People liberally toss around terms like “Renaissance man,” but Michael Booth has rightfully earned the moniker.
Booth is a rare artist accomplished in pottery, sculpture and painting, across a number of mediums within those disciplines, as well as etchings and other visual forms. He also crafts his own beautiful custom wood frames from scratch.
Moreover, Booth designed the 7,500-square-foot structure that now holds his gallery, work studio and home in Hungry Horse, while he and his son, with help from other family and the occasional subcontractor, spent 20 summers gradually building the Quonset-style log edifice off U.S. Highway 2.
Add to that resume wildland firefighter, mule packer, horseman and college professor, and you get pretty close to the true definition of a Renaissance man.
“I’ve always had a wide range of interests,” Booth said.
Booth was born on a cattle ranch in Idaho, and those roots continued informing his life pursuits through 10 summers working for the U.S. Forest Service; through undergraduate studies in pottery and sculpture, and a graduate degree in painting; through decades of teaching those various art disciplines as a college professor; and through a career of employing his expansive skills as a successful working artist.
Booth had been visiting Northwest Montana for years before he purchased land in Hungry Horse two decades ago. That set in motion the 20-year process of building his future, with his own hands, from the ground up.
The earliest days of construction were rustic, as he and his small crew — his son and daughter — lived onsite in campers without electricity or running water. They filled up containers with spring water coming out of the canyon rocks.
“We started with bare essentials,” he said. “Then we got electricity going, and once we got that, everything was much more comfortable.”
Every summer, when his college professor responsibilities were done, Booth would return to the site with his son to chip away at construction, which incorporated Booth’s artistic flourishes: colored concrete floors, elegant wood doors adorned with his designs, custom metalwork.
The Quonset hut design stands out prominently to Highway 2 motorists, and gallery visitors are greeted by attractive pine logs threaded throughout the high-ceilinged interior. His studio and home, where he lives with his wife and business partner Janet, are built onto the back of the gallery.
“It feels really good,” Booth said of finishing the two-decade project and opening the gallery last year.
But the timing of the gallery’s launch was less than ideal, coinciding with the onset of the pandemic.
“It was an exploratory time to be opening,” Booth said. “In certain respects, this is our first summer.”
Booth has operated his own galleries previously in states such as Idaho and Oregon, where he taught art in college, and he has shown his work widely in other venues. The Hungry Horse location allows him to bring all of his work under one roof, showcased through a layout he designed, in an area where he intends to spend the rest of his life.
The diversity of Booth’s work gives art connoisseurs a smorgasbord of visual satisfaction. Prominently showcased is his Glacier National Park landscape series, including oil and acrylic paintings, as well as his acrylic assemblages, in which he paints individual canvases and then pieces them together like a puzzle.
In the acrylic assemblages, the outer canvases are typically abstract, while the centerpiece is more lifelike, creating a pleasing marriage of styles that he calls “expressionistic realism.”
Given the range of disciplines and subject matter on display, it’s not surprising to hear that his college experience reflected the track of a polymath. After nearly completing his forestry degree in college, Booth shifted gears and majored in art, specializing in pottery with a minor in sculpture, before focusing on painting and sculpture in graduate school.
“From there I kept going into the different areas,” he said. “I was interested in all of them.”
Booth, who also showcases his writing adeptness in a book about his Glacier Park series, acknowledges it’s uncommon for an artist to practice so many different disciplines, but he believes it’s helped generate a perpetual cycle of inspiration.
“When I get tired of one, I jump to the next one,” he said. “I don’t have to wait for inspiration. I just move on to the next one. It keeps me fresh and excited.”
Now retired from college professorship, Booth feels at home. The gallery doors are open. He’s still fresh and excited.
“It’s the fruition of a long journey and planning, and in many respects it’s the fulfillment of my dream,” Booth said of his new gallery. “Janet’s too.”
“It’s an incredible dream come true,” Janet added.
Booth’s gallery is located at 9100 U.S. Highway 2 E. in Hungry Horse. For more information, visit www.michaelgbooth.com.
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