The artist

  • Dana Boussard

    Carol Bradley

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories: A new breed of artists depicts Montana - cyanide leach fields and all

When artist Dana Boussard looks out the window of her studio on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, she still sees a few bison -- animals that numbered in the millions just 100 years ago. These buffalo, however, are hemmed in by barbed wire. And for most people in the Treasure State, modern America has come calling with subdivisions and roads. What can artists do? For a start, says Boussard, "They can stop pandering to tourists."

"All across Montana, artists are grappling with the issues of change. Each of us does it in a different way.

"Twenty-five years ago this was a no-hassle place with plenty of space to walk in, think in and work. But New York and its version of life was mecca; even New Jersey was a step up from the West. We scorned or were confused by images of the romantic, historic West that Charlie Russell painted. But where you live defines who you are, and many artists in the early '70s began to "see" in a different way. Many saw that isolation was the state's best asset and that the past had to be remembered to make a future.

"I was one of those artists. I grew up in Choteau and left for college in Chicago. I went on to other cities and it was there, away from my roots, that I began to focus on the images that nourished me: buffalo jumps, the cattle drive through Choteau, prairies and wheatfields, the vast and isolated Indian reservation.

"Other artists also rediscovered value in Montana just as city people became disenchanted with what cities had become. The National Endowment for the Arts felt it too, and during the '80s more funding was appropriated for the "contemporary regionalist." Fine artists emerged; the market responded.

"But the images of Montana have begun to change, so that what a few years ago seemed like an artist's version of reality is quickly turning into a myth. Now we must pose the myth against what we really see. Who was this Charlie Russell, and why does he seem to keep cropping up at an espresso stand?

"Montana can no longer be viewed as just another pretty face. It is the purpose of art to see the changes that are upon us, and to respond in a highly provocative way. With the influx of Wal-Marts, and gold mines along rivers, of new wealth and pollution, we need to look hard at what that means for the kind of future we want. We also can't ignore the visual blight that has crossed our state in the form of billboards, abandoned cars, trailer parks next to wilderness areas and no sense of planning. In studios across Montana it is time to ask: Are we just trafficking in images, and what is their power? That home on the range might just be behind a refinery."

High Country News Classifieds