Footprints on the Trail: Creating the West
by Tana Von Bergen
The “Footprints on the Trail” Western Heritage Art Show, at the Holiday Inn, gathers many great local artists, as well as nationwide artists and has been running for the past thirty-one years, making it the longest, continually running art show in Great Falls. After celebrating its 30th anniversary last year, guests and artists can expect much of the same greatness that has come to the art show over the years. Popular and continuing events will be the Quick Finish, Paint Around, Art and Yogo Gala (previously Charlie’s Early Days and the Yogo Sapphire) and of course, an abundance of great art, artists and fun. This year Friday evening’s entertainment will be the Montana bred and grown, witty and comical band, the Ringling 5. Made up of not five but possibly a couple more, and not coming from Ringling but they have played a gig there before. The laid back and personable mentality of the Ringling 5 presents much of what “Footprints on the Trail” is all about. It is a show for the artists and for the people, one where both can intermingle and enjoy art in a down-to-earth atmosphere.
When asking what has made the WHA “Footprints on the Trail” so successful over its thirty-one years, attitude has a lot to do with the response. Chairman of the show, Kay Chick, believes this show to have the “friendliest artists in town; it’s the friendliest show. I’ve been told that many, many times.” That is exactly what people can expect when attending the show. Often times, snootiness comes to mind when one thinks of art shows, but the atmosphere of this show prides itself on being precisely opposite of that. Part of this generates from the fact that the show has long been doing things its own way, by not trying to compete with others in order to keep the spirit of the art alive for everyone. The show started as a show run by artists and continues in that manner to this day. Originally, other shows in Great Falls were not run that way, but now most of them have become artist-based shows as well.
WHA President and artist, Robert Moritz, “doesn’t see the show as that different from others anymore, but it has always been an artist’s show. >It started by being run by the artists and still is. In the past they did their own thing, but all the changes occurring with art shows around town have made all the art shows more artist-based.”
Another aspect of the show is that it is entirely run by volunteers. It is an impressive task that volunteer work can create such a successful show every year. When asked how it is done, Moritz commented that “the same people have done pretty much the same thing for so long that you just do it and it all comes together in the end.” And quite well in the end too, might be added. This hard work and success is due to the dedication, according to Moritz, towards making the art show happen every year. “It takes a lot of time to make the calls and contact the people that you need to contact every year.” It is not just those who put the show together every year that have gained such an appreciation for the show, but the artists have as well. started by being run by the artists and still is. In the past they did their own thing, but all the changes occurring with art shows around town have made all the art shows more artist-based.”
Both Kendrick’s and Moritz’s art is part of the new age of Western art that began generating the Western image so long ago. When asked about their artwork and what Western art portrays today, the two presented different passions, but both focus on portraying the West for what it is.This year’s featured artist comes from Tuttle, Oklahoma and has been a returning artist to the show for many years. Lane Kendrick has been a part of the show for so long she recognizes the people who put on the show and come to the show every year like family. When commenting on the death last year of local artist and past president of the Western Heritage Artists Association, Minnie Hawthorne, Kendrick said it was “like losing a family member.” Footprints is the only Western art show that Kendrick still participates in and part of that is due to the atmosphere of the show. It presents “some of the best artists in the country. . . really neat work,” says Kendrick. Her son was ten years old when she began working with the show and now he is twenty-eight. “He’s grown up with the show,” says Kendrick. Upon discovering that she was this year’s featured artist, Kendrick commented how she was “So excited. It is so neat, and means so much” to her.
In Kendrick’s pieces she “tries to combine wildlife with the west, to portray the wildlife that is out there,” while Moritz described how he enjoys “going someplace, where he knows something happened, or where you can imagine something might have happened there at one time.” Kendrick stated that Western artwork “depicts a lot of what people are doing on a daily basis.” Many of these daily tasks are things that many people in other parts of the country and world may not realize still happens in the west. To this day, people still herd cattle on horses and buffalo still roam free in parts of the west. For that reason Western art is able to “show people what there is and what is really happening out there,” says Kendrick. That has been the goal of Western art since its beginning and it is still generating that representation of the west to the world today.
Fortunately for the community of Great Falls and the surrounding area, we can still experience those great images and stories at events like the “Footprints on the Trail” Western Heritage Art Show (March 14-18 this year). The West lives on through the portrayals these artists create. In the world today there is not much distinction from one region of the world to the other, it is all so connected through technology that it becomes easy to forget the uniqueness of a place. Art has always been able to provoke images that mean so much to the heart and soul of a place. Western art began by portraying fantastic images of the western region and today’s artists are still able to capture the same spirit that upholds the passions so true to Western culture.