A Work of Art

MMAC celebrates 120th anniversary with 120 pieces from the Permanent Collection


Lochrie: Elizabeth Tangye Lochrie (American, 1890-1981) Chief Dewey Beard or Iron Hail, 1965, oil on canvas, 20¼ x 16 inches, Montana Institute of the Arts Collection. (Photos of artwork courtesy of the Montana Museum of Art & Culture)
César Pattein (French, 1850-1931), Doing the Wash, 1905, oil on canvas, 26¾ x 33¼ inches, donated by Dr. Caroline McGill
John Buck (American, 1946-), The Night Sky (Polyphemus), 1992, woodcut and linoleum print, ink on Sekishu handmade paper, 35¼ x 277?8 inches, donated by Miriam Sample
Walter Hook (American, 1919-1989), The Great Easter Buffalo Visits the Festival, 1986, watercolor, 21¼ x 29¾ inches, donated by Gilbert Millikan
Thomas Hart Benton (American, 1889-1975), Edge of Town, 1938, lithograph, edition of 250, 9 x 10¾ inches, on permanent loan, courtesy of the Fine Arts Program, U.S. General Services Administration
Jason Elliot Clark (Algonquin, 1967-), Measles, Mosquitoes, Mermen, 2003, reduction relief print, 10 x 10 inches, museum purchase


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Lochrie: Elizabeth Tangye Lochrie (American, 1890-1981) Chief Dewey Beard or Iron Hail, 1965, oil on canvas, 20¼ x 16 inches, Montana Institute of the Arts Collection. (Photos of artwork courtesy of the Montana Museum of Art & Culture)
Lochrie: Elizabeth Tangye Lochrie (American, 1890-1981) Chief Dewey Beard or Iron Hail, 1965, oil on canvas, 20¼ x 16 inches, Montana Institute of the Arts Collection. (Photos of artwork courtesy of the Montana Museum of Art & Culture)

Elizabeth Lochrie was a “scrapper,” according to an essay by her daughter. As a female artist in the early and mid-1900s, she wore men’s pants and took expeditions by herself onto reservations in and around Montana to rub elbows with Native
Americans and paint their portraits. She drove a Cadillac, which she called her “studio on wheels,” and she went by “E. Lochrie” to obscure her identity as a woman in a world where men were taken more seriously.

Lochrie grew up in Deer Lodge, but she gained a sophisticated edge in art when she went to study at the Pratt Institute in New York at the age of nineteen. She studied under Arthur Wesley Dow, a revolutionary in modern art who taught his students that rather than copying nature, they should create art through elements of composition such as line and color.

Chief Dewey Beard or Iron Hail was a piece Lochrie started creating in 1955 and finished in 1965. She met Chief Iron Hail when she went to the Indian Days Festival in Sheridan, Wyo. He was about ninety-five years old by that time, and his life story was full of sorrow and adventure. He had been a teenager when he fought at the Battle of Little Bighorn, and afterward he left for Canada to follow Sitting Bull into exile. He eventually made a home on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, then moved his family to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation after Sitting Bull was murdered. He ended up being present during the Wounded Knee Massacre, where his whole family—¬parents, wife, and infantchild—¬were killed. Later, he would marry again, become a Roman Catholic, and join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Lochrie’s painting showcases her modernist influence—¬it uses color and lines to capture a dynamic and fiery tone but in many ways is a realistic portrait. Here was a man who survived intense tragedy, and his face doesn’t hide it even in all the magnificent beauty of his bright trappings.

Why it took Lochrie so long to finish this painting is a mystery. Brandon Reintjes, curator of art at the Montana Museum of Art & Culture at the University of Montana, where the painting resides, has a few ideas. He suspects that Iron Hail’s death not long after she started painting him impacted her.

“She may have felt a bit of the wind knocked from her sails,” Reintjes says. “It may also have to do with how much she esteemed him and the portrait, calling it one of her best, meaning that she was determined to get it right. If she missed the chance to complete it when he was living, she may have needed some psychological distance before she came back to it, allowing the history and myth of Iron Hail to merge with the reality of the information she gathered when he sat for her.”
Lochrie created many portraits of Native Americans who also became her friends. With the support of her husband, she would go each summer to Glacier National Park to study with the great instructor Winhold Reiss, along with other painters—many of them women. Even being in this expanse of big skies and mountains, it was the intimate portraits of people she was drawn to most. And her modernist education——her eye for emotion in composition——was a major influence on contemporary artists of the West.

John George Brown (American, 1831-1913), The News Boy or Boy with Snowball, ca. 1880, oil on canvas, 32 x 24 inches, donated by Dr. Caroline McGill.

She’s one of many artists in the MMAC Permanent Collection who brought skills and knowledge from elsewhere and incorporated them into new visions of the Montana landscape. In the following pages, you can see several other artworks from the collection. It’s an enormous one¬11,000 pieces that currently are cloistered away in various storage spaces across the UM campus. The museum is celebrating its 120th anniversary in 2015, and in light of that, officials are pushing hard to fund a new building that would provide a space for people to experience it-—to hear the exciting, sometimes tragic, sometimes joyful stories behind our state’s art collection.

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Art For All Montanans

The MMAC is celebrating 120 years of its Permanent Collection in an exhibit that runs January 22 through May 23.

To honor the milestone, the museum has published a guide to a select 120 works called The Art of the State: 120 Artworks for 120 Years, all of which will be featured in the exhibit. They’ve landed some major donations recently, including one from the Crocker family that will help pay for museum staff each year. But part of the challenge has been letting Montanans know the collection exists, and that the art belongs to them. This exhibit is one way to do that. It will include audio tours and written works by a variety of community members, and there will be opportunities for viewers to respond to the artwork on the walls with written comments.

Despite having a collection that is mostly hidden away, the museum staff has worked hard to get the word out to the community. They are hosting living room soirees where MMAC Curator of Art Brandon Reintjes picks pieces from the collection and talks about the histories of various works and shares the stories that bring them to life.

The MMAC’s current museum spaces are located inside the Performing Arts and Radio/TV Center, and are what Barbara Koostra, director of MMAC, likens to closets. They’re small, isolated, and not necessarily amenable to an arts and culture atmosphere. Koostra’s and Reintjes’ hope for the future building is that it will showcase the art in a comfortable atmosphere, with space for lectures, gatherings, and, of course, exhibitions. And the public, who has not had adequate access to the enormous treasure in 120 years, can finally enjoy it in a space that feels less like a closet and more like a living room—and a home.

MMAC’s open gallery hours during the academic year are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. and Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 6 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.umt.edu/montanamuseum.

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