russell was no sheep herder, and later he wrote to a friend in one of his colorful letters, “I lost those sheep quicker’n Miller could replace 'em.”

    Russell finally fulfilled his dream of becoming a cowboy when he got his first cattle job in 1882 as a night hawk, which meant he watched over the cattle at night. The experienced cowboys took over during the day.

    Russell always said he was not a good roper or rider, but what he excelled at was telling stories around the campfire and sketching the cows, horses and cowboys.

    Russell's illustrated letters

    The Yellowstone Art Museum has six of Russell’s letters in its permanent collection, including a 1920 illustrated letter from Russell to Billings cowboy artist Will James. The letter, which is on display through February at the Visible Vault and from March 26 through June 14 at the YAM, was part of a large bequest of Will James-related material donated by Virginia Snook in 1995. The YAM also has 18 small bronze sculptures by Russell.

    Two of the largest Russell collections in the country are at the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls and the Montana Historical Society in Helena. The C.M. Russell Museum has several hundred of Russell’s works and the Montana Historical Society has 230 Russell works. A new book, “Montana’s Charlie Russell,” written by Kirby Lambert and Jennifer Bottomly-O’looney, senior curator at the Montana Historical Society, shows the Historical Society’s complete collection and tells the stories behind the works.

    Bottomly-O’looney said Russell was popular with cowboys and art lovers alike.

    “He had a great sense of humor. Cowboys would write about him after he died that even if he wasn’t a great artist, which of course he was, he was a great storyteller. You look at his painting ‘Bronc to Breakfast.’ Here’s a scene when you’re out there on the roundup, cooking breakfast over the coals, and this guy gets up to ride his horse. It bucks into the fry pan and everything goes in the air.”

    Album cover

    Another painting, “In Without Knocking,” which shows cowboys on horseback charging into a hotel saloon, was popularized in the 1970s as the cover and title to a Mission Mountain Wood Band album.

    Russell’s masterpieces include a large mural, “When the Land Belonged to God,” which shows a herd of bison stampeding up a hill with wolves and other animals running for cover. Another masterpiece mural, “Lewis and Clark Meeting the Indians at Ross’ Hole,” hangs in the House of Representatives room at the State Capitol in Helena.

    “Lewis and Clark are off in the background and the Indians are up front. Russell liked to portray the scenes from an Indian’s perspective,” Bottomly-O’looney said.

    Russell told stories with his paintings, like the oil painting “Caught in the Act,” which shows a band of starving Native Americans butchering a cow while their skinny dogs with ribs protruding beg at their feet. Two cowboys on horseback have ridden up on the scene and there is a moment of decision — will the cowboys turn away and ignore that the Natives have stolen a cow to eat, or will they shoot them?

    “His work was always lively and infused with emotion and vibrancy,” Bottomly-O’looney said. “(Frederic) Remington was a great artist, but I believe that Russell surpasses him in his ability to capture emotion.”

    Preeminent Western painter

    Lorne Render, who served as executive director of the C.M. Russell Museum from 1991 to 1999, said Russell is important not just to Montana, but to the nation as one of the preeminent Western painters.

    “He captured the spirit and essence of Montana. He’s not what you would call a studio painter; he was out there and knew the people and the landscape and captured it,” Render said.

    Russell was primarily a self-taught artist who was very accomplished. Render said when Russell painted a saddle or a rope, you could bet they were accurate down to the tiniest details. 

    “When you look at a Russell, I think you look for the enjoyment of it. It’s telling you a story and appealing to your mind and your heart,” Render said.

    As testament to how much he was loved in Montana, on the day of Russell's funeral in 1926, Great Falls students were let out of school to watch the funeral procession.

    Yellowstone Art Museum curator Bob Durden said the national appeal of Russell’s work is that he depicted Montana so exquisitely, his paintings called to the viewer to come find out for themselves if this place truly exists.

    “He imbued his paintings with a grandeur that was not entirely invented. His painted sunsets, though seemingly an abstraction, actually occur in the northern plains of Montana. They have to be seen to be believed,” Durden said.

    Russell is a name synonymous with Montana, and he continues to be admired throughout the country for telling stories through his illustrated letters and his masterpiece oil paintings. 

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