Tag Archives: Montana

Pottery Travelogue: Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front

Montana along the Continental Divide

Our trip from Bigfork across the Continental Divide and back was astounding. I had never seen the Rocky Mountain Front and it was so jaw-droppingly incredible, I’m definitely going back. It was a perfect summer day. Mark and I left Bigfork and headed into Kalispell. Our first stop was the Wheat Montana Deli, where I bought flour and wheat berries to take back to Canada. Chemical and GMO-free. We reached Mom’s dialysis clinic, she joined us and we sat, eating our muffins and coffee before heading east. On the way, we passed Hungry Horse and skirted the southern edge of Glacier National Park. It was one of those days that you wish could last forever… When we reached the signs for the Izaak Walton Inn, I said, ‘yes, yes!’ because Mom and I had never seen it. Originally a Great Northern whistle-stop for railway personnel, the inn, built in 1939, now services travelers. As soon as I saw it, I knew I would like to take a train from Vancouver to the inn for Christmas. It is so secluded, it would be an almost dreamlike experience, snowed in and far from everywhere… From there, we continued east, then over the Continental Divide. The terrain had slowly been changing and, on the other side, change was dramatic. Verdant to dry. We were on Blackfeet Nation land, saw buffalo and beautiful wetlands filled with pelicans, teepees along the Teton River, then turned south onto Highway 89 at Browning. We also had to stop to let cows cross the road. At this point we were traveling southwest and we could see the East face of Rocky Mountain Front unfold. It has got to be one of the most amazing stretches of land I’ve ever seen and we were elated and ready for adventure. On we drove, to Great Falls, making for the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. For me, it was the apex of my whole trip to Montana. I was going to be able to see the work of my former teacher, John Takehara. I felt too emotional about We cannot display this gallery seeing his work and cropped myself out of the photos, as I look I’m about ready to break down. I’d rushed up the museum steps, looked down the row of pieces in the lobby,  quickly walked passed Rudy Autio’s and found Mr. Takehara’s. Then, I just stood there. It felt like everything, even the air, had left the room and they were the only things left. Rakued pieces. Walking around and around the plinths, I remembered his hands wedging huge pieces of porcelain, remembered him sitting at the wheel, throwing enormous globes. I remembered his smile and his manner. His expressions. And I missed him so much. The family of the receptionist at the museum lived next door to Mr. Takehara when he lived in Bozeman, teaching ceramics at Montana State University. “You lived next door to him!?,”  I uttered. I mean, what are the chances of that? She said he was quiet and kind, always had a smile. Mr. Takehara first saw the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena in 1960, and it never left his blood. He continued to be part of that bunch. A far cry from his native Japan and Korea, where he’d studied. David Shaner’s vessel and platter was further down and Peter Volkous’ pieces were in the next room… Funny how the work of the Bray bunch was under the same roof at that moment. As we were leaving the museum, I felt a mix of joy and grief. I am not sure when I’ll be able to see Mr. Takehara’s work again. The pieces I saw will be placed back in the vaults of the Charlie Russell Museum after the show has finished touring Montana. I guess I’ll have to make a pilgrimage back to Boise one of these days…But I am just so glad I was able to see his work and clay he’d touched! After Great Falls, we hooked back up with 89 and drove due south. Incomparable views, especially during the Gold Hour. We saw fantastic, lone,  towering buttes, which reminded me of Ayers Rock. For lunch, we stopped in Choteau, a truly lovely little town. From there, we drove through Augusta, which would have been nicer, but the road was completely torn up the whole length of town. I had wanted to go to Latigo and Lace to purchase one of Michael Cohen’s tiles, but we got there too late and it was closed. Darn! From there, we sped over the prairies, enthralled as the golden wheat fields became purple toward dusk. Soon, we were following the Blackfoot River, made famous by world-class fishing and Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It,” a must-read. By this time, we’d crossed the Divide again and everything was thickly forested. At the junction leading to the Swan River Valley, we called my Uncle Bill to find out the name of a good restaurant at Seeley Lake. The Swan is a chain of lakes connected by the Clearwater River; one can paddle the length. It was almost completely dark when we popped around the corner and found ourselves in Bigfork again. Just a short dash to the lake and our pillows, where we dreamt of the hot, hot, August sun, blue skies with drifting clouds, and endless panoramas.

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Montana’s Continental Divide, Clay, and Culture

Super busy the last several days. Scheduling is working out well and no complaints. My Mom receives dialysis three times a week and this trip was set up well in advance because clinics were involved. It turns out she likes the clinic here better than her own…it’s smaller, well-staffed, and a friendly place to be. I am so happy my Mom’s had such a good experience here. She’s a trooper, has done very well this trip and it’s been very gratifying to see her having such a good time. This week, we met some of my blood relatives for lunch, saw the Montana Shakespeare in the Park’s production of “All’s Well That Ends Well” in Kalispell, and took a whirlind tour of both sides of the Continental Divide. Yesterday, our main destination was the Paris Gibson Art Museum, in Great Falls, to see three ceramics exhibitions. We were not disappointed and I will be writing a separate post about the shows. My teacher has passed away and seeing his work was a very emotional experience for me. I prevented myself from breaking down altogether, but I don’t know if that was such a smart move or not. It was the first time I saw anything he’d made since 1988 and it would have been okay to have shown more emotion.  He’d thrown the raku pieces that were shown in 1970, when he was teaching ceramics in Bozeman, at Montana State University. In an instance of pure synchronicity, it turns out the parent’s of the museum’s receptionist had been his neighbors in Bozeman. What are the odds that I would meet this woman who had known someone who had been so influential in my life? She broke protocol by allowing us to photograph his vessels and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for her decision. In addition to seeing John Takehara’s work, I saw pieces by David Shaner, Rudy Autio and Peter Voulkos. I have taken workshops with each of them through the annual guest artist events Mr. Takehara organized at Boise State University. I am only just now realizing how lucky I was to have been exposed to these stellar figures in the art field. Seeing their work was very affirming, very comforting and very motivating. Seeing Mr. Takehara’s work was touching beyond words. In addition to this peak experience, we skirted Glacier National Park, saw the amazing Izaak Walton Inn, the Eastern Rocky Mountain Front, and much evidence of ancient glacial flooding. We ate breakfast in Kalispell, lunch in Choteau, and dinner in Seeley Lake. A truly lovely day.

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For what it’s worth: A guide to western Montana

My friends Shirley and Brennan are preparing to move from Maui to a western state, Montana, Colorado or Wyoming. They are tired of Hawaii and want to live near mountains. I’ve known Shirley since the mid-70s. We were housemates in Eugene, Oregon, and lived in a big, sprawling house near the U. District. Since then, Shirley has moved between Hawaii and the Mainland of North America several times. Different things have driven her away from the island. Rock Fever…feeling bound by a small island. Mistreatment of animals…dogs staked on short tethers, mistreated and, sometimes, eaten. When she’s on the Mainland, she likes to live in the West and has lived in Seattle and Bellingham, too. Shirley and Brennan are world travelers. They work for several years, earning enough money for a major trip, then travel for several months to a half a year. They recently returned from New Zealand and Fiji. I think it will do them a heck of a lot of good to breathe some mountain air and I’ve prepared this guide for them. I thought of simply sending it to them in e-mail form, but decided that others might benefit from the information, too. Below are photos of boxes of Cream of the West, Montana cereal. No matter where we lived, my grandma always sent it to us, so I ate it while I was growing up. Back then, the only type available was the one on the far right. It is farina, but the hull hasn’t been removed, so it’s a whole wheat product. Delicious! Below that are the lyrics to “My Home’s in Montana,” a song I learned as a child, one I still sing because I like it so much. My mother’s from Missoula and she learned it as a child in school there. Happy trails!

My Home’s In Montana

My Home’s In Montana
I wear a bandana
My spurs are silver, my pony is gray
When riding the ranges
My luck never changes
With foot in the stirrup I’ll gallop away

When far from the ranches
I cut the pine branches
To lay out a campfire
When daylight draws near
When I have partaken
Of beans and the bacon
I whistle a merry old song of the trail

Geography: These towns and cities are west of the Continental Divide. They, therefore, receive more precipitation in the form of rain and snow than the areas east of the divide. Within this western section are areas with diverse climates and microclimates, flora and fauna and extremes. For instance, the area around Hamilton is Montana’s Banana Belt, a warmer climate, while Whitefish, a ski resort is colder, and Plains and Hot Springs are much drier.

Economy: Montana is a poor state, but it has a full range of government and state jobs that pay well and have good pensions. Helena is the capital and many government jobs are based there. Montana has a good university and school system and these jobs are fairly well-protected (as compared to Idaho, which abolished its Education Department!) Montana and Kalispell are the health care hubs for their areas and they have each have a full complement of specialty clinics, hospitals, and services. Other towns have small medical centres, but I’d advise anyone wanting a job in health care to look to Missoula or Kalispell.

Politics & Religion: Montana is a conservative state that usually supports the GOP. However it leaned toward Blue in the not too distant past. At present, except for Missoula, I’d say it is solidly Red. Still, the Democratic Party is very active and it affects politics at a local and state level, too. Below are maps that show how the state voted in the last elections. The area around Flathead Lake is the Bible Belt. While it is not as repressively religious as the towns on the east end of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, where I once lived, it still is very prevalent. In addition, as in B.C., these Christians are also right-wing, politically. Kalispell and Bigfork are beautiful little towns that are, unfortunately, marred by the blight of fanatical religious types.

"Average margins of victory in the four presidential elections between 1992 and 2008" Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Culture: Montana is a very white state. Unfortunately, many people who are trying to escape living near people of color move to Montana. They bring their baggage with them. This is not to say native Montanans aren’t prejudiced. Many are biased against First Nations/Native Americans and these are the people of color in this region. There are many Indian reservations in Montana. The U.S. Government made

"Summary of results of the 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential election" Source: Wikimedia Commons

all first peoples in North America live on the worst land, when they forced them to live on reservations, so none are located in the Montana’s hot spots. The Native Americans here weren’t affected by the residential school blight, as in Canada, but they have lived hard lives here, historically, and are impoverished.

The Arts: Despite a tendency toward conservatism, Montana has a thriving writers and artist community. Historically, it has been a haven for creative types. Annick Smith lives up the Blackfoot, at Potomac. Richard Hugo lived in Missoula, as does Bill Kittredge. You can find most notable authors in The Last Best Place, an anthology of Montana writers. To this list add James Lee Burke and Melanie Rae Thon, and Rick Bass. Click here to see more. Many ceramists live here, study here, or teach here and plenty are quite notable. Rudy Autio lived in Missoula and on Flathead Lake, Peter Voulkos studied at Montana State University, John Takehara taught there. There are many more, too, but since I’ve lived in Canada for 20 years now, I am not up on who they are. There are plenty of ‘famous artists,’ including Charlie Russell, Monte Dolack, Stan Lynde. Click here for more. For photographers, click here.

Towns: I’ll give a quick overview of western Montana towns I know about, firsthand or from reliable sources or my own research.

I-90: Clinton (tiny town along the freeway), Missoula (largest western Montana city, classic university town, interesting mix of left-wingers, loggers and saw mill workers), Saltese (tiny town near the Idaho/Montana border), St. Regis (tiny town, a turn-off to Paradise and points north), Alberton (town along the freeway; has an excellent book store).

Up the Blackfoot: Bonner and Milltown (tiny towns), Potomac (don’t blink or you’ll miss it! My Uncle Bill is selling a beautiful cabin on a mountain top near here…let me know if you’re interested…), Seeley Lake (sweet town, recreation area), Swan Lake…beautiful puddles without towns: Lindbergh Lake (recreation home of the Maclean’s; Norman wrote A River Runs Through It, Holland Lake (beautiful waterfall).

Up the Bitteroot: Lolo (one of our favorite rec areas…Lolo Hot Springs), Florence (a sweet little town; where my cousin Kelley lives), Stevensville (sweet town where my grandma once had a hotel, motel, restaurant and cocktail lounge), Hamilton and Darby (the Banana Belt).

The Mission Mountains: Arlee, Ravalli, Ronan, St. Ignatius, Pablo (First Nations towns) Polson (biggest town on Flathead), Lakeside (growing by leaps and bounds), Woods Bay, Somers, Bigfork (on Flathead Lake)

Toward Glacier Park: Kalispell (second biggest western Montana town), Hungry Horse (cool name, small town), West Glacier (caters to the park),

Nearby Snow Skiing: Whitefish (big-time resort town, yuppified), Columbia Falls (Whitefish and Kalispell’s poorer cousin)

Highway 2: Thompson Falls (beautiful little town), Noxon and Heron (white supremacist links),

Hot and Dry: Plains (now going by Wild Horse Plains), Hot Springs (First Nations town, geothermal heating, irrigation)

NW Corner: Libby (high incidence of environmental illness from aluminum and asbestos work), Troy (northwest corner)

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Glacier National Park Slideshow

Snow in August! The park was amazing and I hope you enjoy this small slideshow of our day….

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