A half-century ago, a small group of local artists and art lovers wanted to find a way to help the Flathead Valley’s artistic scene flourish. While there was a local club — a branch of the Montana Institute of the Arts — it did not have a place to display its work. Kalispell needed an art museum.
The group of art advocates soon realized that if they wanted a local art museum, they were going to have to build it themselves.
“We needed a space,” said Corinne Lundgren, one of the founders of the Hockaday Museum of Art, “and then the Carnegie Library became available.”
The Hockaday opened on Feb. 10, 1969 and has since flourished into a cornerstone of the Flathead Valley art scene. This year, the museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The Hockaday was named in honor of Lakeside artist Hugh Hockaday, who moved to the valley after a successful career as a commercial artist. He passed away in 1968, while the newly established Flathead Valley Art Association was turning the old Carnegie Library into a museum. The Carnegie Library was built in 1904 with funding from the industrial titan, Andrew Carnegie, who funded the construction of more than 2,500 public libraries in North America, Europe and the Pacific, including 17 in Montana. The building was designed by Montana architect George Shanley.
Lundgren said the new museum had a number of goals; most notably, it was to serve as an arts education center and as a way to help expand the community’s idea of what art could be. Lundgren said that prior to the Hockaday’s arrival, most displays in the area were focused on Western art.
Pat Roth, curator of the museum since 2018, said that mission to offer the community a diverse array of artistic styles continues to this day. Earlier this fall, an exhibit on railroad art opened that will run through December, and last week the work of Glacier National Park’s artist in residence Mary Edna Fraser went on display. Roth said the railroad exhibit is a prime example of how one subject can inspire so many different interpretations.
“There is just an amazing variety of work in the exhibit,” she said.
The museum will cap off its 50th anniversary year with its annual members exhibition. This year, the show will be located in one of the main galleries on the first floor of the museum. Roth said the placement is meant to highlight how important the museum’s members are to the organization.
“We want to make a big deal out of it, because our members are really important,” she said.
Jessica Shaw, communications and events coordinator, said members would be a critical part of the museum’s future, especially as it looks to the next 50 years.
“We look forward to continuing our mission while also expanding our reach and impact,” she said. “We want to make art accessible to diverse populations, have programming that responds to shifting cultural dynamics, and host mutually beneficial events to support our artists and engage our community. There’s a lot to do and we’re excited about it.”
For more information, visit hockadaymuseum.org.
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