Final Panel for Windows on Whitefish in the Works

Fourth mosaic mural signals the end of a multi-year community art project

By Molly Priddy

Living in Northwest Montana means being treated to ever-changing views outside the window, ranging from temperamental stormy skies to bluebird days, and all the plant, animal and scenery changes that come with the seasons.

In Whitefish, the Stumptown Art Studio has sought to capture the essence of the changing seasons in the permanent display, Windows on Whitefish, which features four window frames with mosaicked art set to the theme of the four seasons.

The 6-foot-by-9-foot frames are already in place on the south side of the Latitude 48 building, located on the corner of Second Street and Central Avenue.

Three years ago, the community-sourced project began with the spring window, and eventually moved on to summer and autumn. Now, the WOW group is working on the final panel of the project: Winter.

Deb Stika, who has served as the artistic director for this project, said the spring and winter windows have been her favorites, because of the excitement brought on by the beginning and the end of a project.

But there’s also a tinge of sadness that comes with the final panel.

“I was thinking, ‘How do you describe what’s going on right now?’ and bittersweet’s the exact word,” Stika said.

The project began three years ago as part of a fundraising effort for Stumptown Art Studio, a nonprofit organization in Whitefish. Melanie Drown, executive director at the studio, said the goal was to get the project to pay for itself, while also establishing a $10,000 fund for maintenance and to help with the studio’s Art with a Heart program.

Art with a Heart seeks to bring art to the underserved population in the Flathead, such as assisted living facilities, and provide specialized training for the instructors who work with children and adults who have autism.

“We’ve got about $4,000 left to go,” Drown said. “So we are hitting the streets, trying to drum up sponsorships.”

Any business or individual who donates $500 or more will get a handmade tile with their business logo or name on it, which will go on permanent display next to the spring panel.

The panels depict Whitefish’s history and its connection to the seasons through popular activities. Each one is created by community members who have taken the mosaicking class from Stika; the community even brings their own odds and ends to add to the mosaics.

“The mementos include everything from conductor’s keys for the train to Winter Carnival pins from the kings and queens,” Stika said.

The final window will feature some of the city’s most iconic winter scenery, with the annual holiday decorations – including a snowflake, a bell, and a snowman – and pieces of the historic Winter Carnival, such as a skier being pulled by a horse during a skijoring competition.

Stika said it has been rewarding to work with the public on a project of this magnitude. Hundreds of people have come to learn how to mosaic, and many of them followed through and came to work on the murals.

“I have made some long-time friends, and other people meeting other people and having that connection – it’s like a club,” she said. “It’s a community.”

Upcoming mosaic classes will take place on Nov. 10, Dec. 1, and Dec. 11, and free community sessions working on the panels will happen in both months.

The artists who have worked on the project are invested in it, she said, and they take pride where they’ve placed their time and talent.

“Art is such a big part of the Flathead Valley and when you can rally with members of your artistic tribe, it’s really a great feeling,” Stika said. “We give each other confidence.”

Drown said the winter panel will likely be finished up some time in January, and will be unveiled in the spring. Until then, anyone who wants to contribute to the fund is welcome to do so, and can still get a tile on the wall with the panels.

Aside from fundraising, Drown said the WOW project has been an unmitigated success from a community art standpoint.

“Even if it doesn’t make us much money, I think it’s worth the effort that we put into it,” Drown said.

For more information on the Stumptown Art Studio and the Windows on Whitefish project, visit www.stumptownartstudio.org or call 406-862-5929.