Summer is tourist season in the Flathead Valley, so it’s not unusual to see new faces and folks around town or on the trails.
But this year, there will be a few new visitors sure to turn heads from Bigfork to Whitefish, and everywhere in between.
“We had a donor give money with the specific caveat that we use it to buy as many mannequins and mannequin parts as we could after Herberger’s closed,” said Cheryl Hanes, executive director at the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center.
The new art project from the BACC called “The Art of Us” will place about 30 mannequins in various locations and businesses throughout the Flathead, with each figure decorated by a different artist. The mannequins will be placed starting June 15 and stay put until Aug. 15 when they’re auctioned at a fundraising dinner.
Proceeds from the auction will support the ImagineIF Libraries Bigfork branch, the valley’s teen homeless shelter Sparrow’s Nest, and the BACC.
“What we wanted was to have a very different type of exhibition to highlight the diversity of artistic styles and mediums and using the human form to do that,” Hanes said.
The exhibit came as one of the ripple effects of the national closure of all 250 Bon-Ton stores in 2018, which included the closure of the Herberger’s department store at the Kalispell Center Mall.
Soon after news of the closure spread, staff at the BACC received a call from Mary Siloti, a Bigfork Realtor with a passion for fundraising. She happened to be in Herberger’s after the closure announcement to pick up her wedding dress when she saw all the mannequins stacked in a corner for sale.
“I looked at them and said, ‘Those are kind of fun,’” Siloti said.
She called the BACC to suggest the idea and then offered to buy the mannequins for the arts center for an exhibit.
“I had to call my husband to be and say can you write a check for $1,500, which at first he wasn’t really happy about but now he’s glad,” Siloti said with a laugh.
That’s how the BACC ended up with a basement “full of body parts” for the winter, Hanes said, also laughing. They contacted 30 artists from the valley and region and asked if they’d like to use the mannequins as the foundation for their art, and put no other rules on it.
“They took the mannequins and could do whatever they wanted with them, no restrictions on medium or anything,” Hanes said. “[The mannequins are] painted, they’re mosaicked, they’re metaled, they’re planted, they’re rearranged, there’s everything you can think of.”
The decorated mannequins will be placed in Whitefish, Columbia Falls, Kalispell, Bigfork, Somers, Lakeside, and down the Swan. Hanes said there will be a map identifying all the locations of the mannequins, and people who take selfies with them and put them on their social media will be entered for a drawing for a two-night stay at the Laughing Horse Lodge.
On Aug. 15, all of the pieces will be gathered together for a dinner at The Nest on Swan River, where guests will eat, drink and enjoy live music while bidding on the mannequins.
Siloti said she was thrilled to see the exhibit come together so quickly and to have the artists be so enthusiastic about the project. This kind of exhibit, with various people doing what they can to make it happen and benefit several good causes, is what she loves about living in the Flathead.
“It’s just a bunch of people working together and trying to do a fun fundraiser for the valley that’s going to help a lot of people,” Siloti said.
For more information, visit http://bigforkculture.org/ or call (406) 837-6927.