Kalispell and the Flathead Valley: a Haven for Western Art

With its rich Native American heritage, stunning scenery, and location near the railroad to ship off prized Herford and Angus cattle, Kalispell reflects a convergence of nature, culture, animals and land. This tie is reflected in the arts and cultural opportunities across the Flathead Valley.

Kalispell was a hotbed for cattlemen at the turn of the century.  A visit to Charles Conrad’s impeccably preserved, mammoth mansion in downtown Kalispell offers a glimpse into the boom times of the Flathead’s cattle industry. The Conrad Mansion’s stained glass, woodwork and architecture reflect the talents of emerging artists at the time. (http://www.conradmansion.com)

Nearby at the Hockaday Museum all of Montana’s cultural icons are represented, from Glacier National Park to the Native American tribes and the mega-fauna and natural wild world the Flathead Valley holds. The permanent “Crown of the Continent” exhibition features classic works by some of Montana’s most well known Western artists, including Charles M. Russell and O.C. Seltzer. The collection also captures the nostalgia of the early days of Glacier National Park and the Great Northern Railroad, including works from John Fery and Winold Reiss.

Rotating exhibits — both new and from the permanent collection — at the Hockaday reflect a fresher vision of the region as captured by living artists. (http://www.hockadaymuseum.org/)

All lovers of Western art traveling through the Flathead Valley must make the short drive south of Kalispell to the artist community of Bigfork on the banks of the Swan River and north shore of Flathead Lake. This picturesque village is bursting with art galleries and studios. Notable local denizens include sculptor Eric Thorsen, known around the country for his animal bronze sculptures. Western artist Nancy Cawdrey also calls Bigfork home and shares her colorful paintings of Western figures, landscapes and florals in her Bigfork studio and gallery.

And come springtime, don’t forget the local farmers markets, which serve as great venues to discover one-of-a-kind finds from local Montana artisans. Kalispell’s downtown Saturday market (on the Flathead Community College campus) extends well into fall. Among the beautiful locally grown produce, visitors will find a seemingly endless array of exquisite handmade jewelry, pottery, iron and wood works, woven rugs, handspun yarns, paintings and photography.

The vibrant city of Kalispell is the gateway to Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, Whitefish and all of the recreation, art, shopping and adventure that northwestern Montana has to offer. Plopped in the center of the Flathead Valley, it’s an easy drive to the park entrance, the art galleries of Bigfork or the water sports mecca of Flathead Lake — and well-equipped with affordable, comfortable lodging, great dining and a range of shopping from one-off boutiques to price-conscious large-format retailers. For more information, visit www.discoverkalispell.com 

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