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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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