BY LUCY SMITH
Art has something wonderful and germane to teach each of us; one of the first lessons being that Art doesn’t start out on a wall or a pedestal. Art is created when someone is inspired (or hired) to record something noteworthy. It is a lens, focused on life as experienced across time and dimension. Created by us, Art is ultimately all about us.
In the Hockaday Museum of Art’s Crown of the Continent gallery, we can journey back to the glory days of the Great Northern Railroad and the birth of Glacier National Park. Our time mobile – Art! Through art, we share the adventures of entrepreneurs and explorers who came west to settle this rugged country. We witness the plight of the Blackfeet Indian Nation that once knew the frontier as sacred homeland; and imagine helping to build Going-to-the-Sun Highway, an engineering feat that took 22 years to complete and created 50 miles of magnificent vistas. Art lets us experience the history and spirit living within the stuff of every painting, photograph, sculpture and artifact.
How is it that so many gifted artists happened to be in Glacier Country during this remarkable period in Montana’s history? The Great Northern Railroad Company wanted to fill its new Empire Builder westbound route with wealthy travelers from the East Coast, and set about luring them away from tours to Europe – the Swiss Alps was a popular destination in those days – with a “See America First!” campaign. As part of its ambitious marketing strategy, the Great Northern hired artists from Europe and the United States to showcase the wonders of the Rocky Mountain West – North America’s Alps. This virtual colony of artists painted and sculpted, scripted and photographed Glacier Park in all its wild splendor and luxurious accommodation. Their works were reproduced and distributed all along the railroad line on posters billboards, playing cards, menus, stamps, coins and other novelties. Scores of magnificent paintings and photographs hung for years in grand Park hotels built by the Great Northern; some remain there today. Countless others were purchased by private collectors from across the country and abroad.
In keeping with its mission to “…preserve the art and culture of Glacier National Park,” the Hockaday Museum houses a treasury of 600+ catalogued Glacier Park art pieces and collectibles, and seeks to acquire additional significant works from that monumental era. Every item in the permanent collection links us to those who once lived in this special place, and to the artists who memorialized them. Their artistic legacy lives on through today’s Glacier Park artists who preserve our footprints across this place and time as their mentors did at the turn of the century. And on it shall go, Art – all about us.
Hockaday Museum of Art
302 Second Ave East, Kalispell