The Montana modernists: redefining Western art
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Through an investigation of twentieth-century Montana postwar societal aspects, I examine the emergence of an avant-garde art movement in the state. The pioneers of this movement, Jessie Wilber, Frances Senska, Bill Stockton, Isabelle Johnson, Robert DeWeese, and Gennie DeWeese, nurtured, sustained, and promulgated an aesthetic philosophy that redefined Western art in Montana. Divided into three sections, the exploration of this avant-garde movement concentrates on place, teaching/artistic lineage, and community. Part one examines place. For some, place refers to the physical attributes of Montana in the postwar years, the isolation, the beauty, and the complexity of its landscape that not only served as a backdrop but also played center stage in the influences on life and art. For others in the group, place became a metaphor for the body politic, a personal evocation of space held within the boundaries of time. Part two charts each artist's artistic lineage to further understand how they arrived at their particular artistic styles. Community, the third section, seeks to answer one of the larger questions within this work: how did six artists working in Montana in the late 1940s create a thriving art community that opposed the meta-narrative of the West and still resonates in contemporary Montana art. A thorough study of their teaching styles, art techniques, and social gatherings demonstrates the workings of a tight-knit community of like-minded artists (and writers, dancers, musicians, and philosophers) as they addressed the changing zeitgeist of a postwar America, cultivating fresh ideas through a modern lens, allowing Montanans a new option for viewing themselves.