Art at the MDHC
Permanent Art Collection
The art housed at the MonDak Heritage Center includes a variety of artists and mediums. Generally, when you think of an art collection, you think of traditional paintings, and of course, the MDHC Permanent Collection has many fine oils, watercolors and acrylics. Our collection extends beyond those mediums, however, to include workds done with pastels, pen and ink, charcoal and pencil, as well as wood engravings, weaving, silkscreen, scratchboard, aquatint, felt tip, lithograph and even crocheted needlework. Subjects transmitted by these effects range from historic scenes to wildlife to landscapes of Montana and Richland County and other areas.
J. K. Ralston was one of Montana's premier artists, and many of his works were donated to the Heritage Center (an earlier incarnation of which, the J.K. Ralston Art and History Museum, bore his name) by his friends and family.
Born in 1896 in Choteau, James Kenneth Ralston spent much of his early life as a young cowpuncher on the rolling prairies of eastern Montana. It was in Helena where Ralston received his first formal art instruction. In 1906, the family moved from Helena to the Capital P ranch just south of the Missouri River across from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. In 1917, he went to Chicago and enrolled at the Chicago Art Institute for a brief three month period. Upon entering the U.S. Army the following spring, he served with the 62nd Infantry, Eighth Division in World War I. In the fall of 1920, he returned to Chicago and re-enrolled at the Chicago Art Institute.
After their marriage in 1923, he and his wife Willo made their home on the Pacific coast for seven years.There he worked as a commercial artist doing illustrations for books, newspapers, and advertising agencies. In 1930 they returned to Montana taking over his father's ranch, the Roman E, near Culbertson. In 1935, the Depression forced them to move to Billings, where Ralston opened a studio and worked as a professional artist full time.
Ralston's works are also on display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center located in Cody, Wyoming, the Leanin' Tree in Boulder, Colorado, the Western Heritage Center in Billings, Montana, and the Montana Historical Society in Helena, Montana. His murals adorn many fine retail and professional locations throughout the country.
Barbara Schaffner is a former local artist who resided in the Sidney area for some time and returns periodically to conduct art classes and to exhibit art. She's known for her attention to historical accuracy in her paintings. The museum has several examples of her work, oils as well as pen and ink drawings. A few museum favorites include the oil paintings titled "The Far West's Epic Run" and "Lewis & Clark at the Confluence" (shown below).
Original oil painting by J.K. Ralston
This oil on canvas painting by J.K. Ralston suffered severe water damage and was hardly recognizable for many years. Only after cleaning was it revealed that this painting is the original study for the massive "Crossing the Redwater," another of Ralston's oils which is also currently housed at the Center. The painting was sent to Denver, Colorado for restoration in 1991, and after six months of careful work, it was unveiled at the MonDak Heritage Center on November 11, 1991. The restored work is on display at the Center with many thanks to the individuals and organizations who helped finance the restoration and unveiling ceremony. Contributors included but are not limited to the U.S. West Foundation, the Groskinsky Foundation, Russell and Pat Denowh, the MonDak Heritage Center Docents and the MonDak Historical and Art Society.
A few more examples of