The wildest, woolliest waterfall in Western Montana made its debut as the centerpiece of the Bigfork Arts and Cultural Center’s “Uncommon Threads” month-long exhibit on Aug. 25.
The nearly one-story-tall, three-dimensional piece is a collaborative effort by artists around the Flathead Valley that has been in the works since May.
Artists, young and old, contributed crocheted animals, knitted waterworks, yarn-wrapped trees and more to the eclectic masterpiece that stands at the center of the organization’s first fiber-based installation.
The exhibit also features everything from traditional quilted, knitted and embroidered artwork to not-so-traditional hand spun and woven wool garments and tapestries contributed by about 15 different artists across the state.
“I believe the best way to build community is to bring people together to do something creative,” said Bigfork Arts and Cultural Center Director Valerie Vadala Homer. “My goal is to have a collaborative project every year to build community, build visitorship, get members and get people excited.”
Vadala Homer, along with about eight other women, coordinated the show from conception to completion, and the whole process took all summer.
Bigfork Arts and Cultural Center Secretary Sue Hanson is an accountant by day and a fiber artist by night.
After spending countless hours volunteering to help complete the exhibit, she said she has high hopes for the community’s response.
According to Hanson, the unconventional artwork is already drawing attention.
She recalled a local needlepoint artist who had put her work down years ago. Hanson said the artist took a look at the exhibit as it was coming together and was so inspired that she is now, once again, actively working on her art.
Still, Hanson said, the most rewarding part of the experience for her will be watching the kids and artists come to the show with an excited sense of ownership after having contributed their own work to the whole.
“I think Bigfork is just that type of community,” Hanson said. “It encourages people to pull together to do something. All you have to do is get the ball rolling and people just start climbing on.”
Hanson and Vadala Homer were joined in their efforts by Sarah Taylor, Annie Allen, Jill Gotschalk, Betty Violette, Carol Rockwell, Robin Maggadino and others.
Vadala Homer praised her “perfect team,” noting that over the months it took to complete the centerpiece, the women had to overcome multiple obstacles.
First was the challenge of how to get the concept, created by Violette in a watercolor painting, off the page and onto the stage.
Through brainstorming, trial and error and a frustrating battle with chicken wire, the team decided on foam as the base of their waterfall and began working their way up.
Another challenge emerged while the women were attempting to assemble the exhibit.
“We don’t have a lot of things a bigger institution would have like mannequins,” Vadala Homer said. “We have to be creative with how to display the artwork.”
Other than Vadala Homer and a few other employees, the Bigfork Arts and Cultural Center is a solely volunteer run organization, supported by its members and other contributions.
Professional artist and art instructor, Allen contributed a large painted mural of a mountainous Montana landscape to the crown of the piece.
With a love of art dating reaching back into her childhood, Allen stressed the importance of art today.
Noting the trials and hurtles she faced as a young artist, she described how, as she grew, she began to “let her art happen,” allowing her to grow into the artist she is today.
“When you allow that through people, you educate them,” she said. Now, she said, her family says they see art differently because of her.
“That’s what we need to keep telling our youth because each of them has a vision, and their vision’s important for our world,” she added.
Other contributors to the “Wild and Wooly Waterfall” include kids from the Aces afterschool program and the Lighthouse Christian Home who created the lily pads and wrapped some of the trees seen in the piece.
Artists brought other artwork from Helena, Hamilton, Lincoln, Kalispell, Whitefish, Bigfork and other communities across the valley.
“Some people will come in and say, ‘what in the world is that?’ And other ones will say, ‘that is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,’” Vadala Homer said.
“You have to take your time to look and to see. To me, that’s a lot of what art does for me. It slows me down. It makes me look at the world differently. It makes me appreciate the color blue,” she added.
All but a few of the pieces in the show are for sale and will be on display until the show’s end on Sept. 22.
For more information or to become a member of the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center, visit http://bigforkculture.org.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.