Kalispell art museum crosses half-century mark

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  • Exterior of the Hockaday Museum of Art in downtown Kalispell. The building was built in 1903 and opened as a library in January 1904. On Feb. 10, 1969, the vacated Carnegie Library opened its doors with renewed purpose as the Hockaday Center. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Early supporters of the Hockaday Center for the Arts, which opened Feb. 10, 1969, in the former Carnegie Library in Kalispell.

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    These Hockaday supporters were involved in the Beaux Arts Ball, one of the first major events for the art center, and got their picture in the Daily Inter Lake in 1968.

  • Exterior of the Hockaday Museum of Art in downtown Kalispell. The building was built in 1903 and opened as a library in January 1904. On Feb. 10, 1969, the vacated Carnegie Library opened its doors with renewed purpose as the Hockaday Center. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Early supporters of the Hockaday Center for the Arts, which opened Feb. 10, 1969, in the former Carnegie Library in Kalispell.

  • 2

    These Hockaday supporters were involved in the Beaux Arts Ball, one of the first major events for the art center, and got their picture in the Daily Inter Lake in 1968.

Montanan in purpose, style, history and name, the Hockaday Museum of Art represents the people, culture and landscapes of the Treasure State through the art and artists it has displayed since its beginning 50 years ago.

On Feb. 10, 1969, the vacated Carnegie Library opened its doors with renewed purpose as the Hockaday Center, brought to life by the support of the Flathead Valley community and the determination of a core group of founding members.

That group included Greta Sliter, Bill and Janet Bierrum, Corinne Lundgren, Anne McLeod and Edward Bailey, some of whom continue to serve on the museum’s board today.

Named for Hugh Hockaday, a renowned Lakeside artist who moved to the valley following a career as a commercial artist, the center set out to bring the arts to the forefront of the community.

Though Hockaday died before the art center opened, his legacy lived on through the mission of celebrating the artistic heritage of Montana and Glacier National Park and educating the generations that followed.

Housed in a building over 100 years old, the Hockaday is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1998, the Hockaday Center changed its name to the Hockaday Museum of Art as it refocused its vision as a museum.

Today, the museum continues its arts programs for participants from pre-school to retirement, offering opportunities to learn from world-renowned artists and local teachers.

Executive Director Tracy Johnson attributed much of the continued success of an art museum in Kalispell to the support and commitment of local and regional artists.

“We have a really strong artist base and have from the get-go,” Johnson said. “I think we have that special spot here because the Flathead Valley has such artistic talent and always has.”

She noted the presence of art in many of the area’s historic lodges and old photos, usually displayed quietly in the background.

“I feel like art is always kind of in the background,” Johnson said. “It’s always there.”

The Hockaday, she said, aims to bring those works and their creators into focus for both visitors and locals to enjoy and learn from in a comfortable, communal environment.

“Art museums aren’t just about handling the art, but about telling stories,” Johnson said.

Over the past five decades, the museum has grown and evolved to become more accessible and inclusive for all who want to discover Montana’s artistic gems.

Along with renovations to the building, the Hockaday has also grown to include a permanent installation of artworks that portray Glacier National Park.

The wild and unchanging beauty of the park has drawn generations of artists to capture its grandeur through paintings, sculptures, photographs and literature.

Unique to the Hockaday, the Crown of the Continent exhibition helped the museum establish its significance and secure funding from regional and national sources, Johnson said.

The museum also boasts a permanent collection of art and artists of Montana, including Charles M. Russell, O.C. Seltzer, Jeanne Hamilton, Hugh Hockaday and more.

“I think one of the things I would consider is that, through all of the changes and turning more into a museum versus an educational art center, is we’ve kept the education going and we’ve maintained that for all age groups,” Johnson said. “We’ve kept art relevant throughout lifelong learning.”

As the museum enters its next 50 years, Johnson said she believes the key will be to maintain the integrity of the museum’s history and its legacy in the community.

“I think staying true to our roots is important,” she said. “Being able to keep up the variety of art media and artists and just the exposure of artists, that we continue to do that and do it well, I think, that’s going to be a big thing going forward.”

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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