Montana art, whether it’s made exclusively for a cabin or for a museum, is undoubtedly influenced by the land. From the stunning beauty of the rugged mountains to the steady roar of a river to the gentle slope of a trout-filled stream, all act as inspiration for the region’s artists and artisans. Montana provides a place for creativity and splendor, as evidenced here by the work of these fine artists and artisans from the region.
Richard Parrish Fused Glass | Bozeman, Mont.
An award-winning fused glass artist, Richard Parrish creates his colors with shards, powdered hues and strings of glass. He has an architect’s eye for form and structure plus a modernist painter’s aesthetic to go beyond the expected. The “Aspen and Cedar Panel” shown here uses actual leaves to create patterns that are recognizable, yet abstract. The composition of his glasswork explores the juncture between the organic and geometric. He layers leaves and powdered glass on sheets of clear glass and fuses them to create pattern sheets. The sheets are then cut and placed in a kiln with other patterned pieces and colors to create the final piece.
“I am particularly interested in the interaction of light and color in the environment and in my own work,” Parrish says. Website: www.fusiostudio.com.
Brett James Smith Painting & Sculpture | Thompson Falls, Mont.
Painter and sculptor Brett James Smith portrays the outdoorsman experience from the heart. His works feel alive, as though they weren’t works of art, but windows into the great outdoors – the flutter of an exquisite sunset, the rapid flicker of a trout on the line. His delicate, timeless works elicit adventure and nostalgia without invoking sentiment. Invited to the 2010 Prix de West exhibition as a guest artist, Smith’s work is not only visually exciting but also authentic. He brings to bear his intimate knowledge of outdoor life in all of his work. As he puts it, “What is important in these outdoor paintings is mood, a feeling of how things were and still can be. The idea is to convey the natural ruggedness of the sport without missing the subtle nuances that make the experience personal.” Website: www.brettsmith.com.
Tom Murphy Photography | Livingston, Mont.
Tom Murphy was raised on a 7,500-acre cattle ranch in South Dakota. This is part of what informs his photography, infusing it with not only a love of nature and all things wild, but an understanding of it too. For the last 30 years, he's hiked his way across Yellowstone, camera in hand, and he's come away with photos that reveal a powerful, dynamic side to this stately and majestic national park. He's especially fond of capturing the hidden places and moments of Yellowstone. As he put it in a recent interview with National Geographic, "Millions of people come here every year, and they don’t really realize what’s there.” What’s there is not only beautiful landscapes, but breathtaking wildlife, which Murphy captures by waiting as long as it takes for the perfect shot that not only captures an animal, but also helps to define it. “The best wildlife photographs,” he says, “illustrate what an animal’s life is like. What is it like to be a coyote?” Website: www.tmurphywild.com.
Russell and Rusty Viers Western Furniture | Livingston, Mont.
A father and son studio, Russell and Rusty Viers take Western furniture a step further than most by adding their own modern yet elegant touches to traditional household trappings. All their custom woodworking and upholstery is done in their shop. The materials they choose are native to the region, like pine, juniper, burled lodge pole pine and western alder. “The wool is woven by Cordelia Coronado of New Mexico, and the cushions are custom made-to-order with down wrap,” Russell Viers says. “Each piece of burl and pine is hand-selected and scribed to fit.” Not only do they aspire to Old World craftsmanship, but their joinery techniques mirror the masters, with dovetail drawers and solid wood bottoms, as well as hand-fitted wooden slides. Website: www.montanawesternfurn.com.
Sue Tirrell Ceramics | Pray, Mont.
Ceramic artist Sue Tirrell’s work combines intricate painting with timeless forms and shapes. In particular, her ceramic horses – imbued with whimsical designs – are very popular. “When I was young, I spent every day on horseback,” Tirrell says. “I felt at home with horses and confident I could go anywhere and do anything from the back of my trusty steed. On horseback I was a rodeo queen, trick-rider, jockey and Olympian. My horses were immortal champions, immune to insult or injury.” Tirrell carries that feeling into her work today, utilizing bold, vibrant colors as a way to impart those emotions. Websites: www.visionswestgallery.com or www.suetirrell.com.
Sore Elbow Forge is a custom design and fabrication shop that prides itself on bringing the most ambitious architectural concepts to fruition. By using extensive knowledge of traditional blacksmithing techniques as well as their contemporary fabrication abilities, the artisans of Sore Elbow Forge have created their own niche, not only in Montana but throughout the Northwest and Rocky Mountains. “As the name of our shop implies, we enjoy the ability to incorporate the handworking of steel with a hammer, anvil and forge to create unique, handmade goods that are individually crafted,” owner Tom Holcombe says. “We collectively have over 35 years of experience creating objects and artwork for residential homes, commercial properties and public spaces.” The artists at Sore Elbow Forge create custom architectural elements such as railings, staircases and fireplaces as well as lighting, tables, chairs and cabinetry items for homeowners, designers, architects, builders and local furniture makers alike. For more info: E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for more photographs of the artisans’ work.
Fisher Antler Art Antler Art | Bozeman, Mont.
“Fish” Fisher of Fisher Antler Art is not your average antler art maker. “For me, it’s a passion,” Fisher says. “I’ve been doing it for 20 years, and I look forward to custom pieces. It’s fun to build something for other people.” What sets Fisher apart is his background in sculpture and carving. He grew up as an artist working with clay, etchings and wood burning. Using fallow deer antlers out of Bulgaria and moose antlers out of Alaska, Canada and Maine, as well as local shed-horn antlers, Fisher creates intricately conceived furniture, lamps, chandeliers and more. “I try not to cut into the antlers to make things fit, I like to keep them whole,” he says. “It’s more of a challenge for me, but I think it keeps the integrity of the piece.” For more info: E-mail Fisher Antlers, email@example.com, and ask for a CD of his work.
Michele Corriel is a freelance art writer in Montana, where she covets the work of all the artists she writes about.