Montana Arts Council

Montana Art Council awards Missoula, Kalispell artists win statewide arts innovation awards

CORY WALSH cory.walsh@missoulian.com Updated Dec 26, 2015

Missoula and Kalispell residents won five of the 2015 Artist's Innovation Awards from the Montana Arts Council, which honor artists for their originality and dedication.

In the Garden City, the winners are writer, educator and poet Heather Cahoon; novelist and educator Deirdre McNamer; and actor, playwright and pastry chef Jeremy Sher.

In Kalispell, musician and storyteller Jack Gladstone and
sculptor Kate Hunt were the recipients.

The awards, selected by panel of experts, comes with $3,000 in funding from the council via the National Endowment for the Arts, and the winners must share their work with the public during the coming year.

• Sher had a long career in acting in Europe and the U.S. before moving to Missoula in 2012. Once here, he performed with the Montana Repertory Theatre and last year began work on a show that combined his love of theater and his experience as a pastry chef.

"The Dirty Sexy Chocolate Show" combined original music, theater and chocolate desserts for what was planned as a one-off at the Top Hat Lounge. It sold out far in advance, and Sher added a second performance.

"I didn't know how well it would be received. Even a year after we did the show people were still talking to me about it," he said.

And so Sher is bringing the "Sexy Chocolate Show" back with a planned eight-performance tour in February, stopping in Whitefish, Seattle, Helena and Missoula. The troupe has 15 people, including actors and a full band. Sher noted that the award money is going straight toward paying his performers.

"I appreciate that the arts council values and awards innovation, because we have to keep reinventing ourselves as artists. And this is great way to support and recognize that process," Sher said.

• Hunt, a contemporary sculptor based out of Creston, constructs large-scale abstract forms using newsprint with steel, twine and encaustic and other materials. She cuts the papers into smaller, more workable pieces with a guillotine weighing more than a ton.

The Missoula Art Museum gave over its entire Carnegie Gallery in 2014 for an exhibition of her recent works, and in July she's taking part in a four-person show at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings.

Lately, Hunt said she's been working on more drawings, in addition to some standing and rolling pieces. "As a sculptor I want more of my work off the wall," she said.

As part of the public aspect of the award, she plans to work with school children in the Creston area, possibly by bringing them to her studio for a tour and some hands-on work.

• With a 28-year recording career, Blackfeet troubadour Jack Gladstone hardly needs an introduction.

The self-described Montana "poetsinger" plans on bringing his two-years-deep multimedia presentation on legendary Western painter C.M. Russell to the Babb Schoolhouse, in the small town where his father grew up, and near his house in St. Mary.

"I've been able to assemble a very, very large body of Russells synchronized with the story of the West and the topics that Russell illustrated," he said, "including ecological, historical and cultural themes relating to Montana and the West."

The visual, musical presentation runs anywhere from an hour to an hour and half.

"This is a massive, team undertaking," Gladstone said. He thanked the C.M. Russell Museum, the Montana Historical Society and Glacier National Park for their support. Gladstone said the park in particular just marked 31 years of the Native American Speakers Program.

"None of this is possible with the support that they've lent me and the confidence they have instilled in me with their trust," he said.

Gladstone is also finishing up the recording of a new album for a summertime release, working with pianist Philip Aaberg and multi-instrumentalist David Griffith.

• McNamer began her writing career with a journalism degree from the University of Montana in 1973. She returned to earn her MFA in creative writing in 1987 and developed a career as a novelist. Her 2007 book, "Red Rover," made the year-end best-of lists in Artforum, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.

McNamer served as one of three judges for the 2015 PEN/Faulkner award for fiction.

"Over the course of the year, something like 300 books arrived at my doorstep," she said.

McNamer believes she received the award because each of her books is so different from the one that preceded it.

"For me, it's a lot like going on a trip," she said. She plans them, invests a lot of energy over years of writing. Afterward, it's not a journey she wants to repeat.

"You have to be in a state of not knowing what you're doing for quite awhile and just trust that that's going to yield a story worth telling," she said.

This year, she's going to finish a novel about "some unscrupulous real estate developers trying to kick a bunch of old people out of an an apartment building," she said. It will blend comedy and mystery, including an arson.

After that project, she'll go to work on a novel that's been simmering for around 15 years, about the underground nuclear missile silo system in north-central Montana. Back in her journalism days, before 9/11, she gained security clearance to visit the launch control centers, but the reporting never made it into a completed piece.

• Cahoon grew up in St. Ignatius and is an enrolled Pend d'Oreille. She earned her MFA in poetry at University of Montana and won a 2005 Merriam Frontier Award for the publication of her book "Elk Thirst." She has a interdisciplinary doctorate in history, anthropology and Native American studies, and publishes her work nationally and internationally.

In a statement, she described her work: “It is my aim that my poetry will positively affect my community and other people attempting the daunting and often unmapped task of processing the things that have pained them most. I also hope that my writing will bring more attention to and discussion of the challenges in reservation communities in ways that move them towards resolution."

The other winners are sculptor Louis Habeck of Billings, fiber-artist Maggy Rozycki Hiltner of Red Lodge and ceramicist Steven Lee of Helena.