The Bair ladies—Mary, Marguerite, and Alberta—collected art and antiques from their Portland home, and when the family moved to Martinsdale permanently, the sisters deftly joined their collections with the Western art to tell the story of Charles Bair and his family. Alberta and Marguerite continued to visit Europe many years to enlarge the collection and today the Western and European art hang comfortably together. The Parisian “firelight” scenes by Edward Cortez are a particular favorite of visitors.
In order to preserve these priceless art pieces, the originals will be housed in the new building and copies will be displayed in the House Museum to fully tell the Bair story.
The exterior of this new museum building, according to Kim Olsen of O2 Architects of Billings, has been carefully designed to blend with existing structures on the property while the interior is designed to exhibit paintings and collections gathered by the Bair family. According to Director-Curator Elizabeth Guheen, the design includes gallery space for Charlie Bair’s collection of Russells, Sharps, and J.K. Ralston as well as a separate gallery for the Bair sisters’ American and European paintings. A specially designed gallery space has been created to show the valuable, but light sensitive photographs of Edward Curtis—only a few copies of which have been shown in the house. The museum will also be available for guest exhibits.
Climate and light controlled glass display cases have been designed for the Bair’s Native American art and artifacts. In addition, there is a temporary gallery space for revolving exhibits and a cement vault for storing pieces during off-season months.
Ceremonial ground breaking for the building was in August of 2010 and construction began in the fall. The Grand Opening is scheduled for July, 2011.
The summer hours for the Museum will be May through September, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.—last tour of the home is at 4 p.m.
Lee Rostad and her husband Phil ranched in the northern foothills of the Crazy Mountains, not far from the Bair Ranch. Rostad wrote a biography of Charlie Bair, Fourteen Cents and Seven Green Apples, and a history of the museum and the fight for its survival, The House of Bair: Sheep, Cadillacs and Chippendale. She has also written Grace Stone Coates, Her Life in Letters. The recipient of many honors, Lee currently lives in Helena and serves on the Montana Historical Society Board.