Jer and I are now at the Montana Artists’ Refuge, Basin, Montana, in the southwest part of the state. I am painting, he is writing and editing, and we are both experiencing the dislocation and joy of a new adventure.
While the residency has all kinds of ins-and-outs, basically I came here to paint. And painting is what I’ve been doing.
Basin lies in a geographical bowl, surrounded by pine-covered mountains. It’s a mining town — still has a functioning gold mine — and seems to have had its moments of prosperity, most of which were in the past.
Basin Street, Basin, Montana. The main drag.
The MAR has two buildings, one of which is a 1909 two story bank building. We have the full first floor, with living quarters at the back and the studio in the front.
The step ladder you see in the window helps when the quilted window coverings fall down — about twice a day. But the curtains are effective in keeping the studio warm(er).
This is the romanticized view of the front.
And this is the studio interior.The studio space, while a bit chilly, is perfect for me. It’s huge, so I can have everything laid out and obvious. (I can only remember to work on what I can see). The north windows are a story and a half high (hence the chill), the windows are right at sidewalk level, and there are also west windows that face the other MAR building next door — a brick wall worthy of a NYC warehouse studio.
In part, I am painting what I see through my windows and what I have photographed on daily walks through the tiny village (137 people, one restaurant/bar, no gas or groceries, and much evidence of mining of various minerals).
Basin Street, Basin, MT, Watercolor, 12 x 16″ This is the first painting I did here.
The higgledy-piggledy nature of the parked cars is merely a part of the slightly wacky layout (if one can say there is a “layout”) of the town itself. While it looks as if the street ends abruptly, it actually curves down and around the vehicles and continues in the same eccentric fashion for another quarter of a mile or so. The Refuge lies along the unseen part of the street.
A couple of buildings seem to have been carefully designed — in particular, the little church on the main street.
The entrance to the church is a foyer built diagonally across one corner of the rectangular building, and it has the American Gothic arches to give it personality. It is topped by a roof, which is topped by a bell tower, which is topped by another roof.
These elements are subtly sized, drawing the eye upward, and, of course, behind the church rises a mountain. We saw the church at sunrise (10 AM in these parts) and at dusk (4 PM), and both times the steeple rose beautifully above the town and the hill. Jer caught it in a photo just at dusk, and I used that image to paint the oil on panel (12 x 16″) above.
The town appears not to have been platted — its roads, houses, and cars run in various directions, up and down the side hills, along Basin Creek and off alleys that seem to be off other alleys. Interstate 15 runs through the east side of Basin, which may account for some of the eccentric layout, but, even given that disruption, the town seems to have just grown, with houses behind trailers, in front of occupied shacks, with vacant brick buildings fronting the “downtown” sidewalk, flanked by one-story asbestos sided dwellings.
Side Street, Basin, Montana, oil on canvas, 12 x 16″
I feel as if I am working on capturing a disappearing landscape, one that existed before the developers and burbs took over. Like Tree, I’m documenting something about the way people live. This is a world which may, in the near future, simply cease to exist. I grew up in a town very like this, but it’s dissolved and swallowed up and disappeared, not even a Census Designated Place in the eyes of the world. Maybe the photos and paintings can give Basin more longevity.
But of course, in addition to waxing melancholy over a passing scene, I have another large project involving the geologic history of the world vis-a-vis my personal history (I’m nothing if not ambitious!) as well as a medium project of oils on large panels.
This is Portals 1, about 30 x 40″, oil on masonite panel. I have a second one well on the way. I’m hoping to be able to buy more masonite panels (I have just one blank one left) but the prospects don’t look good.
However, I do have a 22″ x 15′ canvas (as well as an 18″ x 15′ length and a 12″ x 15′ remnant) and a bunch of small panels, so I probably won’t suffer too greatly from the lack of supplies. The large project — the 22″ x 15′ canvas — is up on a vacant wall in the studio and has some markings on it. It will be acrylic and oil and is definitely too new to even begin to discuss. But having the canvas on the wall will remind me not to forget.
We are having Open House on Fridays from 2 to 4, to allow folks to see for themselves what’s going on. (Many have already walked by and waved at me through the windows). If any of you are near Basin, Montana, on a Friday in December or January, be sure to drop in.
And you can see other photographs of the area on our personal blog, southeastmain.
[Author's note: If I make more than the usual typos and spelling and syntax errors, blame it on an unfamiliar (borrowed from Jer) computer -- that's my story, and I'm sticking to it]