Get Cultured, Montana-style.
If you’re coming to Kalispell for the first time, your mental picture of the place is probably dominated by snow-capped peaks, antler-crowned elk, and lots and lots of wide-open space. No doubt, those are the reasons people usually choose to visit this area. But what often keeps visitors coming back, year after year, is the culture of the place.
Amid these soaring mountains you’ll find people who are as down to earth as any in America. They work hard so that they can play harder. They see no disconnect between hunting elk on Saturday and going to the symphony on Sunday. If they ever utter the phrase “black tie affair,” it’s said with a knowing nod: Pressed jeans, open collars and shined-up cowboy boots will usually do just fine, thank you.
That personality shines through unambiguously in the arts and entertainment opportunities found around the Flathead Valley. Dive in and you’ll see for yourself.
MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES
A great place to start is the Hockaday Museum of Art. Here you’ll find one of the finest collections of Western art in the state, with a distinctly local flavor. The permanent “Crown of the Continent” exhibition features classic works by some of Montana’s most well-known Western artists, including Charles M. Russell and O.C. Seltzer. The collection also captures the nostalgia of the early days of Glacier National Park and the Great Northern Railroad, including works from John Fery and Winold Reiss. Rotating exhibits at the Hockaday reflect a vision of the region as captured by living artists. Fittingly, this extensive trove of fine art is housed in one of the city’s oldest and grandest buildings: the former Carnegie Library.
The works of those and other living artists can also be found on the walls and shelves of Kalispell’s numerous galleries, which include Abbrescia Art Gallery and Fine Art Restoration Studio; Sassafras; Paint, Metal & Mud; Montana Marie Gifts; Wild Reflections Fine Art Gallery; and Jeff Fleming’s Bear Country Studio and Gallery. Many local artists encourage studio visits, where you can get a sense of the process, personal history and inspiration behind their fine creations. A starting list includes painters Shelle Lindholm; Sheri Trepina; Marshall Noice: Karen Young; Allen Jimmerson; Nancy Cawdrey; Tom Saubert; and Mark Ogle; photographer John Ashley; sculptor Eric Thorsen; and ceramicists Tim Carlburg (featured in photo above); and Sherry Wells. Get in touch directly and schedule your visit.
Kalispell’s congenial culture didn’t just happen; it evolved out of its founding as a hub of the cattle and timber industries in the late 19th century. The Museum at Central School is a great place to immerse in that history. Among the fascinating permanent exhibits is a room devoted to the life of Frank Bird Linderman, an early resident whose literary achievements, business pursuits and love of rugged adventure make him an apt symbol of the character of the entire region.
Another well-known name around these parts is that of Charles E. Conrad, a founder of Kalispell. Along with establishing the Kalispell Townsite Company and eventually the Conrad National Bank, Conrad had a gracious Victorian home built for his beloved family in 1895 in what was then a wilderness. Today, the Conrad Mansion preserves the opulence enjoyed by its namesake, and offers visitors a sense of what it was like to live here more than 100 years ago. Regular season tours are offered mid May through mid October with special events, including Christmas tours and teas throughout December.
Back in 1981, a small group of musicians got together to play at a wedding. That “wedding band” group evolved into today’s Glacier Symphony and Chorale, an ensemble of more than 280 professional and volunteer musicians who perform upward of 30 concerts a year under the baton of maestro John Zoltek. Along with its full-fledged concerts the orchestra also presents an innovative Spotlight Series featuring visiting guest artists performing solo in intimate environs. Visit the GSC website for concert dates and tickets.
In recent years the Flathead Valley has become a regional hotbed of live theatre — particularly during summers, when the Bigfork Summer Playhouse shifts into high gear with multiple concurrent productions. Opportunities to see remarkable stage performances run year-round, thanks to the work of the Whitefish Theatre Company and Alpine Theatre Project. The former specializes in fine community theatre as well as concerts by touring artists, while the latter exists to bring professional productions to area stages
And when you’re strolling Kalispell’s galleries and downtown shops admiring the historic architecture, pick up a Historic Walking Tour brochure from the Visitor Center at 15 Depot Park (the town’s former Great Northern Railway Depot) or download one from downtownkalispell.com.
You’ll discover little tidbits of interesting Kalispell trivia, like what a night at the Kalispell Hotel cost in 1912 and which Kalispell businessman was a friend of Alexander Bell.