HELENA — Joining the ranks of Sacagawea, Jeannette Rankin and Maureen Mansfield at the Montana State Capitol will be a new mural depicting women’s contributions as community builders in Montana history.
It’s scheduled to be installed in the Montana State Capitol by October 2014 — in time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Montana in November 2014.
“Isn’t it cool?” asked former state Sen. Lynda Moss, from Billings.
During the 2011 Legislature, she and former Rep. Diane Sands, of Missoula, successfully sponsored Senate Bill 59 to create the mural.
Totally funded by private donations, the mural is expected to cost $56,000. So far, nearly $20,000 has been raised, said Moss.
The three artist semifinalists, who’ve been selected from a pool of 55 applicants, are all experienced and highly regarded mural painters, she said. “All have done large-scale public paintings.”
They will be at the Capitol on March 8 for International Women’s Day, said Moss, when they will meet with Mary Murphy, a professor of history at Montana State University, who is overseeing the historical accuracy of the mural.
The semifinalists are Hadley Ferguson, of Missoula; Robert Evans, of Sherborn, Mass.; and Janet McKenzie, of Island Pond, Vt. A subcommittee will select the finalist by summer, said Moss.
The mural will be the first new painting installed in the State Capitol since 1928, said Moss, and will be located on what is now a third floor blank wall in a public hallway outside the Senate Chamber.
The Montana History Foundation and the Montana Historical Society are serving as fiscal sponsors for the mural, while a grant from Humanities Montana will ensure that it is historically accurate.
The painting will honor Montana’s “unsung heroines,” said Moss. While the artwork cannot portray a specific woman, it can show women in their diverse roles on their ranches, in their tribes, government, businesses and as founders of schools, theaters, libraries, hospitals and more.
Montanans are encouraged to submit stories of remarkable Montana women and help document their contributions to Montana history at montanawomensmural.org.
The website also shares historical photos, background about the mural, bios of the semifinalist artists, details on how to submit stories and how to donate money for the mural’s creation.
The stories will be shared with the artist and with the Montana Historical Society Research Center Archives for potential addition to its collection.
Moss, whose background is in art, history and community organizing, said that the idea for the mural was inspired by discovering that very few of the art pieces in the Capitol depicted women.
Of the 40 art images in the Capitol, only seven depicted women, and these were limited to Sacagawea, Rankin and Maureen Mansfield.
“A whole part of Montana history was missing from the Capitol,” she said.
“I think it’s fully fitting that a mural honoring Montana women be placed in the Capitol, and I’m delighted to be involved in any way I can,” said Jennifer Bottomly-O’looney, Montana Historical Society senior curator of collections and a member of the Capitol Complex Advisory Council that oversees art and plaque placement in the Capitol complex. “A mural of this stature will fit in beautifully with the nature of the art in the Capitol and the restored building.”
“In the future,” said Moss, “young girls and their mothers can come to the Capitol and see themselves depicted in the art and will know — ‘I’m part of the work that goes on in the people’s house.’ "
“It’s been very rewarding to have a positive project to work on,” added Moss.
Although it took two sessions to pass the mural legislation, she’s pleased that it had bipartisan support from both male and female legislators.
For more information, call Moss at 406-252-7318.