The Montana Arts Council is pleased to announce six Montana artists as recipients of the Artist’s Innovation Award. The honorees are: Jane Waggoner Deschner of Billings, Robert Harrison of Helena, Nan Parsons of Basin, and Jennifer Reifsneider, Naomi Siegel and Melissa Stephenson of Missoula.
“Montana has an incredibly rich creative environment,” says Tatiana Gant, executive director of the Montana Arts Council. “The council understands the necessity for artists to take chances. This award encourages artists to invest in research and continued exploration. The caliber of the artists selected highlights Montana’s bright future.”
The Artist’s Innovation Award includes a $5,000 honorarium. Artists who receive this award must also convey their artistry to other Montanans during the course of the upcoming year.
As a ceramic artist, Robert Harrison of Helena is the recipient of the Jessie Wilber and Frances Senska Individual Artist Award, established by a private gift to the arts council from Stacy Hamm and Sage Walden.
Review panels comprised of experts in the fields of visual arts, performing arts and literary arts met in November to select the honorees. This honor rewards Montana artists who demonstrate innovation in their work as well as originality and dedication to their creative pursuits. The Montana Arts Council established this award program in order to foster environments where the innovation and creativity of artists are valued and celebrated.
Recipients by Region
Nan Parsons, Visual Artist
Nan Parsons has expressed herself through art – drawing, painting and shaping three-dimensional objects – even before grade school. Often inspired by nature, Parsons created a series of paintings fueled by an intense study of water, its currents and reflections. The work culminated in a one-woman show at the Holter Museum of Art in 2006, and a smaller exhibit at the Drawing Studio in Tucson.
The natural world has long been her muse. But in recent years, inspiration has come from anther source, sound, and particularly the tonal vibration of music. Parsons found herself especially moved by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, an artist “who is able to express and touch the deepest, darkest parts of us and to bring us out of the depths to a brilliant joy.”
As she listened intently to the composer’s music and studied the Baroque period, she began to “respond to, and paint what I feel as I am touched by the music.” She seeks “to express in the whole body of my work the broad musical sweep – the depth, mystery, and majesty – the glory of the music that is Bach.”
Jane Waggoner Deschner, Visual Artist
Jane Waggoner Deschner came to art in her 30s when she enrolled at Montana State University Billings to pursue a second bachelor’s degree, this time in fine arts. Her preferred medium was photomontage, incorporating images from slick fashion and architecture magazines.
Waggoner Deschner has made the everyday family photograph her medium, buying large lots of seemingly mundane snapshots on eBay. Initially, she scanned these images and processed them in Photoshop. But in 2008, her early predilection for sewing surfaced, and she began to embroider quotes by famous people onto existing photos. “I loved stitching – and the chance to moralize,” she says. “I still use this technique.”
Waggoner Deschner has a prolific exhibition record, including upcoming solo shows in 2020 at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings and Buckham Gallery in Flint, MI. She regularly participates in national invitational and juried group exhibits, as well as artist and studio residencies, including five fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, VA.
Robert Harrison, Sculptor
Sculptor Robert Harrison came to his large-scale architectural works through the malleable medium of clay, the use of fire and its alchemy. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Manitoba, and his MFA from the University of Denver, both in ceramics. Over four decades, he’s built an extensive and global record of exhibitions and installations.
Harrison is a founding member of the World Association of Brick Artists (WABA) and was named a Fellow of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) in 2011. He was elected to the International Academy of Arts (RCA) in 2007. He was a founding member of the Montana Clay Tour, and received the Meloy Stevenson Award for Excellence from the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena.
Whether large or small, site-specific or a studio creation, Harrison’s focus is the same: “My continued effort is to innovate, respond to the environment, utilize the given space and create work that leaves a ‘ceramic echo’.”
Jennifer Reifsnieder, Visual Artist
“Diagrammatic sculptures” – that’s how Jennifer Reifsneider describes her recent body of work. “I often begin by thinking of my flesh-and-bone body like a planet in space,” she writes. “I map my latitudes, perimeters, rotations and orbits. I translate these measurements through quiet but labor-intensive processes, seeking an elusive moment when what is exact in the mind becomes fluid in the hand.”
After earning a BFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Reifsneider landed in Missoula in 1997 and based her studio in the Brunswich Building – a vibrant community of artists. In 2008 she relocated to Los Angeles and earned her MFA from California State University, Long Beach in 2011.
She returned to Montana in 2016, and her work as been in more than 70 solo and group exhibitions across the United States, including the 2018 Montana Triennial at the Yellowstone Art Museum. Her sculptures are in numerous private and public collections, from New York City to Los Angeles, from Minneapolis to Missoula.
Naomi Siegel, Musician/Composer
Trombonist, composer, bandleader, educator and community organizer Naomi Siegel performs music “to ride the edge of the moment, creating in real time with others while listening to my internal state.”
Siegel graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and began her professional career in Oakland. “For a while, I let my voice be suppressed,” she writes. “As a survival mechanism, I developed a cloak where I could show up and play without being seen.”
Siegel founded Lakebottom Sound in 2017, a non-profit under the umbrella of Arts Missoula that’s dedicated to nourishing creative music in Missoula through a concert series, monthly jam sessions and improvisation workshops.
She founded and conducts the Missoula Conduction Orchestra, a multi-generational collaboration of musicians with backgrounds ranging from jazz to country to classical that employs a form of collective improvisation called “Conduction.”
“As I work on my next albums, my aim as musician, composer, and bandleader is still to be vulnerable, take risks, and value listening,” she writes. “As an educator and community organizer, I advocate and create space for others to do the same.”
Melissa Stephenson, Writer
Missoula author Melissa Stephenson started writing poems at age 7, and honed her skills early on with a scholarship to Interloken, a fine arts boarding school in Michigan. She earned a bachelor’s in English from the University of Montana and an MFA in fiction from Texas State University, while working as an editor and freelance writer.
Stephenson’s first full-length collection of poems, which was a finalist in 2017 for the Barry Spacks Prize and Brittingham/Pollak Prize. Her memoir, DRIVEN, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2018 and long-listed for the Chautauqua Book Prize. Her essays have been published in LitHub, Ms. Magazine, The Washington Post, the Rumpus and Fourth Genre, among others.
"While my early life gave me the literary roots and training I needed to become a writer, my life as a parent in Montana has given me the drive and discipline to get the work done at whatever pace I can, whenever I can."
For more information on the Artist’s Innovation Award program and all of this year’s honorees, visit: art.mt.gov/aia.