The emergence of modernism in Montana

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Arts & Architecture


Modernist art burst onto New York City's art scene with the Armory Show in 1913. However, it took nearly forty years for Modernism to take hold in Montana. Using Montana State College (now Montana State University-Bozeman) as my case study, I intend to examine the type of climate that allows a new art movement to develop as well as the impediments that prevented Modernism from taking root. In examining other factors contributing to Modernism outside of major urban cities I found two of these factors missing from the Intermountain West, and particularly in Montana. The factors missing were wealthy art patrons to encourage experimentation and/or art colonies to create a safe environment for artists. Digging further, I found an economic and cultural resistance to Modernism in Montana, which threatened the economic foundation of a burgeoning tourism industry. After World War II, with the G.I. Bill opening up higher education to a new kind of student body, pupils began requesting a serious academic art program. At the same time the expansion of Land Grant Universities enlarged their small art departments, creating both the monetary security an art patron might present, as well as the collegial and teaching community of an artist colony. At Montana State College, beginning in the mid-1940s three artists pioneered the Modernist movement in Montana: Frances Senska, Jessie Wilber and Robert DeWeese. Working together they created a sustained art movement able to overcome the cultural resistance to Modernism in the state. My goal is to give these artists a profile commensurate with other great Modernist artists by formal examination of their work, and applications of various art historical methodologies.




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