Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Corvid Company

Artwork by Roberta Jones Wallace, 2020

"Awk," "awk" . . . a familiar throaty refrain. A crow calling, or commenting, as I begin my Sunday ramble with my dogs. There is something reassuring for me when I hear the crows' calls, or their throaty mumbling. I read in a book of fiction long ago that members of the corvid family are keepers of history. They see all and keep a record, their gatherings an exchange of information. Somehow it fits, since many times when I have been hiking in the woods it seems as if crows or ravens are following and tracking my journey—sometimes giving encouragement, sometimes muttering what a noisy person I am.

Crows and ravens often have the mixed blessing of being seen as tricksters or bad guys. In certain mythologies, they represent the balance between wisdom and foolishness. I frankly like the idea of levity in one’s ignorance, and the opportunity to progress despite it.

For me, they are a comfort, somehow making lone rambling un-lonely.

Thursday, May 14, 2020


Charles M. Russell, When Horses Talk War There's
Slim Chance for Truce
, X1952.01.08
On the news last evening the weather guy talked about hail/thunderstorms on the horizon and gave the warning to head for shelter at the first rumble. This sent my mind down the rabbit hole remembering riding horses with my best friend on their ranch when we were kids. We were up on the sagebrush hills near what we called their upper pasture when the sky went black and the fury of thunder and lightening clashed, and with that hail started pummeling down on us. Big hail, dangerous hail. We headed the horses down the trail to the “upper” pasture (which actually was a great grassy pasture bordered by the Missouri and cottonwoods) and took shelter under the large cottonwoods. 

The horses were excited, even the usually calm one I rode, and would thrust up their heads and roll their eyes with each boom of thunder. We decided between us to unsaddle the horses and let them go, since the risk of them spooking was greater than the 5 mile walk back to the ranch house. So we did, and when we slipped off their bridles they both turned and raced off. We hunkered down, and shortly my friend’s dad came driving up to find us. He’d started out with the storm, worried about our safety—and indeed gave us a ration for being under trees in a thunderstorm!

I recall (and forgive me if I’m in error), reading, I believe in Teddy Blue Abbott’s We Headed them North, about herding cattle during a thunderstorm, I think the story included a stampede…

Monday, May 11, 2020

Shooting Stars

Shooting Stars by Roberta Jones Wallace

A friend and I go hiking on Saturdays. She provides coffee and talk and graciously puts-up with my four-legged family. We usually ramble in the south hills of Helena, right outside her door. It has been fun to watch the wildflowers come up—starting with the pasque flowers. Two weeks ago, we came across several hillsides covered with shooting stars. I don’t think I’ve ever before seen so many in bloom at one time. They were in full glory, and we felt like kids seeing something new and special. We felt like magic was possible, so we wished upon those shooting stars! 

Too Scary

A selling point for getting our new building is that we can put more of our collections out in the public eye. There is always a balance with doing so, in that many of our collections are very fragile and light-sensitive, many are in need of conservation, and some are just too scary to exhibit!

Doll, 1977.26.01-03

Earl Heikka

Trophy Hunters by Earl Heikka, X1974.15.01

This is a bit of a darker ramble, I know I am struggling with depression and anxiety with the C-19 weirdness, as are some of my coworkers. I think of an amazing artist in our collection, Earl Heikka. We have several bronzes and a couple of models done by him. Heikka seems to have started as a shooting star in his career being collected by the likes of William Clark III, having a studio on Gary Cooper’s ranch. He apparently had a problem with alcohol and way too young committed suicide. 

None of us is immune to the dark night of soul, and the strictures around C-19, social distancing, self-isolating and so forth are causing underlying challenges to rear their ugly heads. I am thankful that I can get help, talk to friends, ramble with my dogs. There is still a stigma around mental health, and often one needs to get over one’s own resistances in order to get and receive that help.

Thursday, May 7, 2020


One of the fun things I’ve been allowed to do during this C-19 crisis is to ramble. As I’ve said before, I am just an exhibit designer, not a curator, and not a historian. My position gives me the pleasure of gleaning bits and pieces from our collections and the exhibits we create. The curators for said exhibits get to do the challenging part, researching and picking representative artifacts—and of course dealing with the exhibit crew, who always want more information, sooner so I can design and our carpenter can pre-construct mounts, cases, walls. I appreciate learning the history and thought processes involved, but then am always challenging curators to say less, and presenting them with the limits we have with time, space and budget. What a wet blanket.

Argyle Vest by Roberta Jones Wallace

That said, I also love that I get to draw for the rambles, as well as pull images from our collections. That too is some of the fun with exhibit fabrication, which is creating space and graphics which hopefully will augment the story and show off the collections!

Monday, May 4, 2020


Our Museum and Archives are still physically closed to the public, but we’re working behind the scenes. Many of us are working remotely, coming in occasionally to refresh material, print, or get help with cranky computers.

We are all, in some way or other, being affected by planning for the addition of new museum and public spaces. The planning is narrowing to building, grounds, exhibit and public spaces and collection storage. There is discussion for the remodel and movement of staff in our current building.

And of course early stage planning for packing and moving collections. This includes planning for compact storage, packing materials, refocusing staff duties and objectives—it also involves planning for which artifacts and artworks premier in the new exhibits, which will be included in our new Montana story exhibit.

Drawing by Roberta Jones-Wallace

There is a bit of the deer-in-the-headlights look about some of us as we try to change focus for this exciting and much needed addition. Our collections are agitating—some wanting to be left alone, other items anxious to be put on display. For these, much like the current phase in the state’s return to work protocol, items are assessed and ear marked for conservation, or matting and framing, or marked "at risk," too fragile to exhibit, and many other possibilities.

We may not be open physically, but we are working harder than ever to preserve, protect, and plan for the future.