• The MMAC is celebrating the 120th anniversary of its permanent collection in 2015. Art by Ken Barnedt

    Art of the State: Montana artists well represented in museum’s permanent collection

    By Kelsey Dayton

    Every work of art in the Montana Museum of Art and Culture’s 11,000- piece collection has a story.

    Sometimes the stories are obvious and told in paint. Sometimes they are hidden, secured in history and legend. Sometimes the story is about the sculpture. Sometimes it is about the sculptor.

    But when the best of the collection comes together it tells the stories of the histories of the museum, art and Montana.

    To celebrate its 120th anniversary, the Montana Museum of Art and Culture is featuring an exhibit of 120 pieces from its permanent collection. Paintings, prints, ceramics, photography and tapestries, as well as traditional and contemporary Native American art and Southeast Asian textiles, are on display in the anniversary exhibit.

    The show, divided into two galleries on the University of Montana’s campus, is meant to be a global experience, said Barbara Koostra, director of the museum.

    Brandon Reintjes, museum curator, selected works that showcase the diversity of the permanent collection, along with works important to the museum.

    MMAC is hosting a series of special events to celebrate the permanent collection’s 120th anniversary

    "The Great Easter Buffalo Visits the Festival," by Walter Hook. Image courtesy of MMAC

    “The Great Easter Buffalo Visits the Festival,” by Walter Hook. Image courtesy of MMAC

    Art of the State: Celebrating 120 years of the MMAC Permanent Collection

    Show hangs through May 23 in the Paxson and Meloy Galleries in the Performing Arts and Radio/Television Center at the University of Montana. The museum is open to the public during the academic year from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday with a $5 donation. For more information call 406-243-2019 or visit http://www.umt.edu/montanamuseum.

    Special events

    • Free talk ““Predilections and Possibilities: the Virtues of a Teaching Collection” by art history and criticism professor Rafael Chacon 7 p.m. March 3 at the Performing Arts and Radio/Television Center at the University of Montana.
    • Family treasure hunt day 1 to 3 p.m. March 7 in the lobby of the Performing Arts and Radio/Television Center at the University of Montana.
    • Docent tour of the exhibit focusing on European and American masterworks, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. March 19.
    • Display of two tapestries 7 p.m. March 19 in the Masquer Theater at the Performing Arts and Radio/Television Center at the University of Montana
    • Docent tour of the exhibit focusing on contemporary and modern art 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. April 9.
    • Family treasure hunt day 1 to 3 p.m. May 2 in the lobby of the Performing Arts and Radio/Television Center at the University of Montana.

    To read the entire MMAC story, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • Sean Kochel. Photo by Kurt Wilson

    Homegrown Guitars: Pieces of Montana provide perfect instrument material


    Photos by KURT WILSON

    To build instruments that reflect a sense of place, Sean Kochel hunts down the materials other people are casting aside.

    The wood from a barn a farmer planned to burn down. Refuse most hikers would ignore, such as spent ammunition and elk bones.

    He knows there’s a surfeit of guitar-makers out there, and the vintage Montana look these materials provide helps the Potomac resident stand apart in the crowded marketplace.

    “I was trying to stay with this Montana image – with Montana being kind of rustic” he said.

    He doesn’t want his guitars to look too pretty, and doesn’t spend hours on a sparkly finish.

    • View a video of musician Lou Shields playing a Kochel Guitar

    Take one of his electric resonator models, which appears to have been squirreled away “in someone’s basement for 100 years,” he said.

    The body and the neck are hand-crafted from wood he salvaged while tearing down an 1864 barn at the far end of the valley.

    He’s collected an entire stack of reclaimed boards in his shop.

    The Shelby native has used wood from torn down buildings in Toole, Pondera and Glacier counties, such as a 1903 commercial dairy in Cut Bank or a dilapidated 1895 railroad icehouse in Conrad.

    Kochel saved the galvanized metal used to patch the barn to craft the pickguards. To accentuate the already weathered look, he rubs the scraps raw and pours acid on them, resulting in a rusted finish ribboned with bright oily tones that contrasts with the aged metal.

    The nut, the small strip that separates the neck from the headstock, is carved from Rocky Mountain elk bone.
    “When I first started doing this I saved all the bones when I went hunting. I boil ‘em up and then cut ‘em up,” he said, and then shapes them into an instrument-ready form.

    The eye-catching tone and volume knobs originated with a special request from Josh Peyton, who leads an Indiana roots trio called Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band.

    The Reverend didn’t want standard knobs, which are typically utilitarian plastic or metal parts.
    He wanted shotgun shells.

    “Once people saw that, everybody wanted it,” Kochel said. It’s been standard on all of his designs since.
    The frets, too, are marked not by ivory inlays, but the ends of spent ammunition.

    He fires off those shotgun rounds himself. After all, the full-time, 60-instrument-a-year Kochel outfit is a one-man operation.
    “From tearing it down to ripping the stinky elk hide off the bone,” he said.


    He’s collected old beer cans from Highlander, Carlsberg and the like and makes them into old-school, dirty blues microphones.
    There are limits to the Montana-made aspect. He works with Rio Grande, a high-end boutique pickup company in Texas.

    Lately, he’s been using resonators from a defunct Tennessee factory owned by Dobro legend Tut Taylor.
    However, Kochel recently bought a computer-controlled cutting machine, which will enable him to cut reclaimed metal into his own intricate designs.

    Kochel has a handful of standard models, but each instrument is made to order with customized options available.

    He has a Telecaster-like design, although the artificially aged finish looks striking compared to a glossy new factory Fender. To further stand out, he makes a resonator model as well.

    The Tele, which he calls the “406,” has been a hit with customers in England, who’ve inquired about the area-code marker on the pickguard – he likes to tell them it’s the brand of Montana.

    Kochel has many overseas customers – Italy, Germany, Australia and New Zealand – far-flung places that are home to many roots music fanatics – blues fans that can rattle off obscure trivia about their genre of choice.

    “They have this admiration and knowledge that I think most Americans don’t seem to have,” he said.

    He also makes acoustics, which are more time-consuming, and more obscure instruments such as a banjo uke, a hybrid instrument that has the scale and strings of a ukulele with the body, neck and tuning of banjo.


    He said the instrument was popular in the vaudeville era, and disappeared along with it.

    Kochel inherited his love of history from his father, Larry Kochel, who worked for Montana Power Co. for 35 years.

    When Larry passed away in 2004, Sean took refuge in history-related, process-heavy hobbies. He taught himself the exhaustive techniques of wet-plate collodion photography – both he and his father admired the photos of Darius Kinsey, who documented Northwest loggers at their remote worksites. Kochel taught himself the archival process and he has since led classes on the art form, which can take 20 minutes to make a photograph.

    He’d carved wood since he was young. When he’d mentioned that he wanted to start making guitars, his brother Rian forwarded him an email about cigar-box models.

    After early success selling guitars at Missoula farmers market, he worked his way up to a production level of 60-some per year.

    As more guitar-makers flooded the market with cigar-box models, Kochel decided to branch out into full-fledged six-strings.

    Using old blueprints, online tutorials and much trial and error, he honed his craft to the axes he makes today. He estimates he’s built 1,700 guitars to date.

    Through his regular booth at the Saturday art market and his website, the instruments have caught the attention of touring musicians who want a rootsy sound and visual sensibility.

    Artist and blues musician Lou Shields picked up a cigar-box guitar at the market when a tour brought him through Missoula.

    “Kochel Guitars hit all of my senses at the same time,” Shields said. “As a visual artist, I was first taken by the look and feel of his guitars and his inspiring designs.”

    The musician was tired of “cookie-cutter” designs and rigs built overseas, and Kochel represented the direct opposite.

    Then there was the sound: “vintage, dusty, earthy and doggone good,” a match for the roots and pre-war blues Shields favors.

    He’s taken it all across the United States and used it on studio recordings.

    Peyton, meanwhile, is a self-described guitar obsessive who happened upon Kochel’s work online.

    He had his six-string custom-built with a few special requirements, such as a neck the size of “baseball bat” that could accommodate unusually heavy .016-gauge strings.

    “Kochel did a great job making sure that it had all the things I wanted, and it was customized with things that really make it feel like mine,” he said.

    “That comes across to me in the mojo of the thing,” he said. “I truly love it.”
    Peyton takes his Kochel guitar on the road with him – including gigs across the United States, Canada and Europe, and played it on several tunes for the Indiana trio’s latest recording, “So Delicious,” which was released in February 2014 on Yazoo Records.
    In addition to the sound, there’s the look.

    He said it’s as much of a piece of “folk art as it is an instrument.”

    And like all folk art, it’s tied to a particular time and place, down to the barn wood maple.

    To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • A P2 airplane on the tarmac at Neptune Aviation in Missoula. Photo by Jessica Lowry

    Vintage fighters: WWII-era tankers remain important wildfire fighting tools

    “I’m restoring history.”

    That’s how engine overhaul lead supervisor Bill Gocksch views his job at Neptune Aviation. For the past several years Gosksch has been part of the in-house crew at the company that keeps the historic P2v Neptune air tankers running smoothly.

    When the original P2 aircraft rolled off an assembly line in 1945 it was bound for combat.  Designed to aid U.S. efforts in World War II, it was built too late for any service in the war and was instead sent to the U.S. Navy.

    The planes went on to fly in combat zones around the world, as well as aid the Central Intelligence Agency in covert operations.

    Today, the planes have found a second life fighting wildfires.

    Based in Missoula, Neptune Aviation maintains a fleet of seven planes in an airplane hanger outside the Missoula International Airport.

    The large facility houses space to service aircraft and craft parts that need replacing.  Crews work around the clock to keep the planes in top condition between flights and during the off-season.

    “The P2 has been the backbone of firefighting aviation,” said Dan Snyder, chief operating officer of Neptune Aviation.

    To read the entire Vintage Fighters story, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • KOA founder Dave Drum. Photo courtesy of KOA

    KOA’s Montana origins: Roughing it in style


    Billings businessman Dave Drum watched as a tremendous amount of traffic began to pass by his property along the Yellowstone River on U.S. Highway 10 in the late 1950s.

    The Seattle World’s Fair and the Space Needle would open in 1962.

    Much of the traffic – and more to come Drum surmised – was headed that way.

    Where some people may have just seen a lot of traffic, Drum saw an opportunity.

    Fast forward to 2014, and Drum’s business idea spurred by the traffic increase is as important to the roadside landscape in the United States as any gas station, tire shop, old drive-in or motel.

    The distinctive red and yellow logo of Drum’s Kampgrounds of America represents a safe place to stop for a night at a comfortable campground for a price lower than most motel and hotel.

    A KOA campsite means you get a comfortable campsite where you don’t have to sleep on pinecones, rocks and tree roots. Campers also get a fire pit, picnic table and the opportunity to take a hot shower, use flush toilets rather than an outhouse, do some laundry, and buy supplies at the KOA’s distinctive A-frame buildings, which are the centerpieces of the campgrounds.

    To read the entire KOA story, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.

  • Glimpses: Women Making History

    Ferguson's first panel of the mural, 'Women Build Montana: Culture,' is set in a western Montana landscape in the late 19th century. Photo by Tom Bauer

    Ferguson’s first panel of the mural, ‘Women Build Montana: Culture,’ is set in a western Montana landscape in the late 19th century. Photo by Tom Bauer

    The second panel of Ferguson's mural, 'Women Build Montana: Community,' depicts an eastern Montana town in 1924. Photo by Tom Bauer

    The second panel of Ferguson’s mural, ‘Women Build Montana: Community,’ depicts an eastern Montana town in 1924. Photo by Tom Bauer

    Missoula artist Hadley Ferguson created two panels for her “Women Build Montana” piece now hanging in the state Capitol in Helena. Ferguson’s completed work – two 5-by-10-foot sepia-toned murals on powder-coated aluminum – was unveiled in January and is the first new painting to be hung in the Capitol since 1928.

    The mural’s purpose is to honor the role that all women of all ethnic groups played in building Montana’s communities – from the era of maintaining a homestead in a harsh environment to the shaping of political and public life. The entire project was funded with private donations.

    Click the images above to learn more about the “Women Build Montana” mural and see more photos of Ferguson’s work in a feature by Missoulian reporter Cory Walsh and photographer Tom Bauer.


  • Whitefish resident Walt Landi was photographing the aurora borealis on Monday night at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park when the re-entry of the Chinese rocket body streaked across the sky. Courtesy image

    Big Sky burst: ‘I’ve never, ever seen anything like this’

    Here’s what I’m calling a “weird Wednesday” post for you:

    Many around Western Montana woke to reports of “fireballs” having been seen in the night skies on Tuesday, and there were plenty of photos and videos to prove it. Walt Landi captured a beauty of a photo that has been widely shared.

    Rather than an alien fly-by, the lights, as Missoulian reporter Kim Briggeman found out, were from a Chinese rocket re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

    Kalispell photographer Jon Erdmann shot this photograph of the rocket re-entry from Stillwater Road. Courtesy photo

    Kalispell photographer Jon Erdmann shot this photograph of the rocket re-entry from Stillwater Road. Courtesy photo

    Jon Erdmann was out photographing the former – an especially bright aurora borealis display – north of Kalispell when a distinctive light appeared from the south.

    “It looked like a rocket launch from the Lakeside area, with sparks coming from below, like a Fourth of July rocket,” Erdmann said Tuesday. He called the sight “jaw-dropping.”

    People from Arizona to Alberta reported similar sightings at roughly the same time, just before 11 p.m.

    On Tuesday, NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office had identified the object as the re-entry of a Chinese rocket body. Others said the “space junk” came off a rocket that launched a satellite in China in late December.

    Some witnesses had cameras, but only a few were accomplished at pointing them at interstellar objects in the night sky. Erdmann, a 58-year-old aurora chaser, was one of them.

    “I’ve seen meteors and I’ve seen comets,” he said. “But I’ve never, ever seen anything like this.”

    As Briggeman writes, plenty of people saw the bright burst of light.

    Fran Coover of Missoula called it transfixing.

    She said she’d just looked into the sky at 10:56 p.m. to check out the stars on the clear, cold night. She turned her gaze westward toward the crescent moon.

    “Over my shoulder came a light so intense that I turned back to see what has to be one of the most spectacular sights I’ve ever seen in my life,” Coover said in an email.

    “Moving in a great arc across the sky from southeast to northwest (approximately) was a shower of yellow lights. The first grouping contained perhaps two dozen large points of light, each trailed by dozens of lesser lights. After that came a smaller grouping with the same pattern, about five large lights, each trailed by dozens of visible fragments.”

    What about you? Did you see the “fireball”?


  • Pigs are fed whey from the cheesemaking process. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    Eating, food series made with beautiful photos and great writing

    Have you seen the first installment of our 2015 series “The Last Best Plates,” when we help readers explore the Amaltheia Organic Dairy? 

    It’s a place where piglets and baby goats frolic together - oh and they make amazing cheese

    They have 17 varieties ranging from plain goat cheese and ricotta to flavor infused chevres, such as roasted garlic, sundried tomato and spiced pepper. Their products are distributed to grocery stores on both coasts, in places like Trader Joe’s and Wild Oats, and for sale through their website.

    “People say you can taste the mountains in our cheese,” Sue said. “It tastes fresh, creamy and clean, and it’s just one farms milk going into it which makes a difference.”

    We’re very excited to be able to bring readers glimpses of the wonderful eats and treats around the Big Sky State thanks to Lynn Donaldson and Corinne Garcia. 

    Donaldson founded The Last Best Plates blog. It’s pretty cool (one feature is all about the origin of the pasty.) Last Best Plates is sharing special Montana food stories with us inside each issue of Montana Magazine

    Next, for the Montana Magazine series, Donaldson and Garcia let us in on a few secrets to planning the best post-branding picnic party around. We’ll have a recipe for a Huckleberry Bar dessert, as well as beautiful images from an amazing Paradise Valley ranch where the picnic takes place. 

    Here’s a couple preview images to give you a taste of the second Last Best Plates installment: 

    West Creek Ranch owner Elizabeth Webb on branding day. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    West Creek Ranch owner Elizabeth Webb on branding day. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    The branding picnic boasts delicious food like grilled meats, baked beans and coleslaw. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    The branding picnic boasts delicious food like grilled meats, baked beans and coleslaw. Photo by Lynn Donaldson

    We’ll have to full Last Best Plates story up this week. Check back soon. 

    In the meantime, don’t miss a Montana moment. Subscribe today!


  • The Rocky Mountain Front glows in sunset light west of Great Falls. Photo by Tom Bauer

    What’s so great about Great Falls? And other Montana G towns

    For starters, more than a couple Montana greats came from Great Falls, including quarterback Dave Dickenson, artist Charlie Russell and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and Ambassador Mike Mansfield.

    Want more reasons Great Falls is great? Missoulian reporter Vince Devlin and photographer Tom Bauer have the answers. They found out that for a city that hasn’t seen much growth in the past years, there’s big things happening in Great Falls.

    Since 2009, the 6 1/2-acre site has welcomed a four-story, 113-suite hotel (Staybridge Suites), a spectacular new $16.4 million federal courthouse (named after the Missouri River), a Japanese seafood and steakhouse (Kobe’s), and a brew pub Ziegler is part of called The Front and the attached Faster Basset coffee and sandwich shop.

    Their motto, says owner Brandon Cartwright: “Come for the coffee. Stay for the beer.”

    The hotel, restaurants, brew pub and courthouse are the first phase of development. Next door, old grain silos will eventually be moved to make room for phase two.

    “I really feel Great Falls is coming out of the creative business rut it was in,” Cartwright says. “That’s nothing against the businesses that paved the way, but developments like West Bank One and Two are giving people a lot more choices.”

    Charles M. Russell's painting "The Exalted Ruler" became part of the C.M. Russell Museum's permanent collection when a statewide campaign bought it from the Elks Lodge in Great Falls. Photo by Tom Bauer

    Charles M. Russell’s painting “The Exalted Ruler” became part of the C.M. Russell Museum’s permanent collection when a statewide campaign bought it from the Elks Lodge in Great Falls. Photo by Tom Bauer

    There’s also wonderful things like the C.M. Russell Museum and the Sip N Dip in Great Falls. Bauer and Devlin visited both during their visit.

    Tons of more facts about Great Falls – courtesy of Devlin and Bauer – are here.

    And here’s a link to a photo gallery by Bauer, including some beauties of the Rocky Mountain Front.

    Want to learn more about other G towns around Montana? Try Glasgow.

    Want more of Montana delivered to your mail box? Subscribe to Montana Magazine today.


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