Fall Magic in West Glacier


Warning... this might get personal.

For the past year, I have been preparing for an upcoming exhibition at the Hockaday Museum in Kalispell, Montana. As one of the invited men and women to paint the Waterton Glacier International Peace Parks (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), it was a requirement to visit, document, and paint en plein air both Waterton Lakes in Canada and Glacier National in the U.S.

Let me share something a little personal here. I have had a lot of jobs in my life. Almost all of them were so exciting in the beginning. There was so much to learn, so many challenges, and I embraced each task and rose to the top. However, in every job, after a few years, the shine wore off, long hours of frustration tugged at me, and burn out crushed my spirit. The longest run was as a graphic designer. I really thought I had found my place. But after 13 years, and many grateful opportunities, even that career came to an end. All this to say, that when I began painting full-time in 2005, I knew from the very first that this new path would never grow old. There is always something new and exciting to try, subject to paint, places to go. But... and here it comes... being a workaholic takes its toll on everyone and everything. Travel is exhausting, but I refuse to complain about that because I am so blessed to be able to venture out to beautiful locations in which to explore and paint. Somewhere around 2016, I began to grow weary of the dreaded suitcase. The first signs came when I was painting in Maui in February and the battle to feel happy about it was being consumed by the guilt that I did not. By summer, I was seriously feeling the burnout. It was evident to me when I was standing in one of the most beautiful places on earth, with my easel, no pressure to paint, in the Sierras with friends, and yet I was in tears just wishing I could go home. Honestly, the feeling was 50% exhaustion and 50% just being homesick. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle... my visits to paint Waterton Lakes and Glacier National Parks.

In June of 2017, my friend Pamm Ciupa met me in Waterton Lakes to paint. Pamm grew up in the area and I loved hearing her stories about it. The first day we painted, it was raining and sleeting, the wind gusts were at 50mph, and I still couldn't bring myself to stop painting. I tied myself to a tree to paint the magnificent colors. When things got even worse, I painted with gouache in the front seat of Pamm's Jeep. What was different? Not exactly sure, but things continued to feel better and better. Still, I wasn't exactly looking forward to all of the packing and unpacking and time away from my husband that I was facing that year. But then...

Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. Shortly after the Waterton visit, wildfires ravaged many of the areas I had painted, the visitors' center burned, and other businesses were [thankfully] saved. Those same fires, of course, were growing throughout Glacier as well, and by the time I arrived in Kalispell in September, fires had reached 104,000 acres in Alberta (and were still burning), and the Historic Sperry Lodge in Glacier had been destroyed. According to the  Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, 2017 fires totaled more than a million acres burned that year.

Friends Jill Carver and Paul Kratter were making similar trips to paint Glacier around this same timeframe. Jill was evacuated from her hotel at one point, moved to the other side of the park, and still could not breathe well enough, let alone see anything but smoke. Paul's works have a beautiful but eery color also due to the smoke. He was able to get some painting done while there. I postponed my trip by a week and arrived to see glorious fall colors alongside dead, burned trees. It was fascinating to be able to see so clearly where the fires would stop, turn, burn in another direction, while just a few feet away were trees totally untouched. Again, Pamm met me to paint together. 

Overcome with inspiration. It had been so long since I experienced excitement this way. It truly felt like magic and I wandered and roamed and painted day after day with a happiness indescribable in words. Big blue skies, intense gold leaves, the promise of new growth, and the devastation and destruction. It was as if I was looking at nature and peering inside my very own soul. This time, I could not wait to get home to paint from my studies!

The paintings flowed out of me. They are some of my very favorites from the past several years. The sketches have many more uses for many more larger pieces still. The best news is that I get to go back there in August. I'm teaching a 3-day workshop inside the park. That's really rare. National Parks do not generally bless that sort of thing. The Glacier National Park Conservancy has agreed to be our partner! The site of the historic Wheeler cabins in West Glacier is our official meeting place and we will visit other places in the park to paint as well. 

As for the paintings? Each of the invited artists will have the opportunity to exhibit 4-6 (depending on the sizes we choose). Personally, I will have 6 pieces: 2 small studies and 1 medium-sized work from each of the two parks. The other paintings are available at various galleries. Click here to get a sneak peek at the work!

Fall Magic in West Glacier is currently available by contacting:
Montana Trails Gallery
7 West Main Street
Bozeman, MT 59715
(406) 586-2166


Lori PutnamComment