Gallery 16, located at 608 Central Ave. in downtown Great Falls, celebrates 50 years in business this month. Since the 1970s, the gallery has exhibited the work of Montana artists in many mediums, including painting, ceramics, textiles, prints, jewelry and woodworking.
Fifty years ago, Great Falls was cementing its reputation as the Western Art Capital of Montana, due in part to being the hometown of famed cowboy artist Charlie Russell, and his namesake C.M. Russell Museum.
At the same time a group of women artists decided to open a gallery to showcase their contemporary work. Gallery 16, named for the street where the first storefront sat, was operated by nine women who pooled their resources to keep the doors open. It was both a place to sell their work and create in the studio space.
“They said it couldn’t be done,” says longtime gallery member and Great Falls ceramic artist Judy Ericksen. She reports that when the cooperative gallery was formed five decades ago, “by those brave women, the comment was that no group of women could get along together well enough” to sustain a business.
But by the gallery’s 16th birthday, there were 16 members celebrating at its former address on 16th St. “And now we’re 50!” says Ericksen.
Since its inception there have been moves to other downtown locations, leading the gallery to its current home on Central Ave., where nearly 100 artists – men and women – are represented.
Gallery 16’s March show captures some of that history, with work by current and former members. The exhibit also honors the nine “founding mothers”: Samantha Borchers, Alice Chambers, Marylon Christ-Janer, Betty McDonald, Jean Halverson, Muriel Kittock, Val Knight, Lela Tonkin-Hamley and Marlene Walden. A silent auction features a painting by Knight.
The 50th Anniversary Exhibit opens March 6 with a free reception from 5-9 p.m., featuring light refreshments and music by Sally Jo and Friends.
During Western Art Week, March 18-21, stop by Gallery 16 to see the wide range of Montana art in the historic downtown setting.