Symphony of light and color: Cathedral of St. Helena
Story and photos by Gordon Sullivan
I entered through a set of huge oak doors. As I made my way down the main aisle under a spectacular Gothic canopy rising more than 40 feet above the marble floor, a remarkable beauty greeted and surrounded me.
It was the first time I visited the Cathedral of St. Helena as a professional photographer. It was an astounding sight in many ways.
To either side, marble pillars stretched heavenward while balancing delicate arches between their girths. The entire scene was bright and colorful.
Despite the hugeness and staggering dimension of it all, the cathedral exhibits elegant symmetry portraying a feeling of strong balance and artistic flow. It’s much like individual notes that drift across a sheet of music to create the genesis for a precious symphony or a solitary stroke of an artist’s brush across an empty canvas that may be the first of an ageless masterpiece.
Still, everything in sight seemed to be somehow upstaged by glowing stained-glass windows containing tiny slivers of light. Bordering the aisle, long rows of hand-carved oak pews were illuminated by the colorful spectrum flowing wavelike toward the alter. It felt as though I had entered an artistic cocoon, a special place where hundreds of converging elements united in a lasting opus, a visual symphony of light and color.
Gordon Sullivan answered some questions about his work inside the Cathedral of St. Helena. Here’s what he had to say about photographing the beautiful space:
What was your initial inspiration for A Symphony of Light and Color?
For years as I traveled Montana as an outdoor photographer and I oftentimes found myself in Helena. It was on one of these occasions that I first visited the Cathedral of St. Helena and was blown away by the remarkable beauty I found inside the church. I also first witnessed the intriguing light that seems to set everything aglow.
As the years passed, I visited often and became interested in the special patterns of light that drifted throughout the interior, light emitted by the stained glass windows. The more I watched, the more apparent it became that the stained-glass light, depending on the time of day, time of year or outside climate, was always changing and seldom remained static.
Within minutes, depending on exactly which panel of stained glass the light passed, the scene inside the cathedral shape shifted in either a very subtle or very dramatic way and each time it did, the overall ambient light was effected.
At times, the windows caused an array of color spectrums to spread throughout the interior as the sun made its way across the sky. These bands of color were very visible and interesting as they reflected off different features throughout the interior.
That was when I got the idea of trying to capture the light photographically and attempting to portray the outstanding beauty it added to everything it touched.
Very few places will you find natural light altered so intensely, so dramatically.
As long as I have been a photographer I have been a student of light and no place I know better demonstrates the quality, tone and movement of light across a scene as does the cathedral.
Tell us about the time it takes to get shots like you did.
Once I set my sights on photographing the stained glass light, I first needed to study the patterns and determine what time of day or year would best demonstrate the effect I was after. This took some time and several dry runs and more or less pointed to times when the outside light was at its greatest angle to the windows. Mid-morning and late afternoon seemed to be prime – especially for the visible bands of light falling on inside attractions like marble pillars, oak pews and high contrast walls.
Working inside the Cathedral of St. Helena requires both patience and planning, simply because a few special shots appear only during certain times during the day and in some cases vanish at a moment’s notice. Some of the shots were planned very carefully while others seemed to appear out of nowhere.
Whenever I photographed inside the cathedral, no matter what time of day, I tried to compose images that in some way suggested movement or the advancement of light across cathedral’s interior. I felt the suggestion of movement added to the whole project.
To make the project a bit more complicated it required the use of slow shutter speeds— sometimes one to five seconds per exposure. A sturdy tripod along with gadgets like an electronic shutter release, mirror lock up and even a polarizing filter were necessary. The polarizing filter helped define or brighten the muted color spectrums but also slowed exposures down considerably. Also, a lower ISO (100) setting was used to help expand overall color rendition.
I would say that for every image saved on the original digital file ten or twenty were deleted simply because they failed to suggest movement or failed to accentuate muted color passing through the stained-glass.
How much time did you spend inside the cathedral?
It’s hard to say just how much time it took to build the cathedral file simply because the task eventually became one of those photographic challenges more pleasurable than painful.
Catching the right light at the right time is actually what successful photography is all about. Some of the shots went very quickly and were a matter of straight forward composition while others took a lot more planning just to get everything right. Most of the time was spent in planning as opposed to actual shooting, but it all turned out to be very enjoyable.
Of the many, many hours spent inside the cathedral over the years, I can say with a degree of certainty that many more hours were spent studying the light, watching it drift across a wall, or fade inside a dark corner than were spent behind a camera trying to capture it.
From a photographer’s perspective, what makes St. Helena so unique?
There are any number of features that make St. Helena’s so photographically unique. There’s the outstanding structural beauty and special patterns of illumination at work inside the church, the marvelous artistic ambiance enhanced by a century of existence and there’s the fascinating human story based on remarkable artisans and religious leaders. But for me, as a professional photographer, the most outstanding feature revolves around stained-glass light and the sublime tone it casts on marble, polished brass and carved oak. It is the technical challenge this type of light presents and the pleasure of seeing each image suddenly duplicated electronically for others to see.
Do you have a favorite portion of stained glass inside the cathedral?
I guess I have two favorite portions of stained glass inside the cathedral. The first is located on the southeast corner. Here low angle, morning light is particularly interesting. The stained-glass panels featured in this section, from both the higher and lower levels, spread illumination across the interior in colorful bands. It lights up the east facing side of marble pillars and walls and sweeps nicely across the oak pews.
Another of my favorites is the stained-glass panel behind the grated back-alter and crucifix. Here a mixture of brass and stained-glass is vibrant and provides a sense of texture, depth and physical dimension. This panel however is best photographed in low light, allowing just enough illumination of accent color without getting bright enough to wash out detail. Both areas require long exposures, tight metering and a tripod.
What is the best time of day for readers who visit the cathedral to see the splendor of the stained-glass?
The best time of day to visit and witness the splendor of stained-glass light is when the sun’s outside angle is at its greatest, which means early to mid-morning or late afternoon. Morning light enters from the east and in afternoon it comes from the west. The sharper the angle, the better the reflections inside the church and the more possible it will be for the illumination to be contrasted by interior shadows. Best time of year is autumn or early winter.
Another very special “mind blowing” time to visit is the last hour before sunset when the exterior light is low, warm and angled. It is almost unbelievable what goes on inside the cathedral during a vivid sunset. The effect is quick but very impressive.
Big Sky Spotlight: Meet Clark Schreibeis
Montana wildlife carver and sculptor Clark Schreibeis won Best in World honors in the decorative life-size division at the World Fish Carving Championships in 2013. The entry was also judged Best of Show. It was Schreibeis’s fifth best in show since 1995. He also won the Master of Master’s Division in the World Taxidermy Championships held simultaneously in Springfield, Ill. He continues his quest for artistic perfection in a rural setting west of Billings.
By JIM GRANSBERY, Photo by KELVIN PINNEY
Numerous artists have sought wilderness for solitude that spawns creativity.
For Clark Schreibeis, a 1980, 600-mile canoe trip – including a 15-mile portage over Ivashak Pass in Alaska’s Brooks Range – crystallized the desires of his life. At 25, encountering a determinate crossroad, he chose a deliberate path.
That rarified atmosphere of sun, sky, mountains, waters and wildlife above the Arctic Circle guided him: “I was going to quit drinking, marry Rika and take up taxidermy.”
He successfully achieved all three.
Today, he is the world’s finest fish carver and taxidermist. His peers have made it so.
Schreibeis, 58, was born and lived in Sheridan, Wyo., until he was 12 when his family moved to Billings in 1967. His father ran a dairy. His life as a sculptor began at age 8 when he carved a whale out of a bar of Ivory soap.
“I would whittle on wood,” he said. “I remember being struck by the beauty of the wood when I carved into an old piece of juniper.”
His artistic talent percolated to the surface now and again during a number of years. Although he liked to draw, he took no art classes in high school. He did take courses in technical, mechanical and architectural drawing. After graduating from West High School, he worked construction and on the railroad.
“I ran with a rowdy crowd,” he said. “I never knew I had (artistic) talent.”
After his four-month sojourn in Alaska, “Rika said ‘come home,’ ” Schreibeis said. “I took a six-week crash course in taxidermy in Wisconsin. That was all. I hung out my shingle as a western taxidermist. I did fish and birds.”
During a world taxidermy competition in Kansas in 1985, Schreibeis was drawn to carving. In a two-hour seminar, the instructor carved a fish out of wood.
“I was totally taken,” Schreibeis said. “It was more artistic. I was done with taxidermy.”
In 1995, he won his first Best of Show at the World Fish Carving Championships, which he has taken each time he’s entered the biennial competition.
His double world win last year came as a result of commissions by admirers of his work.
Billings angler Joel Long Jr. asked Schreibeis to capture in wood his “dream fish,” a 24-inch spawning male brown trout. For his taxidermy entry, Schreibeis chose his rendition of a wolf eel caught by friend and client Jim Routson, of Missoula, while fishing for halibut off the coast of Sitka, Alaska.
The wolf eel – from the dark deep – resembles a ferocious demon. The 5-foot, 5-inch creature was for Schreibeis the ultimate challenge to recreate. Being a judge, he was unable to compete in the fish category, but he could enter the Master of Masters division, which was open to all master level judges and competitors of all species.
His expertise established, Schreibeis spends his time sculpting in wood and bronze, working on a few select taxidermy projects, judging, teaching carving classes and exploring those wild places he loves.
What is the goal of your work?
To capture the essence of the species. To produce a decorative piece, such as the brown trout, as close to real, and accurately. With the Rocky Mountain (red) juniper, to produce a sculpture such as a great blue heron that displays the beauty of the wood.
What are the best choices for wood?
For carving fish, the best is “tupelo” (swamp tree) found in the southeastern United States. The first 4- to 5 -feet from the root ball is best. The grain is harder upward from that. At several sites in eastern Montana I look for juniper. Southeast of Glendive there is some big stuff.
Where lies your creativity?
I’ve had a piece of juniper here, maybe for 10 years. I have tried to visualize what it might become. Maybe a couple of owls? It (creativity) is to release the sculpture. The work becomes more stylized, interpretive as you go. Although it is not as detailed or accurate as the brown trout, my juniper carving “shouts” great blue heron.
Where in Montana do you go to relax?
On the river.
What three words describe Montana?
Beauty. Wildlife. Family.
Jim Gransbery is a retired agricultural/political reporter of The Billings Gazette. He writes from Billings.
Beautiful Bad Lands of Makoshika State Park
In the eyes of Montana photographer Jason Savage, the vast and unique landscapes inside Makoshika State Park more than allow the land to live up to its name.
The largest state park in Montana, “Makoshika” is a variant spelling of the Lakota word meaning “bad land” or “bad earth.”
The park’s 11,531 acres – located just outside Glendive – are filled with giant formations of light colored capstone that reach toward the expansive eastern Montana skies like elegant pedestals.
Among the wild landscape lies the bones of ancient species, including Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops, and artifacts left behind by ancient peoples thousands of years ago.
“To me as a photographer, it feels like a harsh landscape but it has all this beauty,” Savage said. “It’s kind of an unforgiving place, especially in the summer it’s hot, but it’s got all this fantastic landscape and wildlife. It’s pretty spectacular.”
Planning a trip to Makoshika? Ranger Tom Shoush recommends several things you’ve got to see:
- Drive the 10-mile road through the park.
“If the road system is open, I always tell people to drive to the top. That’s where the views are,” Shoush said.
- Watch out for dinosaur bones.
The bones of 10-12 species of dinosaurs have been found inside Makoshika. Most of the finds, Shoush said, are large herbivores that lived near end of the age of dinosaurs. The most significant is an entire Thescelosaur, a “very rare” and “tremendous find” Shoush said.
- Stop at the visitors’ center.
It’s home to dinosaur bones and rare artifacts left behind by ancient peoples. “A human presence in the area dated back to 10,000 to 12,000 years ago,” Shoush said.
- Stop by during the “spring green up.”
Shoush recommends visiting from Makoshika in mid-May through mid-June.
“I tell people somewhere around June 1 you have the best chance of seeing the flowers in bloom and the migratory birds have returned,” he said.
To view the entire Makoshika photo portfolio, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Wild Ride: Wolf Point’s Wild Horse Stampede keeps rodeo traditions alive
By Rich Peterson, Photos by Lynn Donaldson
Wolf Point’s Wild Horse Stampede is approaching its 91st birthday but Montana’s oldest professional rodeo shows no signs of aging or wrinkles.
Thousands of rodeo fans converge on this Hi-Line town of nearly 3,000 residents each year for three days during the second week in July.
It’s a time of class and family reunions, parades, a carnival, “Catholic burgers,” street dances and, of course, the main event: The oldest Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event in the state that is known as the “granddaddy of Montana rodeos.”
“For a lot of people who come here every summer for the Stampede, it feels like home,” said Clint Long, who’s been the chairman of the event since 1984 and has attended the rodeo since childhood. “Everyone remembers coming to the Stampede when they were kids. It’s an amazing phenomenon. People want to connect with their roots again. So much is going on in a world that’s moving too fast. Roots are shallow anymore.”
To read the entire feature on the Wild Horse Stampede, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Montana Book Review: Literary Thrills and Chills
By Doug Mitchell
A dark new novel from one of Montana’s most well-known master of thrillers, a heartfelt history from the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation, and a western-themed page-turner with a hearty heroine.
Montana Magazine contributor Doug Mitchell reviews a handful of books based in or about Montana.
Light of the World
By James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, New York, 2013
One of America’s premier fiction writers, James Lee Burke sets his 20th Dave Robicheaux novel, Light of the World, near his ranch home just south of Missoula.
For those not familiar with Burke’s work, Dave Robicheaux, a deputy sheriff in New Iberia, La., is the main character in as good a set of mystery stories as you’ll ever find. A deeply flawed, but an intensely human man, Robicheaux is the kind of imperfect character in whom we as readers can easily believe.
In Light of the World, Robicheaux is vacationing in Montana with his family and his ever present sidekick, Clete Purcel, when strange things begin to happen.
This dark, hard tale isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is a first-class page turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat. More than that, it is a beautifully written book with the kind of memorable, elegant language that separates Burke from most of his peers in the fiction genre.
For long-time Burke fans, it is another great read.
First-time readers: Be prepared to get hooked and to develop an oddly strong opinion about whether your favorite character is Dave Robicheaux or Clete Purcel.
A Cheyenne Voice – The Complete John Stands in Timber Interviews
By John Stands in Timber and Margot Liberty
University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma, 2013
More than a half century in the making, A Cheyenne Voice – The Complete John Stands in Timber Interviews represents a significant contribution to the history and culture of the American West. In this dense and rich volume, author Margot Liberty presents a full transcription of the recorded interviews she did with Stands in Timber in the 1950s. The interviews were the basis of her 1967 book Cheyenne Memories. In the book, Liberty provides a rare and intimate window to an all too often forgotten past.
Born in 1882, John Stands in Timber sat for these interviews late in his life.
And what a life it was. An orphan, Stands in Timber was sent to a boarding school but returned to the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation at the age of 23, where he became a dedicated tribal historian, story collector and protector of the native language.
There is no way not to be moved by this book. Although at times a difficult read because it is a direct transcription, the stories and history shared by Stands in Timber, as elicited through the capable questioning of Liberty, take the reader to a very special place. It is the kind of book you will want to keep by your bedside table and read in reflective moments because the stories are so warm and significant that they demand the attention of a treasured moment.
By K.C. McRae
Midnight Ink, Minnesota, 2013
I was prepared not to expect much of Shotgun Moon when it got to the top of the pile of books by my nightstand. I had not heard of the author and was not familiar with the publisher, but I liked the premise of a female heroine in a western novel and figured I would give it a whirl.
I’m glad I did.
Shotgun Moon is a breath of fresh air from a talented writer who, I later learned, has an accomplished career writing under other names. This is her first novel writing as K.C. McRae.
On the first page of the book we are introduced to our heroine, Merry McCoy, recently released from prison and headed back to her home in the fictional rural Montanan town of Hazel.
Merry is as refreshing and original of a character as I have come across in a long time. From the moment she returns home we are on a 300-page thrill ride that is filled with amazing characters.
I had the chance to ask McRae some questions about Shotgun Moon.
Here’s what she had to say about the book and her work.
Q: You are already a successful author through your two series Magical Bakery Mysteries (writing under the name of Bailey Cates) and Home Crafting Mysteries (Cricket McRae), what made you decide to take a chance with Shotgun Moon.
A: I’ve always been drawn to western writers and to stories that depict the unique sensibilities of western life. As much as I enjoy the work of authors like Doig, Duncan, Kittredge or McGuane, I’m a mystery writer at heart and am also a big fan of James Lee Burke, Dana Stabenow, Craig Johnson and C.J. Box. The idea for Shotgun Moon had been percolating for years, and when I found myself with an opening in my writing schedule I decided it was time to bring it to life. It certainly is a departure from my two cozy mystery series, which is one of the reasons it was so enormously fun to write. Cozy mysteries are typically lighter fare with little actual violence, sex or even bad language. In the world of Shotgun Moon the story couldn’t be told that way, and I loved the opportunity to write a little darker.
Q: Merry McCoy is quite a character. Where did she come from?
A: I have had the luck to know many women who meet adversity – both the everyday stumbling blocks and life-altering enormities – with quiet strength. They take a deep breath and do what needs to be done, from putting down a horse to changing a bed pan, from protecting their children to living in constant pain. These women taught me how gentle strength can be and how brutal as well. They showed me, and continue to show me, that it’s possible to get through life without letting it wear you away, that success can simply mean retaining the ability to be compassionate in the middle of it all while not giving into bitterness or self-pity. The journey to reach that equanimity is rarely pretty or smooth, but it’s worth it. Some of these people are friends and others are members of my family. These women all inspired my flawed but persistent main character. One of them was my great-grandmother, Essie McCoy, whose name I borrowed for Merry.
Q: You have a new Bailey Cates book coming out, Some Enchanted Éclair, in July. Tell us a bit about the transition as a writer from writing a book like Shotgun Moon, then moving back to a Magical Bakery Mystery.
A: Some Enchanted Eclair is my 11th novel, and the fourth Magical Bakery Mystery. In some ways it’s the polar opposite of Shotgun Moon – set in the Deep South, featuring a young witch who owns a bakery. The tone is lighter, and there’s an emphasis on food – especially savory pastries. In some ways that makes it easier to write than something like Shotgun, simply because the story is not as layered. However, the mystery still needs to work in an interesting and coherent way, and Katie Lightfoot, the witch in question, is actually an old fashioned herbal healer whose father is descended from Shawnee medicine men. Like Merry, she’s resourceful, cares about her friends and family, and takes care of business. I’ve found that the luxury of being able to switch from one kind of mystery writing to another keeps things fresh and interesting.
Q: Why did you choose Montana as the location for Shotgun Moon?
A: Both of my parents were born in Montana. My dad worked at Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, and I have family in Billings. I grew up mostly in northern Wyoming and Colorado. Then, when I lived in Seattle I visited the Bitterroot Valley and fell in love with the place. For years I wanted to live there, and one day that still might happen. In the meantime, Shotgun Moon gave me the opportunity to partially live my fantasy on the page.
Q: Will fans of Shotgun Moon we see more from K.C. McRae and if so, can you give us a sneak peek?
A: I have several projects in the works, among them a couple more K.C. McRae adventures. One is set in a primitive living school and another in a cult-like compound in the Yaak Valley. However, neither is presently under contract, so my priority in the next six months will be on my current obligations.
To another book review by Doug Mitchell, click here.
Grizzly Guardian finds wild calling
By Corinne Garcia, Photos by Erik Petersen
Not just anyone would opt for a bear as a pet in lieu of something a lot less intimidating. But for Casey Anderson, an animal lover and naturalist who has made a career out of working with and exploring some of the world’s most feared animals, somehow it doesn’t seem so strange. Host of the National Geographic Channel series “America the Wild,” the fifth generation Montanan has paved his own way through the animal kingdom, going from hobby tracker to wildlife expert and spokesperson.
In 2002, Anderson met Brutus, a grizzly cub who was just the size of a squirrel. Through this quirky bear, and other wild animals he has come to know and understand, he has been able to dispel many myths about predators. But first, Anderson had to learn about them himself.
What is Brutus like today? He’s a one-of-a-kind bear living at Anderson’s Montana Grizzly Encounter outside Bozeman.
To view videos of Brutus, as well as other bears at the sanctuary, visit the santurary’s bearcam page.
To read the entire feature on Casey Andereson, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Last Farm Standing: Kalispell Kreamery
Story and photos by Jessica Lowry
For 35 years – no matter the late nights, the sideways-blowing snow or the hard bite of winter mornings – the Hedstrom Dairy cows have known exactly what shapes would darken the barn’s pre-dawn doorway just as certain as they could expect the sun to rise over the Swan Mountains looming to the east.
Mornings start early on the farm. Cows don’t care if you were up late into the night or have other things to do. They need to be milked.
Bill and Marilyn Hedstrom have spent the past 35 years keeping their cows happy around the clock.
After three and a half decades and in a valley where tourism and traffic to Glacier National Park drive a significant segment of the economy, Kalispell Kreamery and Hedstrom Dairy is the last Flathead dairy farm in operation.
After falling in love with the family’s first cow in 1978, the Hedstrom’s opened a dairy. What started as a five acre operation in Happy Valley has grown into an 80-acre farm in West Valley.
To read the entire feature on the Kalispell Kreamery, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Bow Virtuoso: Expert craftsman creates one-of-a-kind hunting tools
Story by Brian D’Ambrosio, Photos by Jeremy Lurgio
In bowyer Jim Rempp’s opinion, simple and basic are the natural equals of skill and precision.
“People are tired of current technology,” Rempp said. “They want to go back to the simple things. Wooden archery is the original native archery.”
As a part of a recent consumer backlash against cheaper, newer materials in the past 10 years, Rempp has seen primitive archery re-emerge as an alternative. In a reversal of attitude, many of today’s archers prefer traditional wooden bows over modern counterparts.
“These are the most primitive bows that there are,” said Rempp in between rounds of target practice on a spacious slice of farmland outside Missoula where he makes and tests bows. “They are all wood. Basically, they are just a stick.”
To read the entire feature on Jim Rempp, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.