"Off the Wall"
This here’s Montana!
In this early morning, May 21, 2021, I am reading The Way West by A B Guthrie inside a cozy log house near Jeffers, Montana. It is snowing hard out, the temperature 27’, the wind-chill, what with the 20 mile an hour north wind, is 12’. For the next 3 days the forecast is snow. This fierce late spring wind and weather are no less severe than what was experienced by the early settlers in the 1860’s when gold was discovered and the rush to Montana began.
I grew up here on a cattle ranch in the Madison Valley through which many of these settlers passed, not far from Bannack, the focus of this photography project. Of course, I knew that Bannack was an important part of Montana’s history, but I was not aware of the beautiful art on the walls of its buildings.
Layered and deteriorated by 150 years of neglect, colorful interior walls in the crude log cabins reveal thought-provoking art, stunning shapes, textures, lines.
Extraordinary images offer a glimpse into the artistic interests and personalities of the women who covered and recovered these walls with paint, cloth, wallpaper and canvas. These women fixed up their houses and tended to their cooking and cleaning, resolved to keep up their family’s spirits.
The resulting abstract wall art immediately captures your attention, and also chronicles the story of home sweet home, dating back to 1862. It exposes layer by layer a window in time, and provides insight into a forgotten history.
The viewer, archeologist and now art admirer, is taken back through time to appreciate the original choice of colors and the random designs. These objects of art are produced by invading moisture, weathering the once intentional interior design.
This artistic splendor is found in Bannack, Montana, now a remote ghost town which, after gold was discovered, suddenly became a boomtown of 4,000 people in 1862. Bannack boasted 10,000 by 1864 when it was named the first Capital of the new Montana Territory.
Typical of western mining camps, the area attracted hearty men and women who worked long and hard in the pursuit of their fortunes. Enduring incredible hardships just to get there, they survived on limited supplies once there and then faced the often early, brutal, long Montana winters. Bannack was ravaged by outlaws or desperados in this totally lawless town, creating the need for the "Montana Vigilantes" who took the law into their own hands. Native Indians, on whose land the gold miners encroached, also terrorized the community and the area around it.
Over 60 buildings remain today, each one revealing important human elements of a long-gone time period.
My inspiration is to make non-objective abstract photographic images from what is left behind on the walls. This is my story, my project, “Off the Wall”.