Exhibit: Appropriate, Curious, & Rare: Montana History Object by Object

Montana State of Mind

Art performs the obvious function of making the world a more beautiful and interesting place. In addition, it has always served as an important form of communication. Plains Indian men carved images into rocks or painted them onto hide as a way to document their war deeds. Native women beaded designs that held meaning to their families and other members of their tribes. Nineteenth-century newcomers to the territory relied on their own artistic traditions to create works that conveyed their impressions of their new home. Throughout the twentieth century artists continued to create paintings, sculptures, poems, and songs to express their understanding of life in the Treasure State.  Together, these creative traditions provide us with a set of shared symbols that help us understand our present and our past.


Sculpture of Italian Marble Titled Odalisca, 1875, MHS X1987.04.01

Italian artist Cesare Lapini sculpted Odalisca—a classically styled tribute to odalisques (female slaves or concubines from the Ottoman Empire)—in the late nineteenth century. August Fack (1856–1917), art collector and proprietor of the upscale California Wine House in Helena, acquired the white marble statue for $7,200 (approximately $175,000 in modern currency) circa 1900. Odalisca held a prominent place at the wine house among Fack’s C. M. Russell paintings and other impressive works of art. The wine house and its art collection changed hands in the 1910s. After Prohibition, owner Harvey Fister moved Odaslica to his nearby Harvey Hotel on North Main Street. When fire swept through the block in 1928, Odalisca fell through the floor and suffered damage. The fan handle, her left hand, and the tips of three fingers on her right hand were lost. Though scorched by fire and missing pieces, she remains a romantic, dancing figure captured eternally in mid-step.


When the Land Belonged to God

When the Land Belonged to God by Charles M. Russell, 1914, MHS X1977.01.01

No person better personifies Montana’s perception of its colorful past than does the “Cowboy Artist,” Charles M. Russell (1864–1926).  No painting better exemplifies Russell’s artistic genius than does When the Land Belonged to God. At face value a preeminent portrayal of wildlife, it is also a testament to Russell’s belief in the superiority of life in Montana before it was changed forever by the farmers and boosters who closed the open range. Russell’s preference for “the West that was” is inherent in most of his artworks, but no place is it more beautifully depicted than in this masterpiece. As a reporter for the New York Times observed in 1911, “It is necessary to remember that historical documents in art mean the record not merely of facts and incidents but of the spirit of a vanishing time. Mr. Russell has preserved the spirit of the vanishing old West to a remarkable degree.”

D.J. O'Malley Poetry

Materials Relating to the Poem When the Work's All Done This Fall by D. J. O'Malley, 1893 and 1925, MHS MC 186

The son of a soldier, D. J. O’Malley (1867–1943) and his family arrived at Fort Keogh, near Miles City, in 1877. When his stepfather abandoned the family in 1881, D. J. found work with the Home Land and Cattle Company, running cattle under the N—N (N Bar N) brand. For the next nineteen years the “N—N Kid” worked as a cowboy around Montana. At the same time, O’Malley composed poetry, initially in the oral tradition. By 1889 his poems were regularly featured in regional newspapers. His 1893 poem “When the Work’s All Done This Fall” was recorded by country singer Carl Sprague in 1925, Over 900,000 seven-inch records were sold of the recording. O’Malley’s writings—donated to the Montana Historical Society in 1988—are full of evocative depictions of life at the end of the open-range era, cementing his place in history as Montana’s “Cowboy Poet.”

Cecile Boy

Cecile Boy by Elizabeth Lochrie, 1934, MHS 1979.12.29

Butte artist Elizabeth Davey Lochrie (1890–1981) was a renowned portraitist specializing in Native American subjects. She gifted many of her works to the Montana Historical Society’s collections in 1979. The subject of this piece, Cecile Black Boy—whose name in the Siksika language was Noomohtsiistaapitapi Sstaniiniki (Tobacco Pod Woman)—collected hundreds of Blackfeet stories for the Montana Writer’s Project from 1939–1942. Her work to preserve this heritage is remarkable, and she is representative of the characters Lochrie most enjoyed painting. Lochrie wrote that it was “inspiring to attempt catching [Native Americans’] dominant spirit on canvas …. Each Indian I paint I see as an individual not as a racial type and since most show a strong personality it makes them especially interesting subjects to portray.” This piece showcases Lochrie’s talent. It also honors Black Boy and other tribal members, past and present, who work to preserve their own cultures.

Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats by John L. Clarke, ca. 1950, MHS 2000.15.868

Deprived of the ability to hear and speak after suffering from scarlet fever at the age of two, celebrated sculptor John L. Clarke (1881–1971) was known in his native Blackfeet as Cu-ta pu-ie, the Man-Who-Talks-Not. Although he was proficient in both Indian and American Sign Language, Clarke communicated most powerfully through his carvings, especially those that depicted the wildlife in and around Glacier National Park. Working from a small studio in Midvale (now East Glacier), Cu-ta pu-ie achieved fame carving the animals he knew best from his childhood rambles and his continuing hunting and hiking forays into the mountains surrounding his home. Clarke’s patrons included President Warren G. Harding, railroad magnate Louis W. Hill, John D. Rockefeller Jr., Charlie Russell, and countless visitors to Glacier Park who admired his unique ability to not only capture the anatomy of the animals he loved but to also imbue them with spirit.

Stan Lynde cartoon

Rick O'Shay and Hipshot Cartoon by Stan Lynde, 1975, MHS 2012.34.210 

Growing up during the Great Depression on a sheep ranch near Lodge Grass, Stan Lynde (1931–2013) was familiar with both Montana’s natural beauty and its harsh realities. Inspired by the cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s, Lynde began drawing comics in elementary school, and during the Korean War, he developed strips for US Navy publications. He created his most famous work, the nationally syndicated Rick O’Shay, from 1958–1977. Rick O’Shay attracted commercial and critical acclaim for its humor and ability to reflect the Old West while satirizing romanticized stereotypes of it; some estimate the strip attracted 15 million daily readers at its peak. In 2012, the Stan and Lynda Lynde Trust donated nearly 1,000 artifacts spanning Lynde’s career—including many Rick O’Shay strips—to the Montana Historical Society’s collections. These artifacts provide a glimpse into the creative process of a gifted artist who was deeply influenced by his Montanan roots.

Swift Fox

Swift Fox by Jay Laber, 2004, MHS 2005.17.01

On May 31, 1805, near present-day Great Falls, Captain Meriwether Lewis recorded in his journal the sighting of a “new” animal: “I saw near those bluffs the most beautifull fox that I ever beheld, the colours appeared to me to be a fine orrange yellow, white and black.” Although unknown to early explorers, the swift fox (Vulpes velox) held spiritual significance for Montana’s native peoples. By 1918, predator extermination efforts had eradicated the buff-colored Canidae from Montana’s short-grass prairies, but in 2006 the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes successfully reintroduced them on their Fort Peck Reservation. In this sculpture, commissioned by the Montana Historical Society for an exhibit on Lewis and Clark, Blackfeet artist Jay Polite Laber (b. 1963) captured the animal’s quintessential essence. Crafted from junked car parts and discarded barbed wire, Labor’s scrap-metal Swift Fox—known as senopah in Blackfeet—is paused mid-stance, alert and ready for action.

Montana State of Mind