Artists of the Blackfoot Valley
By Lee York
The artists of the Blackfoot Valley are as diverse and varied as the land that anchors them. Charles Geary, an artist-metalsmith; Annie Allen, a painter working with her homemade dyes; and Michael Brown, with his perfect pencil art, all bring their distinct styles and personalities into their work.
Charles Geary—Artist-Metalsmith—Montana Stone and Steel, Ovando
Meeting Charles Geary is like meeting Montana. He’s wide-ranging, lean, and hardy. Focused. He’s many other things too: artist, retired pastor, machinist, and blacksmith. He creates decorative and functional art from stone and steel.
You can find his talent not just in the pieces he creates to sell but also in his tools and equipment. Part of the genius in his work is his remodeling of the tools he uses. It took him over a year to begin creating his pieces back in 2010 because first, he had to make an air hammer. From scratch.
“Well, I had to make my own because a new one cost $15,000.”
He crafted the “Iron Maiden,” as he’s named his creation, from parts and pieces he’s bought or found. “I bought the plans for an air hammer. They left out a lot about how to build the tool but there was enough there that I could fill in the rest.” He’s made or remodeled most of the tools he uses to create his pieces.
As functional art, his pieces are decorative and at the same time serve a purpose. Some of the objects Charles has created include stone and steel entry tables, coffee tables, and end tables. And he even applies his art to gusset plates to lend serviceability and beauty to cabins and timber-frame construction projects.
“I find my inspiration in the material I’m working with. Every piece is different due to the stone. Sometimes I’m working on a piece and I think it will be one thing but then I make a mistake and it turns out it was supposed to be something else.”
Charles Geary was born in Missoula but lived for twenty-four years at the end of Kleinschmidt Flats Road in Ovando, just down the road from where he lives today. He attended college at Walla Walla University where he majored in theology and minored in industrial arts.
“My father wanted me to become a machinist and to honor his request, I minored in industrial arts.”
Charles sells his work at the Seeley Lake Farmers Market and at the Ovando, Helmville, and Avon Christmas festivals. He also makes custom pieces to order.
Montana Stone and Steel, 2280 Kleinschmidt Flat Rd, Ovando MT 59854. 406-793-1726 cell 406-499-804.
Annie Allen—Painter, Art Instructor—Annie Allen Art, Lincoln
One of Annie Allen’s favorite words is verve and it suits her. Vigor and spirit flow through her and her work. She is an artist and an art instructor who teaches “Life is story; tell your story.”
She grew up a farm/ranch kid from Laredo, MT just outside of Havre, but art was always in her blood. “I do what I do because I couldn’t not do it,” says Annie. “My mother told me that I came out drawing.” She drew her first piece at three, a giraffe, and she hasn’t stopped since.
She obtained a BA in education and an AA in art marketing, then taught art in the Lincoln school system for twelve years. When she decided to stop teaching to focus on her art, she opened a gallery, Roasted, in Lincoln. Roasted at one point displayed the work of eighty-three artists.
When asked where the name Roasted came from she said, “I loved the sensation of warmth beyond the name: tied to roasted coffee beans and a well-developed art piece that was roasted to perfection!”
“My process has changed over the years. It’s pure experiment. There’s more confidence. My story comes out on the canvas. And, I worry less about sales.”
She uses dyes and acrylic on different surfaces such as metal, canvas, wood, even buffalo skulls. “Surface is really important to me. It allows freedom and expression. And, I make my own dyes. This is unique to who I am.” Her handmade dyes are earth-friendly and vibrant.
She sells her work at Tubac Arts & Crafts in Tubac, Arizona, and at “places that honor the way I create freedom and expression.” She also gravitates to art centers. Big Fork Cultural Center and Livingston Arts Center are two of her favorites. She’s had solo shows and group exhibits at both.
Big Fork Cultural Center presented a fiber installation that Annie based on mountains and water. She’ll teach a children’s workshop at the Livingston Arts Center this summer.
At her studio in Lincoln she teaches adults and children Thursday-Sunday. Her classes are popular and fill up quickly. She limits class size to five students until the summer when she can expand her classroom outside.
She is also a coach for the Montana Artrepreneur Program (MAP), https://art.mt.gov/map, where artists can learn to market their work, increasing their sales and making business success a priority.
Annie completed the MAP course in 2005. She credits MAP with giving her the confidence to open her art gallery. “The program was life-changing for me. It gave me verve and I bloomed.”
Her goal is to keep the verve going. Making a difference through the arts is huge for her. She feels the arts and artists are expanding in the Blackfoot Valley. Her advice to other artists is to “find your story.”
Michael Brown—Pencil Artist, Photography—Lincoln
The artist Michael Brown is a study in patience. His pencil art is so detailed it is often mistaken for photographs. He carries a magnifying glass so people can inspect his artwork up close and see for themselves. It can take him 300-400 hours to create his signature look.
“I’m the slowest artist in the world. My patience is more of a gift than my ability to draw. I’d say my work is 80 percent patience and 20 percent talent,” says Brown.
“I use pencils because I like the control they give me.” He uses Crayola and Prisma pencils along with some airbrushing techniques, and uses photographs to help him catch every detail of his subjects. His attention to detail has helped him win the Artist of the Year for Montana Ducks Unlimited, twice.
He’s a self-taught artist, teaching himself photography and to draw, paint, and air-brush. He’s always considered himself an artist. “I’ve always created an art studio wherever I’ve been. Even if it’s just been in a corner of a hotel room.”
Currently his art gallery and studio are located in his home. He remodeled this space to create a comfortable working area and a place to display his art. He designed and built his custom art table after injuring his back. He needed a comfortable table that could do exactly what he needed it to do.
His work is for sale at his gallery and the Montanan Restaurant in Lincoln, MT. His gallery is located at 185 North 6th Ave, Lincoln, MT. 406-788-5759. [email protected]