Governor’s Arts Awards 2018: Monte Dolack

Read about the six award nominees, beginning with this popular Missoula artist

Art Beat

The six 2018 Governor’s Arts Award honorees – Rick Bass, Monte Dolack, Jackie Parsons, Kevin Red Star, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith and Annick Smith – were honored during a public ceremony with Lt. Governor Mike Cooney, Dec. 7 at the Capitol Rotunda in Helena. The Montana Arts Council hosted the ceremony and a reception that followed from 4:30-6 p.m.

The Governor’s Arts Award recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations whose achievements in the arts, or on behalf of the arts, benefit all Montanans. The six honorees join the ranks of more than 100 Montanans honored since the awards were established in 1981, including Rudy Autio, James Lee Burke, Judith Blegen, Agnes Oshanee Kenmille, Wally McRae, Frances Senska, Michael Smuin and Benjamin Steele, to name just a few.

Lively Times begins its profiles of recipients with Missoula artist Monte Dolack.

Monte Dolack
Artist Monte Dolack: “Finding the balance for art-making at the intersection between Nature and civilization has shaped my art.”Photo © Mary Elizabeth Dolack

There are a great many influences in our world but it is important to listen to the inner voice and be true to one’s self. My morning walks on the mountain or along the river are important and I tell people, ‘The mountain will tell you what you need to know.’

– Monte Dolack

Five “friends, fans, colleagues and professional associates” joined forces to nominate celebrated artist Monte Dolack for the Governor’s Arts Award. “Not only is he arguably the most famous artist in Montana, his work reflects the Montana we all know and love,” say nominators John Keegan, Geoff Sutton, Tom Anderson, Gary Wolfe and Emily Heid.

Keegan continues: “Monte’s work has a narrative quality that he has cultivated – an increasingly sophisticated artistic vision that could be described as Contemporary Nouveau Western Art … His technical excellence, his unique vision, and his artistic literacy engage and delight people worldwide.”

Dolack was born in Great Falls to a working-class family, and grew up surrounded by the same sweeping vistas and big sky that inspired Charlie Russell. From an early age, he loved to draw, and says his parents “were very supportive of my quest to become an artist.”

He studied art at Montana State University and the University of Montana, taking courses from such legendary Montana teachers as painter Robert DeWeese and ceramist Rudy Autio, who once described him as “one of the most respected and resourceful artists in the state of Montana.”

In turn, Dolack credits “great art teachers at the Great Falls school system and then at both Montana University systems” with encouraging and mentoring him as a young artist.

Dolack opened his first studio in 1974 in Missoula, launching a successful career in fine art and graphics that now spans more than 40 years.

Monte Dolack | "After Hours"
“After Hours” by Monte Dolack is one of the Invaders Series posters – created by the artist in the late 1980s.Photo © Monte Dolack

Along the way, he was named by the Missoulian as one of the 100 most influential Montanans of the 20th century and, with his wife, artist Mary Beth Percival (now deceased), received the Distinguished Fine Arts Alumni award from the University of Montana in 2008.

His audience is international, as evidenced by the scope of his exhibition catalogue, which includes solo exhibits at the United Nations’ Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Bossanyi Gallery and Studio in London, Kumamoto Prefecture Museum in Japan, and Neckargemünd Museum in Germany. His work was also part of group exhibitions that toured museums in China, New Zealand and Ireland.

Dolack’s works are in the collections of the Library of Congress, the American Association of Museums, the National Wildfire Foundation and numerous other museums and corporations.

Dolack is disciplined, spending up to four hours a day making art. “I start with ideas jotted down in my journals ands sketchbooks,” he writes. “Ideas can arise at any time and it is important to make a quick notation or sketch of that glimmer or seed of an idea which may grow into a much more complete piece.”

His abiding appreciation for the natural world is a constant stream, threading itself through his work, and has lead to commissions for the Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife and Trout Unlimited. In 2014 he was chosen to design the official national commemorative poster for the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. He’s also created more than 200 posters and prints for various organizations and causes in Montana and beyond.

“Finding the balance for art-making at the intersection between Nature and civilization has shaped my art,” he writes.

And with sly humor and a keen eye, Dolack has shaped a contemporary view of our giant state. As the late Ivan Doig wrote:

“Monte puts the two Montanas together. East of the Divide: the great mountain front out there in one direction, those blessed square buttes in a couple of others, the water of the Missouri forever passing through … This is that Montana of the eye, the unforgettable glimpse, the long gaze, the memory.

“Then when he takes off over the Divide into more surreal territory – the tabby cat wistful beneath fish-shaped clouds, the beaver tasting their way through a human abode of logs – he’s giving us what seems to be his favorite fond map of the Montana of the mind … What’s more, he achieves it all with impeccable craft.”

– Kristi Niemeyer