The Art of the Fundraiser

Local watercolor artist Karen Leigh’s painting of Woodland Park featured on Lions Club fundraising ornaments

By Molly Priddy
The Kalispell Lions Club ornament featuring a painting by Karen Leigh. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

In the interest of avoiding disappointment, the first thing you should know about the Kalispell Lions Club first-edition Christmas ornaments featuring a skating scene from Woodland Park painted by watercolorist Karen Leigh is that they are all sold out.

But fear not, because the second thing to know about these ornaments is that they’ll be back next year with a new scene, and all the makings of a new holiday tradition.

“They’re all gone,” Barbara Van Zant, coordinator for the ornament project, said. “They sold out in four days.”

To understand the demand for these ceramic baubles, you’d have to go back 25 years to 1993 when artists Karen Leigh and Gini Ogle released their cookbook, “Souvenirs from Northwest Montana.”

It’s a sweet book full of home-style recipes, and each section is broken up with one of Leigh’s watercolors depicting an aspect of Flathead Valley life.

“One of them happened to be that painting of Woodland Park in the winter,” Leigh said. “They called me out of the clear blue sky and asked if they could use that painting on an ornament.”

The ornament project is a new fundraiser from the Lions, which plans to use 100 percent of the profits from sales for the group’s sight and hearing programs. Locally, the Lions Club also provides scholarships, Lions Park, and youth activities.

A group with such deep ties in the community can count on the community responding, Van Zant said, and many people were excited about the ornaments and their collectability before they were on sale.

Only 249 were made for sale, Van Zant said, with the first numbered ornament gifted to Leigh. Each ornament is individually numbered after that, making each a potential keepsake. They cost $10.

“The first annual is the most important, and since they’re numbered, we made suggestions that they get the same number next year,” Van Zant said.

Some people bought batches of 10 at a time, she said, and others bought them because they simply like to support the Lions. Either way, the ornaments will be part of new traditions, for the people who bought them and the organization they support.

Decorating the Christmas tree is a favorite holiday tradition for many families, and Leigh said she’s thrilled that her watercolor work will be part of that tradition in the years to come.

Leigh is an active artist who has also spent the last 45 years teaching art at Flathead Valley Community College.

“I just walked in the door one day (at FVCC) with some paintings and said, ‘I’d like to teach a summer art class,’ and they said, ‘Sure,’” Leigh said.

Since then, she’s taught decades of students how to use watercolors and has watched as they’ve moved on and evolved their art. Being a part of so many people’s lives an incredible perk of her job, she said, and the ornaments have a similar feeling.

“It’s very sweet,” Leigh said.

Van Zant said the ornaments were so popular that they hope to use another of Leigh’s watercolor portrayals of the Flathead Valley, with their eyes on a painting of the county courthouse.

The Lions hope the ornaments become collector’s items, with each year offering a new round of decorations. The more popular they are, the better work the Lions can do, Van Zant said.

“We give everything, every dime, to hearing and eyesight programs and the food banks and so on,” Van Zant said. “Nobody makes any money off it; 100 percent of our profits go to the needy.”

For more information on the Kalispell Lions Club, visit www.kalispell-lions.org.