Last Best Books

"Richard S. Buswell: 50 Years of Photography," "The Cabbage Patch," "Last Tango in Melrose," "A Corner of Space and Time"

Richard Buswell

Richard S Buswell: Fifty Years of Photography

by Richard S Buswell, with foreword by Barbara Koostra
Published by University of New Mexico Press


Richard Buswell, a photographer who has taken pictures of and in Montana ghost towns for half a century while pursuing a career in medicine, now has a retrospective book encompassing his entire career available from University of New Mexico Press.

The foreword by Barbara Koostra, the former director of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture, contains a line that may be key to understanding his work: "Richard captures physicality in a form that he then communicates and shares, affording art as permanency to that which is impermanent."  

Indeed, Buswell captures tiny details in the decay of Montana's ghost towns and preserves them forever. A devotee of Georgia O'Keefe, his tight black and white closeups of details - the fleshless skeleton of a bird of prey, light sifting through the rafters of a mill, an old linoleum floor decayed into what almost resembles a topographical landscape - and preserves that moment of deterioration as an eerily beautiful abstraction. 

This extraordinary career retrospective makes a strong case for Buswell being one of Montana's best photographers living or dead. We highly recommend the book for fans of photography, ghost town enthusiasts, and anyone who can appreciate a remarkably different and evocative take on western art. 

Last Tango in Melrose

Last Tango in Melrose Montana: The Writings of Dan Vichorek

by Dan Vichorek, Edited by John Kuglin
Published by University of Montana Press

The literary world - to say nothing of Montana - is a more impoverished place following the untimely passing of Mr. Vichorek in 2001. The journalist and humorist would have made Patrick F. McManus guffaw, or Mark Twain chortle through his cigar.  

This slim volume brings together work he did for Montana Magazine and the Fishing & Hunting News, selections from his books, and portions of manuscripts he left unpublished at the time of his death.  

He's the kind of writer so ferociously talented that you feel simultaneously ashamed of never having read him before and irrationally proud that you've discovered him. You might just write all of your friends and relatives to see that they don't make the same mistake. Or you are as likely to keep him all to yourself, to shore up against those times when hilarity is in lamentably short supply. But, and this is what makes him an incredibly fascinating read, his abundant humor is shot through with a remarkable power of observation. He will tell you things about Montana that you've somehow always felt, but never been able to put into words. 

For a taste of what Vichorek has to offer, check out "If You Ain't Got A Cowboy Hat, You Ain't ****," printed in our Spring issue. If you don't laugh at that, you might consider checking yourself into Warm Springs until such time as you and your sense of humor are restored.

The Cabbage Patch

The Cabbage Patch

by Jacob D. Sorich
Published by Old Butte Publishing

I asked the owner of a popular Butte bookstore what the most popular work of local history was at this moment, and the answer was quick and decisive: they've sold more copies of The Cabbage Patch than any other book in the last year.  

The Cabbage Patch earns that distinction by getting into the nitty-gritty of Butte's often sordid past, uncovering murders, prostitution, arson, and dope-dealing. But Sorich also found tales of community, bravery and even love stories in Butte's historical ghetto.

With a corrected and expanded second edition now available, The Cabbage Patch is well worth a read, and not just for the opportunity to shake your head in disbelief at just how rough and rowdy Butte, America used to be. 

A Corner of Space and Time

A Corner of Space and Time: Lee Nye's Eddie's Club Portraits

Published by Nye Imagery, Ltd and The Design Cooperative, 2020
with contributions by Jean Belangie-Nye, Aaron Teasdale, and Benjamin Ferencz

Lee Nye (1926 - 1999) was a photographer when he worked at Eddie's Club in Missoula, a working-class bar that, in the mid to late sixties and early seventies, tended to serve a lot of aging blue-collar workers, mostly men, that were representatives of quickly vanishing jobs and lifestyles.  They had, as Aaron Teasdale says in a foreword to the photographs collected in this book, "lived through trying times during the wrenching scarcity of the Great Depression, and endured unimaginable violence in the battlefields of World War I and World War II... They hewed with crosscut saws, wrenched railroad steam engines, and drove pack trains into high mountains."  

They weren't the denizens of sports bars or redneck bars, the other watering holes most prevalent in Missoula at the time.  And the trendy cocktail bars now en vogue hadn't arrived yet.  Nearing the end of their lives, brimming over with stories no one else would ever be able to tell again, they congregated at Eddie's for drinks and talk, and Lee Nye provided both. 

In these remarkably intimate portraits, where the subject's often lined and craggy faces fill most of the space, we see these folks in gorgeous detail.  Most are smiling, and nearly all of them are looking just out of frame, possibly at Lee himself.  As another foreword by poet John Yau puts it, "it is obvious that Nye's subjects trusted him - he was their bartender, after all, the person who listened to them, even when they hit bottom."  

The collected portraits in this handsome book tell a story it would do us well to remember: our elders knew things we cannot and saw things we will never see.  But they're more than the repositories of that sometimes terrible knowledge.  They were people with feelings and aspirations, and they had stories to tell us if only we would hear them.

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