Downtown Art Challenge Brings Clarence Rundell’s Legacy to Kalispell’s Streets

Ten local artists were stationed around downtown Kalispell and given 10 hours to each complete a painting

By Mike Kordenbrock
Saint Mary Lake. Mural by Clarence Rundell based on a photograph by T.R. Hileman.

Late Saturday afternoon Gen Delorme made the move to the Wheat Montana drive-thru so that she could continue painting without interference from the rain. It was just one of several adjustments Delorme made throughout the day to her normal process.

For starters, she was painting faster than she normally would. The trees that she had painted along the shore of Flathead Lake and the fine detail they require might typically take her a day, but Delorme didn’t have a day. As a participant in the Downtown Kalispell Art Challenge, she had just 10 hours.

The Art Challenge brought in 10 local artists who were positioned around downtown Kalispell and given 10 hours to complete a painting inspired by one of Kalispell artist Clarence Rundell’s paintings of regional landscapes. The time limit is a nod to the speed at which Rundell is said to have worked. Posters displaying QR codes at each artist’s painting location allowed people to place bids on the artwork. As of Aug. 29 the combined bids for the 10 paintings had reached $4,711. Bidding on the art closes at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 9.

The fundraiser was organized by the Kalispell Downtown Association and the KALICO Art Center. Participating artists include Tessa Heck, Alyssa Shaw, Gen Delorme, Haakon Ensign, Kenneth Yarus, Kerry Broughton, Susan Guthrie, Madison Apple, Tanya Lambrecht and Marshall Noice. Each artist was stationed at a different downtown location, including Alchemy Lounge, Bias Brewing, Brannigan’s Irish Pub, the KALICO parking lot, MontaVino Winery, Nature Baby Outfitters, Wheat Montana, Sweet Peaks Ice Cream and the SunRift Beer Company brewery.

Rundell’s name is one that has had a resurgence in recent months. A painter who lived in the Flathead Valley for decades, Rundell died in 1984 at the Columbia Falls Veterans Home. Among the works of his that remain around town are a series of murals depicting scenes in Glacier National Park. The murals were painted directly onto the plaster in what is now the Rocky Mountain Outfitter building, but was formerly the Eagle Shoe Store in Kalispell.

The paintings are 86 years old and are based on photographs from Great Northern Railroad photographer T.J. Hileman. Rundell’s murals in Rocky Mountain Outfitter include Lake McDonald, Upper Two Medicine Lake, Lake Josephine, Upper St. Mary Lake, Scarface Point, Janet Lake, Trick Falls and Upper Kintla Lake.

Murals of Glacier National Park painted on the walls in 1936 by artist Clarence Rundell still adorn Rocky Mountain Outfitter in Kalispell on Feb. 25, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

 Bruce Guthrie, a sales associate at Rocky Mountain Outfitter had been puzzling over ways to draw attention to the murals, which customers typically missed as they perused the store’s offerings of outdoor gear and supplies. Eventually he came up with the idea of creating postcards that the store could sell, and also use to give the artwork a little more recognition. The post cards hit shelves around last March, and they’ve been effective conversation starters. Guthrie said eventually the idea came about to have 10 artists do some version of what Rundell himself had done. Guthrie brought the idea to KALICO Executive Director Jemina Watstein, who helped secure a Montana Arts Council grant, and Kalispell Downtown Association Executive Director Pam Carbonari.

 “You can put 10 artists out and have them do something in one day, but you tie it into where this came from, this guy in 1936 at 30 years old came in and did these, and 86 years later it inspires this event, that’s something that’s fun. It’s kind of neat to know about your town,” Guthrie said.

Part of Rundell’s story that inspired the challenge and has caught the attention of locals, involves how he painted each one of the RMO scenes in a day.

“I think it sort of invited people into all the businesses,” RMO owner Jandy Cox said. “And you can go B.S. with Marshall, or go up and meet Ken Yarus. They’re all delightful.”

 Taking a break from his Heaven’s Peak oil painting outside of Sweet Peaks, artist and Montana Modern Fine art gallery owner Marshall Noice said that a lot of people had stopped by, with many of them curious about the easel he uses for his oils, which is a slate of glass resting atop a table. Noice said he uses the same piece of glass all year and then moves onto a new one every year on January 31, which is his birthday. 

 “I wanted to paint a picture that was somewhat similar to the originals,” Noice said, adding that Heaven’s Peak is a familiar piece of landscape for him because of the 13 summers he spent teaching workshops in Glacier for the Glacier Institute. He did say that he typically paints more abstract works, but the departure from his normal approach was an enjoyable one.

 “It’s fun for me to be painting something that a lot of people who will look at the painting will be able to recognize and see if my interpretation is close to their recollection of that location.”

 Noice, Delorme, and other artists all got a visit on Saturday from a group of Clarence Rundell’s family and relatives, including former Kalispell Mayor Doug Rauthe.

 “They were telling me about how he would give them paintings for birthdays and anniversaries and things like that,” Delorme said. “Their memories of him are artwork. That’s super cool. I want to be remembered like that, with people having my artwork.”

Rundell was Rauthe’s great-uncle, and the former mayor says that he has fond memories of the man behind the artwork, who he said was close with his mother who was Rundell’s niece. Rauthe said Rundell was always generous in allowing children in the family to watch him paint in his apartment, often fixing them a glass of Kool-Aid to sip on while they observed. He frequently came to Rauthe’s house for dinner, oftentimes showing up before dinner to say hello. When Rauthe’s mother would ask him to stay, the typical response was “Well, I’m not hungry but I’ll eat to keep from getting that way.”

Some of the family drove out from Olympia, Washington, to view the art challenge, but most of Rundell’s surviving relatives who attended continue to live in the Flathead Valley. Rundell’s descendants continue to own paintings of his that he left to the family, and Rauthe said the artwork is considered a “treasure” to his relatives.

“It was awesome, it was such an honor for him. I just wish he would have been alive when it happened,” Rauthe said of seeing the art challenge inspired by his relative.

“It was a thrill of a lifetime for all of us, great nieces and nephews, and my wife as well. She knew him for about 15 years before he passed away,” Rauthe said. “We always admired his ability to take scenes we were familiar with and bring them alive.”

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