Over long stretches of road, past mountains, lakes and ranches, the Art Mobile of Montana makes its way carrying fine art work to rural schools.
On Tuesday art mobile teaching artist Tess Fahlgren arrived at Creston School, bringing with her museum-quality art pieces from about 30 contemporary visual artists to present to kindergarten through sixth-graders. Most of the artists currently reside in Montana but have art displayed nationally and internationally.
While Creston does hold art classes for students, many rural schools Fahlgren visits do not have the funding to do so.
After giving an etiquette lesson on how to look at and be around fine art to a group of third- through sixth-graders, she invited them to look at the collection of paintings, mix media and sculptures.
“What is the most confusing or your favorite piece of art?” she asked.
Milling around the pop-up mini gallery, students were allowed to handle some of the 3-D art. Students were attracted to Billings artist Bently Spang’s sculpture titled “Meat Clutch.” Students kept asking Fahlgren if they could touch the sculpture — a purse covered in a brown silicon resin with a texture like beef jerky. Spang, who is Northern Cheyenne, used dirt to color the silicone resin according to Fahlgren. In a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts interview with Montana Art Mobile founder Sara Colburn, the sculpture was described as symbolizing how Cheyenne would hang “thin sheets of meat from clothes hangers in a closet after a hunt.”
When students returned to their seats Fahlgren asked what artwork made them think. One piece that intrigued students was Missoula artist Courtney Blazon’s “Newly Rich.”
THERE ARE three questions people should ask when they look at art to help them interpret it, Fahlgren said.
“What do you see; what does it mean; and why do you say that? That will help you solve the mysteries behind what you see in a gallery,” she said.
Students also learned about technical words when talking about art such as “medium,” or materials used to create the art. Blazon used pen and marker in “Newly Rich.” The group also talked about another work they were interested in — a photograph of a supercell storm titled “The Mothership,” by Glasgow artist Sean Heavey. Fahlgren took the opportunity to talk about terms such as “composition,” and “scale.”
Fahlgren then turned to an example of ledger art by Browning artist John I. Pepion. She held up Pepion’s work titled “Native Superman,” which portrays a Native American in traditional clothes doing a bicycle trick painted on a piece of ledger paper dating to 1890. Ledger art is a Native American tradition of documenting events by painting or drawing on ledger paper, said to have stemmed from Plains hide painting.
“In Native American culture it’s important to draw as a way they keep track of history and tell their own personal history,” she said. “Think of a story from your history — something important to you.”
Students then sat down to create some art on worksheets Fahlgren picked up from Montana State University. Creston third-grader Svea Layton drew a memory of being struck by a firework. Layton picked up a lavender pastel and dragged the side of it down the worksheet covering up college-level mathematic equations. She then drew herself sitting in a golf cart. Picking up a red pastel she drew a circle with dashes around it in the middle of her body, writing “pow” in large letters above.
“On the Fourth of July in Lakeside I was driving in a golf cart and someone was throwing fireworks from a car and one landed on my shirt and blew up,” Layton said.
“She still has a scar,” said her brother, fifth-grader Tosh Layton, who sat next to her drawing “a beautiful nice day.”
Sitting across from them, sixth-grader Laney Simonson drew her family of nine holding hands, creating a zigzag pattern. Pattern and shapes are something Simonson saw in one of her favorite pieces in the gallery display. It was a multimedia piece titled “Vanishing Points,” by Ben Crawford. The piece had multiple layers of intersecting lines and shapes giving a maze-like, sculptural quality.
“I like how there’s lots of patterns and shapes,” Simonson said.
The Art Mobile of Montana is a nonprofit funded through grants from the Montana Arts Council. For more information visit www.artmobilemontana.org.
Reporter Hilary Matheson can be reached at 758-4431 or email@example.com.