Reflecting on Bigfork’s Logging Heritage

By Beacon Staff

Right about now, 100 years ago, the river pigs were preparing for the ride of their lives. Logging crews had spent the snowy winter months chopping down trees in the forests surrounding Bigfork and sliding them to loading chutes near the Swan River. From there it was up to the brave men, known valiantly as river pigs, to assemble a cluster of logs and raft through the raging rapids, including the savage stretch of water known today as the “Wild Mile,” before eventually arriving at Flathead Lake.

?The history of logging in the Flathead Valley is a rich and colorful one, and it’s on display at the Bigfork Museum of Art & History starting this week. The museum, celebrating its 35th year at 525 Electric Ave., is unveiling the new exhibit Friday, March 14, at 5 p.m. Wine and light appetizers will be served, and a presentation will be given showcasing classic logging tools and equipment and tons of historic photos that highlight the roots of a cornerstone of the valley’s identity.

“It’s interesting when you get into a little town’s culture,” said Marnie Forbis, director of the museum.

The new exhibit, titled “Timber! Exploring the History and Art of the Timber Industry,” will highlight the hard-working individuals who carved a living out of the vast forests in Northwest Montana in the early 20th century. The show will also be peppered with contemporary artwork by local artists that celebrates the outdoors.

“The landscape makes the people but the people make the landscapes in some ways, too,” Forbis said. “It’s interesting to weave those histories together. I’ve always been interested in those kinds of things.”

The dynamic exhibit will embody the goal of the museum – to marry history and art.

“To put the two together is nice. People can have a little more perspective of their surroundings,” Forbis said.

While the entire valley’s tradition runs deep, the exhibit will focus on the logging heritage in Bigfork and the surrounding Swan Range. It will tell the stories of settlers who established the early mills and harvested the “infinite forest” that filled Northwest Montana and became its “claim to fame.”

While gathering research for the exhibit, Forbis found herself fascinated by the history. She hopes residents who view the exhibit will share in that eye-opening experience.

Timber! Exploring the History and Art of the Timber Industry
Bigfork Museum of Art & History
Unveiling reception, March 14, 5-7 p.m.
Exhibit on display until April 18

2014 Exhibition Schedule
April 26-27: Guns of the Old West
May 2-May 31: Spring members’ show with recent work. Begins with reception on April 25 at 5 p.m.
June 6-July 4: Birds, Bears & Barns: Works in Wood and photography by Sally Johnson, David Clough and Greg Thigpen. Reception June 6, 5 p.m.
July 11-Aug. 9: Montana Pottery II: new works in clay. Reception July 11, 5 p.m.
Aug. 15-Sept. 21: Earth Works: Work in Metal, Woods and Leather. Reception Aug. 15, 5 p.m.
Oct. 3-Oct. 31: Watermedia: Montana Watercolor Society. Reception Oct. 4, 5 p.m.
Nov. 7-Nov. 20: Festival of Trees: Gala, Nov. 21, 6 p.m.
Nov. 28: Holiday members’ show. Reception Nov. 28, 5 p.m.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.