City Fo­cus: Boze­man

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS - by Kelly Skeen

Boze­man, Mon­tana, is buzzing. Nes­tled in the idyl­lic Gal­latin Val­ley about an hour north of Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park and less than 50 miles from Big Sky Re­sort, Boze­man has quickly be­come one of the most de­sir­able cities in the north­ern Rock­ies. The spec­tac­u­lar beauty of ru­ral south­west Mon­tana and its out­door ameni­ties, from fly-fish­ing to down­hill ski­ing, is at­tract­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of res­i­dents and sea­sonal vis­i­tors. Yel­low­stone alone draws four mil­lion tourists an­nu­ally and its pres­ti­gious Yel­low­stone Club re­sort is lo­cated less than an hour from Boze­man.

Boze­man’s de­sir­abil­ity isn’t just spec­u­la­tion; ac­cord­ing to the 2018 eco­nomic pro­file com­mis­sioned by the city’s cham­ber of com­merce, Boze­man is the num­ber one mi­crop­oli­tan area in the coun­try—mean­ing it’s the fastest grow­ing city of less than 50,000 in the en­tire United States. If the cur­rent an­nual growth rate con­tin­ues, Boze­man will soon creep over that 50,000 mark and be con­sid­ered a met­ro­pol­i­tan city. Boze­man’s boom is quite the come­back; it wasn’t too long ago that res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers were dis­heart­ened by the com­mu­nity’s eco­nomic out­look. The 2008 re­ces­sion hit Boze­man hard and was fol­lowed by a deadly gas ex­plo­sion in 2009 that lev­eled five historic build­ings and deeply wounded the com­mu­nity. Mon­tana Trails Gallery, owned by Steve and Maria Za­bel, was one of sev­eral busi­nesses that lost ev­ery­thing in the 2009 ex­plo­sion in­clud­ing their gallery di­rec­tor and more than a mil­lion dol­lars’ worth of art­work. But like the rest of the down­town dis­trict the gallery per­se­vered, re-open­ing at a new lo­ca­tion only a few months later.

Mon­tana Trails has main­tained a strong pres­ence in

Boze­man since 1993 whether on Main Street or in the Za­bel’s re­mod­eled barn that served as their ap­point­men­tonly gallery. Founder and long­time Western art dealer Steve Za­bel is a na­tive Mon­tanan; he grew up on a ranch in nearby Madi­son Val­ley and his fa­ther, Larry Za­bel, was a great Western wildlife pain­ter whose work is still avail­able at the gallery. The young Za­bel got his start in the busi­ness pub­lish­ing and sell­ing prints of his fa­ther’s paint­ings and even­tu­ally be­gan rep­re­sent­ing other lo­cal artists. Right out of col­lege, Za­bel opened his first brick-and-mor­tar gallery in down­town Boze­man and “things just grew from there.” Za­bel con­tin­ued to es­tab­lish col­lec­tor re­la­tion­ships and soon be­gan deal­ing in the sec­ondary mar­ket. The gallery is now known for its historic and pe­riod col­lec­tions, which in­clude rare paint­ings by Charles M. Rus­sell, Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton, Joseph Henry Sharp, Eanger Irv­ing Couse and more.

Af­ter a hia­tus from Main Street, Mon­tana Trails is now open in a new down­town lo­ca­tion. This month they host an ex­hi­bi­tion for con­tem­po­rary Western pain­ter Michael Haykin, whose com­pelling re­al­ism re­news our per­spec­tive on fa­mil­iar ob­jects or land­scapes. Za­bel’s ex­ten­sive knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence in the Western art world makes him a great as­set to Boze­man’s art com­mu­nity, as he rep­re­sents some of the most no­table Western artists work­ing to­day as well as their historic pre­de­ces­sors.

An­other pi­o­neer and strong­hold in Boze­man’s gallery scene is the Thomas Ny­gard Gallery, also lo­cated on Main Street. An­other ex­tremely knowl­edge­able and re­spected dealer, Thomas Ny­gard founded the gallery in 1976 and evolved the busi­ness into what it is to­day—one of the finest gallery col­lec­tions of Western, wildlife and sport­ing art. Ny­gard spe­cial­izes in 19th- and 20th-cen­tury Amer­i­can art, par­tic­u­larly his­tor­i­cal art of the North­ern Plains. The gallery ex­hibits work from the Taos So­ci­ety of Artists, Rocky Moun­tain School, Hud­son River and Cal­i­for­nia schools. Al­bert Bier­stadt, Ed­ward Bor­ein, Thomas Mo­ran and Ge­or­gia O’ke­effe are just a few of the es­teemed artists you’ll find in this el­e­gantly and ex­pertly cu­rated gallery, housed in a historic 1882 build­ing in the heart of down­town.

When Sun­dog Fine Art opened in down­town Boze­man in 2014, the pres­ence of mu­seum-level artists and knowl­edge­able dealers con­tin­ued to in­crease. Gallery

owner Bruce Van­land­ing­ham has been in the art busi­ness for 45 years, work­ing as a pri­vate dealer in Santa Fe be­fore es­tab­lish­ing his Boze­man gallery. Sun­dog Fine Art show­cases a di­verse and unique col­lec­tion rang­ing from historic Na­tive Amer­i­can art and ar­ti­facts to works by post-war mod­ernists such as Robert Mother­well and Richard Diebenkorn. The gallery also rep­re­sents sev­eral con­tem­po­rary artists such as pho­tog­ra­pher Robert Os­born and his pow­er­ful Na­tive Amer­i­can por­traits. The gallery is con­sciously cu­rated as Van­land­ing­ham and his man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Greta Hagg set high cri­te­ria for what they show and how they show it. “We take time to un­der­stand what we’re deal­ing with,” says Van­land­ing­ham, who has es­tab­lished an ex­ten­sive work­ing li­brary for the gallery staff to re­search each art­work so it can be ex­hib­ited in­tel­li­gently and re­spect­fully. His­tor­i­cal works are of­ten paired with mod­ern pieces, play­ing off each other in a vis­ually in­trigu­ing way. “I’ve placed clas­sic Navajo wear­ing blan­kets right be­side a Rauschen­berg or Mother­well paint­ing,” says Van­land­ing­ham on cu­rat­ing ex­hi­bi­tions. “And they all work to­gether be­cause it’s such high qual­ity art. I think what we do here re­lates very strongly to the pre­sen­ta­tion you would ex­pect in a mu­seum.”

On dis­play this sum­mer at Sun­dog is a “Show of Mas­ter­pieces,” which pairs 19th cen­tury Na­tive Amer­i­can art and ar­ti­facts with Western paint­ings. Post-war and con­tem­po­rary art­work is also in­cluded. “Ev­ery item in the show is as good as the one next to it as a work of art,” says Van­land­ing­ham, “which we feel is very im­por­tant.”

When it comes to the con­tem­po­rary mar­ket, Vi­sions West is re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing Boze­man’s art scene up to the present. Gallery owner Nikki Todd founded Vi­sions West Con­tem­po­rary in Liv­ingston, Mon­tana, in 2000 and opened the Boze­man lo­ca­tion shortly af­ter. It has since ex­panded to Den­ver and Jack­son Hole, Wy­oming.

The gallery’s aes­thetic is con­tem­po­rary nat­u­ral­ism; their artists are “mo­ti­vated by a pas­sion for na­ture, an­i­mals, en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and the West.” The most cut­tingedge gallery in the re­gion, many of Vi­sions West’s artists push the en­ve­lope when it comes to “Western art” while oth­ers spark rel­e­vant di­a­logues through their work. Wil­liam Sweet­love of the Crack­ing Art Group cre­ates hard resin sculp­tures that com­ment on con­se­quences of cli­mate change; pen­guins carry wa­ter tanks and dogs wear boots, sug­gest­ing that we’re run­ning out of drink­ing wa­ter and sea lev­els are ris­ing. Tracy Stuckey’s con­tem­po­rary re­al­ist paint­ings are fo­cused around the “ro­man­ti­cized mythos” of the Amer­i­can West and are meant to ex­pose the re­al­ity of that cul­tural iden­tity, of­ten with a hu­mor­ous tone. His work is in­cluded in the gallery’s cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion, The Wacky Western Show, which fea­tures artists who bring new points of per­spec­tive to this idea of “Western art.” “The artists we look for have a fresh voice and are talk­ing about the West with a new vo­cab­u­lary,” says Todd. Vi­sions West fills a niche as one of the only truly con­tem­po­rary galleries in the re­gion, and ac­cord­ing to Todd the re­sponse has been pos­i­tive. “I think we’re re­ally lucky to live in a place where this art­work is ap­pre­ci­ated and there is an au­di­ence for it,” she says. “Hav­ing that di­ver­sity is def­i­nitely an as­set for Boze­man.”

Boze­man’s art com­mu­nity ac­cel­er­ates right along with the area’s econ­omy, but pi­o­neer­ing galleries and lo­cal artists have clearly been rooted to this area since the be­gin­ning. Boze­man’s cur­rent shape is mal­leable; as the pop­u­la­tion rises and new busi­ness de­vel­ops, the den­sity of down­town could very well in­crease or the sprawl could seep into county land. Re­gard­less, the cal­iber of this city’s long-stand­ing galleries, ex­pert dealers and di­ver­si­fied mar­ket gives us the con­fi­dence that what­ever shape Boze­man takes, the arts will re­main at the heart of it.

Other no­table galleries in down­town Boze­man in­clude Old Main Gallery and Fram­ing, A. Banks Gallery, Al­ti­tude Gallery and more.


Pa­trons at a gallery dur­ing a Down­town Art Walk.

Vis­i­tors stroll through down­town Boze­man.

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