As the legend goes, Pop’s was the place to get ice cream in Bigfork and Pop, himself, would serve it. He’d carefully take the scooper out of the sanitizing solution in which it was stored and generously form the first scoop, which he’d place on your cone. Then, before dipping the second equally generous scoop, he’d prepare the scooper by removing any remnants of the first scoop with a lick of his tongue. You really had to want that second scoop.
I was listening as Marnie Forbis recited the history of Bigfork. Marnie is the director of the Bigfork Museum of Art and History and I spent an hour with her, taking notes as fast as I could. It felt a lot like I was in Pop’s ice cream parlor, trying to eat my cone before it melted.
Marnie grew up in Missoula, graduated from the University of Montana (with degrees in fine arts and history), and went on to teach school in Valdez, Alaska. And although I’d venture to guess that she was quite an engaging teacher, Marnie found her real calling as the director of a museum. She was hired as the director of the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive. Then, in 1997, she got the opportunity to return home to Montana and run the Bigfork Museum, a position she’s held ever since.
The Bigfork Museum, founded in 1977 by the Bigfork Development Corporation, housed local historical artifacts from the collection of Oneil Jones. But as he moved much of his collection elsewhere, the museum became a museum more in name than in fact. It drifted into the artist community as an informal location where local artists could both create and display their art and in 1984 became an exhibit-oriented art museum. In 1995, the museum began operating independently under the name, Bigfork Art and Cultural Center. And in 1997, Marnie took over as its director.
From the entrance, the Museum looks pretty much like any of several other art galleries in Bigfork: paintings and photographs for sale on the wall; lamps; wood sculptures; all manner of arty things. And it is an art gallery, a place where you can go to see and buy art. But it’s not like the other galleries in town. The first floor is devoted to exhibits of Montana artists, exhibits that change every four to six weeks. And twice a year, museum members have the opportunity to display their own art.
The second floor of the museum is devoted to Bigfork history. Listening to Marnie, those who think Bigfork is just a sleepy little town will begin to wonder where the skeletons might be buried. (Apparently there’s buried treasure, as well.)
Marnie points to a photograph of Charles Morkleberg, a Bigfork contractor, inventor and aeronaut. Legend, at least, has it that Charles flew his pedal-powered flying machine from his cabin to the sand bar on the Flathead River. Seeming destined to be one of aviation’s early greats, Charles’ exploits were cut short when his experimental pedal-powered pontoon boat sank, revealing that Charles had never learned to swim.
“Every community has a right to have a sense of where it came from,” said Marnie. “A community wants to have a sense of its history and where it’s going. Right now the historical part of the display is mostly photographs. We’re hoping to get more physical artifacts. But to display physical artifacts, we need display cases to protect them.”
She’s working on that.
The museum (BigforkMuseum.org) is easy to find. At 525 Electric Ave., it’s in the same building as the library, across the street from the Center for the Performing Arts, and underneath the new clock tower. Marnie is the sole paid employee, but about 75 volunteers staff the operations. The museum receives no public funds. Its operating expenses are paid by member contributions, sales of arts and gifts, and fundraisers.
“We have a lot of fundraisers,” says Marnie. “We just had a pitchfork fondue party. Coming up, we have a lasagna dinner in October and our annual Christmas tree gala in December.”
I’m thinking the museum should do an ice cream social to honor Pop. I’d go. Might even get that second scoop.
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