Pottery Travelogue: Montana Reminiscence

I was astounded by what I saw yesterday in Bigfork in the way of clay. Fantastic stuff; highly inventive. It’s been a week since we were in town sleuthing around, but my mother and I are slowly working our way up one side of the street and down the other. So far, I have permission to photograph work in a co-op gallery and am going to approach the people in another. Many competing interests at the moment, but I’m hoping I can talk to them because I want you to see photos. Montana-wide artists, most from areas nearby. I am going to Augusta this Thursday, en route to Great Falls, and in that iconic Montana town is a venue that sells tiles made by Michael Cohen, subject of a Smithsonian oral history interview I posted recently. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be able to go there to see his work. Can’t wait! I first heard of Augusta and nearby Choteau years ago when I lived in Missoula. Ripley Hugo had connections there that she told me about and, as I heard her describe it, I could tell it was the real Montana. That has all changed now, but Choteau still has the cachet of a Montanan’s Montana, despite celebrity residents. David Letterman lives there and since he moved in, there has been more media visibility. The same thing happened to Bigfork over the years. Celebrities in every nook and cranny. You’d never know it by the locals’ reactions. That’s why Clark Gable loved Montana. He could go to restaurants and bars and not be bugged by paparazzi or gawkers. He came up often to fly fish on Rock Creek, east of Missoula, where my grandfather fished with a fly line. Gable appreciated the fact that the populace didn’t make over him. It’s always been a hard life here, though, especially if you’re not rich. Now, it’s mainly a service economy, except for ranching and farming. Recreation, tourism and hospitality. Montana has a mythic quality in the minds of many and thousands of tourists go through Yellowstone, Glacier, etc. each spring, summer and fall. Not many people make it through the winters unless they can handle very cold weather. I was a grad student in Missoula during the winter of 1988-89. I will never forget it because the weather got down to – 90, with the wind chill factor. When the weather drops that low, celsius and fahrenheit are equal. It was so cold, ice formed on my glasses lenses when I walked outside. It was so windy, we students had to huddle together to move across campus because it was too windy for people to walk singly. These days, I have to laugh, because schools are closed in the Vancouver, B.C. area if one snowflake comes down. Not so in Montana. So, many people who fall in love with the area in the summer can’t make it through a winter. At -90, gas gels in car tanks. For some reason, my little Datsun B-210 always started that winter. I did have an engine block heater, but that can’t account for it 100%. Journalism students had to cover the city council meetings and I remember literally boating across the snow to make it downtown from the U District. We lived in a heritage home that had been renovated, but the wind from Hellgate Canyon was so strong, we had to nail a wool blanket on the inside of the door frame. Despite the closed door, we’d still find a mini-snowdrift on the floor behind the blanket in the morning. Enough reminiscing, though. Here we are, on Flathead Lake. My mom and I watched mother woodpecker peck two mullein stalks this morning and, during lunch, we saw a hummingbirds are resting and supping from the feeder hanging from the deck. I’ve named this year’s pine squirrel “Scout” and he’s often seen scooting across the deck with cones bigger than his little noggin…


About Jan

I have a background in ceramics, graphic design and journalism.
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