The Montana Arts Council announced that six exceptionally talented artists are slated to receive the Governor’s Arts Award in a public ceremony at the State Capitol in Helena, 3:00 p.m., Friday, December 2.
The Governor's Arts Award honors outstanding citizens and organizations in Montana whose achievements in the arts, or on behalf of the arts, benefit all Montanans. The six honorees are:
- Jack Gladstone, Lyric Poet and Musician: East Glacier
- Neal and Karen Lewing, Actors, Directors and Educators: Polson
- Rick Newby, Poet, Publisher and Essayist: Helena
- M.J. Williams, Vocalist, Composer and Jazz Musician: Basin
- Patrick Zentz, Sculptor: Billings
Gov. Steve Bullock will preside over the ceremony in the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chambers. “Montana has a rich history of artists who have told the story of our state through music, sculpture, painting, writing and performances,” Bullock said. “It’s my honor to recognize these artists and institutions that build on our heritage and share their passion with the next generation of Montanans.”
Jack Gladstone’s art form blends Native and Western Americana through lyric poetry, music, and spoken word narrative, emphasizing moral consideration within a shared biosphere. He shares his art in both performance and recorded formats.
Gladstone, an enrolled citizen of the Blackfeet Nation, was inducted into the University of Washington Alumni Hall of Fame in 2013 for his “contributions and innovations in the field of communications.” Earlier that year, he became the first Montanan (and American Indian) to receive the C.M. Russell Heritage Award, honoring his contributions to the “legacy, culture, life, and country of Russell’s West.”
Gladstone was honored with the Governor’s Humanities Award in 2015 and the Montana Arts Council’s Artist Innovation Award last December. In the winter of 2016, he garnered national acclaim from The First Peoples Fund, receiving a Community Spirit Award for “honoring the ‘Collective Spirit’ – which manifests self-awareness and a sense of responsibility to sustain the cultural fabric of a community.”
Seeley Lake teacher Patti Bartlett, who nominated Gladstone for the Governor’s Art Award, praises his “long-standing relationship with Montana’s students and his enduring public presence interpreting Native and Western culture to travelers from around the world.”
Gladstone co-founded Glacier National Park’s acclaimed lecture series, “Native America Speaks,” in 1985, and has participated every year since in the longest continuously running indigenous speaker series in national park history.
“As a musician, Jack is respected by all, and elevates any concert or recording by his skill, commitment and art,” writes acclaimed Montana pianist and composer Philip Aaberg. “He is a strong spokesman for unity and clear thinking, and there is no greater calling than that.”
Neal and Karen Lewing
Since 1983, Neal and Karen Lewing have provided Mission Valley residents with the opportunity to participate in live theatre performance, devoting their hearts and souls to this endeavor.
Their theatre company – the Post Polson Players – offers all individuals the opportunity to become part of theater, from drama and suspense to musicals and comedy. They customarily create roles for everyone wishing to participate, including those with special needs.
“My first live theater experience was in 1986 in a community production of ‘Oklahoma.’ I was very pregnant with my third child. Lewings added a cameo role for me, and coached me to sing in the chorus,” recalls nominator Carmine Mowbray. “I still have close friends from that large community production.”
The couple has a longstanding relationship with Polson schools, producing plays in the high school auditorium featuring students of all ages. Participants learn focus, teamwork, discipline and correct diction; and memorizing lines and performing on stage increases their mental abilities and enhances self-confidence.
The Port Polson Players just completed their 41st season. The typical season offers comedies, musicals, dramas, mysteries and children’s theatre. They produce popular works, champion original pieces and value both contemporary and classical plays.
Most of the Players’ productions are staged in a 1938 WPA log building on the Polson Golf Course. Once slated for demolition, the Lewings helped found the nonprofit Mission Valley Friends of the Arts to fund its salvation and maintenance. The Port Polson Players have called the beautiful theatre on the lake “home” for more than three decades.
Rick Newby is one of those rare individuals who fulfills all three roles recognized by the Governor’s Arts Award: artist, organization, and educator, observes Ken Egan, director of Humanities Montana, in nominating the Helena resident.
Egan states that “Newby is a gifted Montana poet who has responded lyrically, thoughtfully, deeply to Montana’s history, landscape, and contemporary lives. His poetry blends a down-home Montana sensibility with a highly sophisticated sensitivity to European, Asian, and other traditions. The ease with which he blends these seemingly conflicting voices speaks to a playful, confident writer who knows that a Montanan can be every bit as cosmopolitan and profound as a writer from New York, Paris, or Beijing.”
Newby has also established the Drumlummon Institute to nurture, publish, and promote significant literature and history centered in his home state. The list of publications issued from Drumlummon includes a book dedicated to the history and current condition of the Little Shell Tribe (The Whole Country was … ‘One Robe’); a visually and verbally stunning study of Butte and Anaconda (Coming Home: A Special Issue); revelation of a neglected major Montana talent (Notes for a Novel: The Selected Poems of Frieda Fliegelman); astute criticism on an important artist (Long Lines of Dancing Letters); and much more.
Newby is an exceptional educator. He teaches through his voluminous writing and editing efforts dedicated to Montana literature and art. Working collaboratively with many gifted thinkers, Newby edited and contributed to an extraordinary collection of essays on Montana literature, Writing Montana: Literature Under the Big Sky, a wide-ranging collection that welcomes writers from all over the state, with a special commitment to including voices from “east of the divide.”
He has also served the educator’s role by introducing and editing many forgotten volumes of Montana writing, such as the works of Grace Stone Coates, a too-long neglected writer from central Montana, and the novels of Thomas Savage, a major novelist who located his best fiction in the Dillon area.
Jazz vocalist, composer and trombonist M.J. Williams was lauded as “a discerning, improvising artist of the highest order” by bass-player Kelly Roberti, who poignantly nominated her before he died last spring (he was a Governor’s Arts Awards recipient in 2010). Roberti performed with Williams (affectionately known as "Willie") for 38 years and witnessed, as well as learned from, “a commitment that is both unique and inspiring. Her quest is one of true originality …”
In a letter of support for Williams, poet Melissa Kwasny describes her trajectory to a world-class jazz artist: “As the daughter of a beloved Helena bandleader and trombonist, Williams began her musical career early, sitting in with her father and at local clubs from the age of 16. After stints in the Virginia City Players and a few years playing music and studying art in San Francisco, she returned to Montana in the ‘70s, founding such iconic Montana bands as Cheap Cologne … and the Jane Finnigan Quintet, an all-women’s Latin jazz band.”
For the last three years Williams has performed in Paris at Le Sept Lezard, a legendary jazz club, with The Jobic LeMasson Trio and The Joe Makholm Quintet, a collaboration that resulted in the CD Trance Atlantic (2010).
In addition to her gifts to the music scene in Montana, Williams is also the co-founder of the Montana Artist Refuge, a residency program in tiny Basin, which hosted over 300 artists from around the world for 18 years. The Refuge, as it was called, also featured an annual Indian Artists Residency Program that brought in nationally known native artists, and eventually sponsored the Indian Artists Symposium. The refuge “not only bolstered a community in an original way but reminded artists to stay the course constantly,” noted Roberti. “… It also restored a beautiful Montana town that was on its knees for lack of renewal and change.”
“M.J. is a Montana legend,” writes pianist, composer and MSU music professor Eric Funk. “Her artistry is nothing short of stunning. A true improviser, eloquent, versatile, and always new and honest, she’s a musician any true professional wants to perform or record with.”
Montana-born artist and rancher Patrick Zentz creates sculptures, public art installations, and, increasingly, electronic works of visual art that bridge the sometimes-specious gap between art and science. His works often have a machine-like appearance and make unseen forces visible.
Zentz grew up on a cattle ranch in south-central Montana, studied biology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara and pursued his graduate degree in art at the University of Montana before his return to ranching in the eastern reaches of the state.
Laura Millin, director of the Missoula Art Museum, suggests that his ranching background fostered many of his strengths as an artist, “such as an intimate knowledge and love of land and nature, an acute mechanical ability, and highly evolved woodworking and construction skills, along with a tendency to tinker.”
Zentz has created major public works within and beyond Montana. One of his earliest works, which catapulted him to international recognition in the world of ecological artists, is “Creek Translator” (1985), a spidery construction that is essentially a musical instrument designed to be “played” by the running water in a small creek.
In the decades that followed, Zentz has continued to create beguiling works that are activated by wind, water, and even passing pedestrians. They are responsive to their environments and, as such, help viewers become more aware of their surroundings and the natural forces at play. His parallel vocation as a rancher makes him cognizant of the cyclical nature of life and this, too, appears as a motivating force in his work.
Yellowstone Art Museum director Robyn Peterson, who nominated Zentz for the award, says, “I have found Pat to be an unending source of cerebral exercise. His passion combines with his agile intellect to ensure that his art delivers more with each viewing, as all of human history’s best art does.”
For more information on the Montana Arts Council’s Governor’s Arts Awards program, visit http://art.mt.gov/gaa
Contact Information for honorees:
Neal and Karen Lewing
Contact information for Montana Arts Council
Cinda Holt, Governor’s Arts Awards Producer
Photo credits: Gladstone: Rebecca Drobis, Lewing: Mary Bennett, Williams: Sarina Eckmann, Zentz: Susie Zentz, Newby: Liz Gans