Hockaday Museum of Art to exhibit “A Timeless Legacy – Women Artists of Glacier National Park” with paintings, book, and documentary film

By Molly Priddy | Images courtesy of Hockaday Museum of Art

In May, Kalispell’s Hockaday Museum of Art will open a show dedicated to some of the pioneering women artists who ventured to Glacier National Park. On the surface, it might seem like a typical idea for an art show, but the reality goes deeper than that.

In truth, this exhibit is only partly about art. It’s also about passion and drive and talent, the three combining to become beautiful and singular works of art, created by women who felt so compelled to be there that they stepped outside regular gender roles of their times to do so.

Yes, there will be paintings of Glacier Park, but there is more. This is also an exhibit about true artistic love and devotion.

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“Tranquil Twilight, Two Medicine” by Carole Cooke.

Glacier National Park has a rich history of art and artists, from sponsored artists working for the Great Northern Railway to the current artist-in-residence program.

Before it became a national park in 1910, the region drew people to its craggy peaks and pristine shores; archeological evidence suggests Native Americans were in the area 10,000 years ago.

At the Hockaday Museum of Art, preserving Glacier Park’s artistic legacy is part of its mission. The museum has a permanent display dedicated to Glacier, and it often exhibits pieces spawned by the park’s magnetic appeal. The other part of the museum’s mission is to enrich the cultural life of the local community and region.

And for the most part, the museum has stayed true to its mission, Liz Moss, executive director at the Hockaday, said. But at a recent cocktail party, Moss said she realized there was an entire artistic population that has been historically passed over.

A visiting friend began speaking about Nellie Knopf, an accomplished painter who lived from 1875 to 1962, Knopf’s landscape and still life paintings of the American West are well known – a slightly worn painting of Knopf’s was appraised for $15,000 in 2007 on PBS’ Antiques Road Show – and the visiting friend had curated many shows including Knopf’s work.

A conversation about women artists and their history with Glacier Park, where Knopf painted, began, and Ivy also brought local art collector Denny Kellogg in on the discussion.

“As (they) kept the dialogue going and got a couple of the living artists involved, we came up with the idea for an exhibit,” Moss said. “The names we were batting around all had national recognition, and we realized we would have to make it a major exhibit.”

The resulting show, “A Timeless Legacy – Women Artists of Glacier National Park,” running from May 28 to July 18, will highlight the often glossed-over early work of female artists in the park with an exhibition, along with a book and a documentary. It will also include pieces from four living artists who have worked in Glacier.

“It’s really developed into something worthy of national recognition,” Moss said.

Some of the artists that will be featured in the exhibit have name recognition, such as Knopf, while others went unrecognized. It will include Knopf, Leah Dewey Lebo, Kathryn Leighton, Elizabeth Lochrie, Lucille Van Slyck, Elsa Jemne and Merle Olson.

The living artists to be featured are Carole Cooke, Kathryn Stats, Linda Tippetts, and Rachel Warner.

While showing the artists’ work is important, Moss also noted that the women who ventured into the park to paint in the early parts of the 20th century overcame gender norms to do so. It’s also not uncommon that their work went overlooked in comparison to that of their male contemporaries.

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Nellie Augusta Knopf.

“It happens with a lot of art history in general: men are featured and that’s who the art historians focus on,” Moss said. “The gumption and the courage it took for these women in that time period, in the early 1900s, to be up there alone and painting, is inspiring.”

Stats, one of the living artists involved in the show, said trying to paint in the wild would have been challenging enough, given the equipment of the day. Add to that the challenge of being a woman in a male-dominated field, and most would succumb to societal expectations.

“Women weren’t thought of as someone who would go out like that. I’m wondering if they were looked down on. Back then I don’t think women were really thought of well if they were on their own and explorative,” Stats said.

Some may have had sponsorships and help getting into the park, she said, but most were likely on their own.

“They weren’t in there for the idea of selling and having a career. I think they were painters and they had to do it,” she said. “Someone true to the craft doesn’t put the average everyday thing in front of that. They put their craft and what they have to do first.”

Another of the living artists, Tippetts, said this is what makes the art from these women so interesting.

“Most of the male artists during the opening of Glacier Park had sponsors,” Tippetts said. “I think for the most part, these other women came on their own because they wanted to paint there. That makes their stories compelling.”

Tippetts, Stats, Cooke, and Warner met in the final week of August for an artistic trip into Glacier, staying in cabins on the east and west sides of the park, painting alone during the day and discussing their work and histories in the evenings.

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“Piegan” by Rachel Warner.

“They are just great women; we had just a great time and painted and painted and drove,” Stats said. “We found places to paint, and man, it was good.”

Pieces of their adventures were captured for the documentary, which Moss said should clock in at around 45 minutes or longer. The book will contain roughly 60 pages.

Tippetts and Stats both said they were honored to be part of the project, especially because the women who painted the park before them were finally getting their due.

They also said they know Glacier Park will continue to draw artists of all genders.

“It’s so big, it’s so huge,” Stats, who lives in Utah, said. “It’s walking on the wild side with a safety net, is how it feels, and we mustn’t take for granted that that safety net is going to be there.”

Tippetts lives near Augusta, Montana, but lived in the Flathead for about 30 years before that. Glacier Park is a consistent source of inspiration for her, but it’s also a place to refuel her love for art.

“I’ve been a professional artist for many years now, and it can be challenging to continue to keep the passion, which is a big part of what I try to put in my paintings,” Tippetts said. “When I start producing instead of creating, all I have to do is go outside and paint, and in particular go to Glacier Park, and it’s back again. It’s all new again.”

For more information on “A Timeless Legacy,” visit www.hockadaymuseum.org or call 406-755-5268.