Bozeman’s Destination Galleries
by Michele Corriel
Engaging, thoughtful, and deeply emotional are all words to describe Montana art and the artists represented in Bozeman. On the walls hang artworks that speak to the environment, the landscape, and the history of place. Local, regional, and international artists offer their perspectives on the beloved, frightening, extraordinary world in which we live. One thing that all the galleries have in common is their innate talent for nurturing and encouraging long-standing artists as well as new and emerging artists.
With this vast array of art on display, one could walk down Main Street and easily find inspiration, experience the thrill of discovery, and maybe even fall in love a little bit. A perfect example of this kind of experience can be found at Visions West Contemporary, Old Main Gallery, and Montana Trails Gallery.
Old Main Gallery
Creating a Community of Artists
“We are creating a community of artists. It is through these personal connections that we find new artists, and so they are united by their ties to our gallery, and a deep regard for their sense of place.”
–Lindsey McCann, Owner, Old Main Gallery
With a focus on contemporary regional work, Old Main Gallery owners Lindsey McCann and Micah Jastram love discovering artists who bring new perceptions to light. Through evocative and engaging exhibitions, workshops, and lectures, the gallery’s goal is to provide people with a holistic understanding of and appreciation for contemporary fine art. From abstract to realist, landscape to figurative, Old Main Gallery strives for diversity while maintaining a regional emphasis.
In addition, the gallery is building a network of artists through personal connections. “We are creating a community of artists,” McCann says. “It is through these personal connections that we find new artists, and so they are united by their ties to our gallery, and a deep regard for their sense of place.”
Take, for example, the watercolorist Melissa DiNino, who relocated to the remote areas of Montana and found herself in places steeped in quiet contemplation. As a range rider, she worked at the heart of small ranching communities where she monitored cattle and tracked wolves and grizzlies by horseback. She learned how the resiliency of rural communities relies on its relationships – both human and non-human. When she began painting in 2018, she turned to the subject matter that was most familiar – the rural West and those traditional ties to the landscape, using a feminine lens.
DiNino’s paintings evoke an intimate feeling, rich with details like the wrinkles of well-worn jeans, and the easy relationships between rider and horse. Through the soft whisper of her painterly voice and her use of earthen tones, she grounds the viewer in the solitude of wide-open ranges. By leaving the background blank, the subjects come across as deceivingly uncomplicated.
“When I saw her work for the first time, I was enamored with the way she uses watercolor,” Lindsey says. “It’s realistic and beautiful. The way she incorporates the negative space is intriguing; she leaves enough so the viewer can fill in the narrative.”
Inspired by her mother, also a watercolor artist, DiNino explores the softness found in a life that is often hard – one that is rooted in the rhythms of the landscape on which it relies – and exposes the beauty and simplicity of those moments that are easily overlooked.
Old Main Gallery hosted a show of DiNino’s work in October 2021 titled “With Silence Comes the Sight.” This was DiNino’s first solo exhibition.
Also showing at Old Main Gallery this season are the works of printmaker Todd Anderson, who brings together the artistic and the scientific.
“I was introduced to Todd through Ian Van Coller, a photography professor at Montana State University who worked with him on several projects,” Lindsey says. “We’ve never really shown a printmaker. His work is centered around climate change and the study of glacier decline – that’s something that resonates with me. The more art that we can use to bring awareness to the crisis, the more we can possibly create change.”
Anderson’s reductive woodblock prints involve research on current climate science, consultation with scientists, fieldwork in often remote parts of the world and, ultimately, artwork production in his home studio. Each location from Uganda to Antarctica requires outside support as well as many days off the grid and nights on the ground. Each of Todd Anderson’s piece takes upwards of four to six weeks to carve and print.
“The beauty and potential of art is to connect with others,” Anderson says. “My work documenting glaciers goes back to seeing, experiencing, and visualizing these places.” Working with scientists is critical to the art he creates. “I bridge the gaps. Science provides empirical data of the landscape. My job is to provide the emotive aspect,” he continues.
Anderson’s prints, anchored in the landscape genre, specifically center on creatively recording the effects of climate change. In 2019, Anderson worked and traveled to Antarctica as part of the United States National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. The results of these extraordinary inquiries are presented through art. Anderson’s newest body of work includes photogravures from a recent expedition to Baffin Island. These will be featured at the gallery in November of 2021.
“We’ve never really shown a printmaker. His work is centered around climate change and the study of glacier decline – that’s something that resonates with me. The more art that we can use to bring awareness to the crisis, the more we can possibly create change.”
–Lindsey McCann, Owner, Old Main Gallery
Additionally, the painter Tyler Murphy, another artist Lindsey brought into the fold of Old Main’s community, deals with the landscape in a more personal way.
Murphy seeks to return attention to the meaningful things of life that come from working and caring for one’s home, land, friendships, and family. As noted in his artist statement, “Good art connects us to one another in the ways that we’ve all fallen short of who we’d like to be. It gives rise to the surprise of joy as we catch the aroma of a world that might one day be.”
Murphy’s oil paintings personify the landscape. They hug the expansiveness in tight and accept the idea that our labors may outlive our lives. There is a breath of forgiveness, and the gravity of daily grace.
“Murphy has a fresh way of capturing the western landscape,” Lindsey says. “I especially admire the way he can capture the light and create art full of vitality, mystery, and layers of liminal elements such as a farmer feeding with square bales in the early morning.”
More information can be found online for upcoming shows at Old Main Gallery.
Montana Trails Gallery
A Main Street Destination
“I always wanted the gallery to feel like a locally owned business; when you walk in the door, there’s a friendly face to greet you,”
–Maria Abad-Zabel, Gallery Director, Montana Trails Gallery
Stepping through the large glass doors of Montana Trails Gallery on Main Street of Bozeman’s historic downtown feels like an adventure. As light spreads across the wood floors, we can almost hear the walls speak, as we always wish they would, telling us of places we’ve been, and destinations not yet envisioned. Just as we take it all in, a gallery assistant looks up, smiling, and says with warmth, “Welcome in”!
Montana Trails Gallery, established almost 30 years ago, is one of the most reputable galleries in the state. It is a mandatory stop for serious collectors and an inspiration for first-time buyers, as well as a place of pride for the artists shown and an aspiration for those who do not yet have work hanging on the antique brick walls.
“I always wanted the gallery to feel like a locally owned business; when you walk in the door, there’s a friendly face to greet you,” Gallery Director Maria Abad-Zabel says. “Everyone here at the gallery is like a big family. We have a phenomenal team, with Sydney, Grant, and Thomas. We welcome everyone into our place and share the real and imagined worlds of our artists.”
Montana Trails Gallery returned to Main Street in 2018, as if they never left. Many of the artists returned, and the community embraced them. However, the Bozeman of 20 years ago is not the Bozeman of today. Maria notes, “As Bozeman has evolved, we evolved, too.”
Maria has seen more young people just beginning their art collections. “We have students, new clients, and young families who set up payment plans for a piece of art they really love,” she says. “They are our future collectors and they will always remember where they got their very first painting.”
There are many facets of the gallery, as the founder, Steve Zabel, has traveled extensively to museums, galleries, and auction houses to gather rare works of art for some of the nation’s most notable art collectors, adding artwork of historical significance to already heady collections.
Steve is well-versed in the art of the American West, as he has been immersed in Montana’s art scene for most of his life and attended many major art events over the past three decades. Steve’s knowledge of art, artists, and art collections runs deep. He comes by it honestly as he began his career while still in college making limited-edition prints of his father’s paintings.
Steve’s father, Larry Zabel (1930-2012), was a well-known Western artist focused on Montana ranchers and the ranches where they worked. “Each time my father did a painting, I’d learn everything about the people and the places he painted. I started off as a one-man band, in a one-room office on Mendenhall,” he says. Soon he was selling prints to over 70 galleries across the nation. Moving from the small space on Mendenhall to the Beaver Pond Plaza next to the Orvis shop, he took over an existing gallery and renamed it Montana Trails Gallery. “But I soon realized that it needed to be on Main Street with all the walking traffic to survive,” he says.
In 1993 Montana Trails Gallery found a new home on Bozeman’s Main Street. “That spring we remodeled the large 3,000-square-foot space ourselves and opened the doors with only a few local artists,” Steve recalls. “Back then, Bozeman was pretty much a cowboy town, and we became part of the community. We started an Art Walk to get more than just a few people to come to the shows.”
“It seems like a lot of galleries are closing, while Bozeman’s art scene is thriving. At the moment, I like the pace of just one gallery. As Bozeman continues to grow, we’ll keep evolving.”
–Steve Zabel, Founder, Montana Trails Gallery
A big turning point was the day he received a few historical paintings from a collector in Kalispell, who asked him to hang them on consignment in the gallery. “One of them was a little painting by Henry Farny of ‘Geronimo’ that had an asking price of $35,000,” Steve says. “I was used to selling prints for $62.50, and couldn’t believe someone would pay that much for a tiny watercolor.” But soon a top art collector from New York bought it. “I immediately called the collector in Kalispell and said, ‘I need more Henry Farny paintings!’” It turns out that the buyer was one of the top art collectors in New York City.
“I started to change the way I thought,” Steve says. “As we started showing local artists, I soon built a reputation. Montana Trails Gallery grew with them and became home to many of the iconic artists of today. I realized that if I studied and learned about the historical artists, I could help clients find rare little gems for their collections. I worked hard, I traveled to most of the estate and art auctions and got to know most of the gallery owners, clients, and avid collectors. I have great working relationships with many of them today. After that the gallery grew by leaps and bounds.”
In 2018, the Zabels bought the current space from the Legacy Gallery. Gallery Director and Zabel’s wife, Maria Abad-Zabel, felt like it took a lot of heart for Steve to reopen Montana Trails Gallery on Main Street. “It felt like it was meant to be,” she says. “The original location on Main Street had been destroyed in an explosion in 2009 and there was so much sorrow there, so we just couldn’t set up at that location,” Maria says. “We had a lot of tough times to overcome to open back up.” But the Bozeman community, local artists, and friends welcome them back to downtown with open arms.
For Steve, it’s the great relationships that keep him in the gallery business, supporting the artists they represent like David Frederick Riley, Michael Blessing, Troy Collins, Tim Shinabarger, and Amber Blazina to name a few, being open to finding new artists, and understanding the history of old ones. “The best part of this business is learning about art and discovering new artists,” Steve says. He works closely with collectors and clients, adding, “I’ve met some incredible people. I learn what they want and help them build art collections, traveling to art auctions and events.”
Steve continues to keep an eye out for works by the Western Masters like Thomas Moran, Alfred Bierstadt, C M Russell, and Frederic Remington, among others. “I’ve thought about opening up other locations; however, Bozeman has now become one of the top destinations, out-pacing many of the other top art hot spots where our artists show, including Santa Fe, Jackson Hole, and Scottsdale,” says Steve. “It seems like a lot of galleries are closing, while Bozeman’s art scene is thriving. At the moment, I like the pace of just one gallery. As Bozeman continues to grow, we’ll keep evolving.”
Steve Zabel is a board member of the Montana Arts Council, a member of the Charlie Russell Riders, and looks forward to helping Montana continue as the “Art Hub of the West.”
Visions West Contemporary
The Intersection Of Ecosystems
“We are not a western art gallery. I like to think of us as non-western western.”
–Nikki Todd, Owner, Visions West Contemporary
Motivated by a passion for ecosystems, animals, and environmental issues, Visions West Contemporary focuses on art that references nature’s influence and how a nature-based worldview affects the individual and society as a whole. But standing as a beacon of art in the Rocky Mountains has its own challenges, as owner Nikki Todd knows, building a dynamic international roster of artists striving to push the boundaries of art in the western region of the country.
“The American West is such a vast region,” Todd says. “The American West also sits in the American psyche as a mythical place. It fits into this grand theme, but I think it’s such a large region and there are so many artists working in various formats. The depth of art here is not reflective of the genre of western art many people associate with Montana and the Mountain West.”
With three locations in Bozeman, Livingston, and Denver, Visions West Contemporary is celebrating nearly 22 years representing artists. Todd has a robust roster of artists who hail from all over the world including Europe and Mexico, from Florida to California and of course, Montana. Uniting such a diverse group of artists speaks to her curatorial guidance.
“The focus of the gallery is contemporary naturalism and the American West,” Todd says. “We are not a western art gallery. I like to think of us as non-western western.” We have carved out a niche with a focus on nature, the environment, and animals. With climate change and protecting what little we have left of our wild places, I have found that several of our artists are also in alignment with making art that impacts and brings awareness to these issues we are all facing.”
For example, the artist Tracy Stuckey uses satire to talk about the complex reality of the American West. He uses realistic scenarios infused with the romantic iconography of cowgirls, pickup trucks, and cactus, within scenes rife with contemporary issues such as the human impact on the frontier and the continued exploitation of an imagined culture.
“He’s grappling with the complexities of the West while poking fun at what the rest of America considers ‘The West,’” Todd says. “Other themes, like the power struggle between men and women, may not necessarily be western but incorporate western motifs, playing with that perception of the West, on many different levels.”
CA driving theme in the gallery could be defined as Contemporary Naturalism. “In its simplest terms, it is art that pertains to the environment, nature, animals, and environmental issues in a more nontraditional contemporary format,” Todd explains. “It helps us explore our relationship to the environment, but it also cues us into thinking about how we can care for those things and protect them.”
A perfect illustration of this is the work of iconic artist Ted Waddell. His Angus cattle dot the hillsides, appearing on the canvas as one would see them from a distance, with a conservationist’s eye. Waddell paints the land, not just the landscape, with an intimate knowledge that only ranchers can interpret and internalize. His ability to entice the viewer with thick paint and playful colors enables a conversation about land management and preservation.
“Artists are not telling us what to think, but instead asking us to think about certain things.”
–Nikki Todd, Owner, Visions West Contemporary
“Throughout history, artists have been central to social change, they are cultural workers, because artists are not telling us what to think, but instead asking us to think about certain things,” Todd says. “People are more drawn into a process and then they can come to the conclusions, so in a way the artist is the prompt, the one who puts something forth and asks us to think about it.”
Shelley Reed, a Boston-based artist, borrows visual fragments from predominantly 17th- and 18th-century Northern European art, citing their historical significance like a scholar. She copies and recopies carefully chosen subjects, remaining faithful to the figure’s original form but dramatically intensifying the viewer’s experience of it through bold changes in scene and scale. By painting exclusively in black and white, Reed taps into a timelessness of the natural world.
All Visions West Contemporary artists approach nature in different ways, shaping the way we look at the environment. No one can ever look at a bunny in the same way after viewing the well-known and avidly collected works of Hunt Slonem, most famously his wall of bunnies. His repeating pattern often painted with diamond dust to illuminate the lines, hammers home the vulnerability portrayed by literary rabbits that embroiders our childhoods – from Alice’s ever-late White Rabbit to the innocence of our beloved Velveteen Rabbit – to the reproductive health of rabbits in the wild.
“We look at everything through a human lens, but animals have always intrigued us because they’re ‘other’ and can be a stand-in for our own storytelling.”
–Nikki Todd, Owner, Visions West Contemporary
“We look at everything through a human lens, but animals have always intrigued us because they’re ‘other’ and can be a stand-in for our own storytelling,” Todd says. “We can use them to point us in directions, like caring for the environment. They can be sentinels or guides for us.”
With all the artists at Visions West Contemporary, the use of Contemporary Naturalism tempts the viewer with the allure of beauty. But step closer, and that beauty often gives way to deeper meanings, allowing us the means to understand the natural world in its multitude of forms.