When you think of the Rocky Mountains, the state of Montana and the wide open spaces of the great American West, your mind conjures up images of magnificent landscapes, abundant wildlife and an unparalleled outdoor life. This is indeed the case and there’s no doubt that in Montana–especially within Flathead Valley–you can enjoy some of the best outdoor activities in the United States. Yet what might come as a surprise to many is that this wild area in northwest Montana, situated north of Flathead Lake and flanked by three mountain ranges on the other sides, is also quite gentrified. Within this land of superlative recreational pleasures, a rich arts scene thrives. And the number of galleries, museums, arts programs and creative types established here ranks almost as high as the amount of fish that swim in the regions’ lakes, rivers and streams. Well, maybe not quite that high–but you get the idea.
Perhaps it’s the calm of the surrounding nature, the fresh air, the gentle pace of life here, the inspiration that one draws from the stunningly beautiful panoramic scenes that you experience day in day out that has attracted so many different types of artists to Flathead Valley. There’s nothing like getting away from it all to nurture your creative spirit and let those creative juices flow. So much of creating happens on an intuitive level and most can more easily reach that otherworldly dimension in a calming place, eons away from the hustle bustle of life. Plus, within this fertile valley, you’ll find quite a few charming towns that serve as perfect showcases for the works born here. It’s hard to say what came first, the artists or the cute towns but suffice it to say that together they have created an extremely attractive scene for both visitors and locals alike. Isn’t that at the nexus of gentrification?
For starters, take a good look at the stunning image of wildlife on the front of your Flathead Valley Discovery Map. It has been reproduced from an original work by Nancy Dunlop Cawdrey, a renowned painter that shows her work–and that of many others that also work in the spirit of the West–in the Nancy Cawdrey Gallery & Lounge in Whitefish. For many years, Discovery Map Flathead has featured works from her “Forever Glacier” series, a collection of paintings that pays tribute to twenty mammals that live or have lived in Glacier Park. This unique body of work is the heart of a major traveling exhibit that serves to inspire people about the wonders of Glacier National Park, its pristine landscape and the wildlife that lives there. Here’s something that’s pretty cool: You can also enjoy some art instruction that’s periodically offered at the gallery. Budding or established artists take notice!
Nestled at the edge of Glacier National Park, Whitefish does indeed boast one of the most vibrant arts scenes in the valley. Enjoy touring the galleries, including Sunti World Art Gallery and Whitefish Pottery & Stillwater Gallery, to name a few. (The latter showcases locally-made, hand-thrown pottery as well as paintings, photographs and other creations from the region.) Go to the Stumptown Art Studio Nonprofit Center to stimulate your inner Van Gogh; you can walk in here most days of the week and delve into creating on pottery, glass or canvas. Special classes and workshops are also organized for children and adults.
In terms of the performing arts, Whitefish also shines. Founded by three former Broadway peeps, the Alpine Theater Project has received great acclaim for its musicals, plays and concerts, most of which star talent from Broadway and the film, television and music worlds. The newly-renovated Whitefish Performing Arts Center plays host to Alpine Theater Project productions as well as other events.
And let’s not forget the writers! Whether you’re a wannabe or a well established wordsmith, you can find and/or hone your voice at Haven Writing Retreat, also in Whitefish. Wow, and you might have thought that Whitefish was all about fishing!
The arts scene at Bigfork also astounds. It’s delightful to walk about this charming little town along the northeast side of Flathead Lake to explore its plethora of galleries and shops. You may want to begin at Artfusion, a contemporary gallery that features fine art and crafts from over seventy Montana artists. Riecke’s Bayside Gallery also shows the works of a herd of artists that work in a variety of media. For more arts and crafts from artists from the Northwest, go to Persimmon Gallery. And for those impressive bronzes you see around the region, check out Eric Thorsen Gallery. Have fun discovering more arts and crafts on your own.
Bigfork Art & Cultural Center, or BACC, ranks as the epicenter of the arts in this very arts-oriented town. Founded in 1977 by a group of citizens desirous of building a community center to nurture and sustain the arts, the BACC of today is more relevant than ever. In addition to the visual arts, the center promotes music, film, architecture, craft, design, literature and the humanities through a whole range of exhibitions, programs and events.
Repertory theater has been alive and well in Bigfork for more than six decades. Go to the Bigfork Summer Playhouse for some Broadway in the Rockies and other inspiring performances.
Museum goers will find their happiness in Kalispell at the Hockaday Museum of Art, which showcases classic works by many of Montana’s best-known artists. At Montana Modern Fine Art, you can view and buy figurative and nonfigurative works inspired from Montana landscapes, wildlife and people.
Within Kalispell’s historic downtown, you can shop for all kinds of art and artsy goods at three well-established artist co-ops as well as at other galleries and boutiques.
Phew–who ever would have imagined that a land so well known for its natural beauty would be such a stand out in the arts! Keep your eyes out for other great art and culture finds throughout all of Flathead Valley.