Sunday, June 9, 2013

Touching Montana, Stevensville, South of Missoula

Characters live everywhere. On my trip west, I've met a few. Within about three hours on the job in small Stevensville, MT, I could have filled several notebooks with the stories of fascinating people who've chosen to make this small Western town their home. No one mentioned in this post solicited me for promotion.
Gretchen, in black, steps out of her art gallery in tiny Stevensville, MT.
There's Gretchen Spiess, who runs the city's only fine arts gallery, Rivers Mist. She came to the area about 20 years ago to care for her parents and decided not too long ago to open a gallery in an empty space on the main drag that she was having trouble leasing. Her husband, who does graphite drawings and photography, was her first obvious show. She's a costume designer by trade and worked successfully in LA before moving to Montana. But now, she has created a hub for the artist community in Stevensville, where artists are tucked in every nook, it seems. She thinks the community has become a haven for artists because it's quiet and offers a slower lifestyle, though many of the artists have been nationally publicized, shown and honored. I'm here to meet two of them, Howard Knight and Olive Parker. But in the process, I've met many others.
Antonia Wolf, photographer
Knight was a featured artist at a Rivers Mist reception that I happened to be in town for. Wine, crackers, chocolate, a mixer. I'm interviewing Knight on this trip. He does some of the finest leather inlay work in the country. His work was featured at the local gallery along with Antonia Wolf's, a photographer out of Missoula, 40 minutes north of Stevensville. (website) Wolf says she tried to capture a "moment" in her photos. She likes to take pictures of women, but her subjects for the show were horses. Incredible shots of wild horses looking lusty and being physical. She travels around the world and has been to Africa and Argentina to find subject matter. She has to get close to the animals to take their picture, but she says she knows from having grown up around horses that they give off cues to indicate when it's okay to take a picture. She also does silver work. And writes poetry. And is a doctor.
Antonia's silver work
Another interesting artist I met was Heyoka Merrifield, who is a jeweler, sculptor and nature lover.(website) He roots himself to the land, hiking and living by four creeks and a fork in a river. He's a writer, too. I'll be dropping by his home and studio because he's considered the sage of the creative community in Stevensville. I hear he has a greenhouse pyramid that is a nice sauna in the winter months.

Heyoka, center
I'm staying in the Stevensville Hotel, which is a bed and breakfast, a large one that was the first hospital in town. (website) It was built in 1911, and the rooms are named after areas of the hospital. I'm in The Ward across the hall from the Nurse's Quarters. No ghosts here, just creaky but quaint wood floors. The owners, Robbie and Gene MimMack, have had the place for nine years but want to return to sailing in the Pacific, where they spent most of the their lives prior to moving inland. Gene, in his early 60s, also happens to be the mayor of Stevensville. Or, he's the mayor who happens to be a historic B&B owner. Either/or, he can't get the ocean out of his head. The hotel has been for sale for three years.
The city's first hospital, now the Stevensville Hotel

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