In the Arts: East meets West in Flathead Valley

By Jeanne Tallman

In October 1977, Karen Leigh, Corinne Lundgren and Marsha Davis began a thirty-year collaboration focused on capturing Montana in watercolors and oils.  Valley Bank of Kalispell sponsored their first show, “Focus on Somers.” The images depicted the local color and company-town atmosphere of the Somers area on Flathead Lake.  The three local artists discovered they shared a common interest in the colorful history of Montana.  What began as a local project later expanded state wide in their search of special places, people and events.    

          Friendship among the artists began many years ago when Leigh and Lundgren met at an art workshop taught by Los Angeles artist,  Joe Mugnani.  Davis later joined the team.   Since that time they have painted with famous artists such as Phil Starke at a workshop in Glacier Park,  Irving  Shapiro from Chicago, Hungarian born Zoltan Szabo,  Joe Bohler, formerly of Great Falls and watercolor portrait artist Ted Nuttall from Phoenix. 

                 Today each artist renders her own adaptation of plein air work.  Leigh sketches with pen and ink, takes notes, then paints in the comfort of her studio.  Davis does plein air oils on location, some of which are developed into larger studio works.  Lundgren also combines location and studio work.

     The idea to expand the focus of their painting outside the Kalispell area was hatched during a Whitefish gallery art opening.  Six weeks later they were on their way to the Blackfoot River for the beginning of their Montana Art Odyssey.  “A Montana Journey,” an exhibition of 35 to 40 works went on display at the Whitefish Gallery on July 12, 2002.  The exhibition traveled throughout the state of Montana.   

     Each show becomes more ambitious in the artists’ quest to capture Montana in all of its moods.   Cameras, sketchbooks, paints, easels and canvases are loaded up and they’re off on another Montana adventure.  This time to Glacier National Park – their own backyard.  

     Picnic lunches, a bottle of wine, bear spray and courage, sprinkled with a generous slice of humor led them last year into the depths of Glacier National Park where their current show,  EAST MEETS WEST,  was born.  The three artists have been challenged by flat tires,  forest fire smoke thick enough to burn their eyes, wind straight off the plains, drenching rain and good old northern blizzards.  They take them all in stride and laugh about each foible as they prop their feet on a bar stool in a local pub each night to relax while Leigh charms the bartender into letting her take his photo for a “local color” painting.  Lundren said, “We’ve eaten a lot of hamburgers.”

     The artists roamed from East Glacier, the home of the Blackfeet Indian Nation located on the edge of the windswept plains of Montana,  to the quaint village of West Glacier nestled in the trees on the western boundary of the Park.  Four seasons of captured images were taken back to art studios for the finishing strokes of paint. 

Corinne Lundgren,  husband Dan and their three children lived in West Glacier full time for eight or nine years before moving to Kalispell for the winter months.  Summers are still spent in West Glacier where Lundgren says, “Landscape is close at hand.”

Since Charlie Russell’s first Glacier Park sketch, famous Montana artists have captured the essence of Glacier’s remarkable beauty.  From Chief Mountain to Many Glacier to Two Medicine and over the Going to the Sun Highway to Lake McDonald and the Belton Chalet, each place offers up an invitation to “paint me”. 

EAST MEETS WEST is a bountiful helping of images inspired by the presence of the Blackfeet Indians, Glacier’s wild flower gardens, people of the park and rugged mountains where wild critters live in the comfort of a protected existence.


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