08 March 2017

Past & Future

"History pertains to the living man in three respects: it pertains to him as a being who acts and strives, as a being who preserves and reveres, as a being who suffers and seeks deliverance."

Friedrich Neitzsche 
On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life 1874

Racing the Storm, 2016. Graphite & oil on art board, 11x14"

I had hoped to complete the 2016 year in review (beginning with "Shaped by Circumstance", 20 August 2016) before 2017 was so far along. However, it felt right to delay this final post until Beth Judy's new book, Bold Women in Montana History, was published. It has been an honor to work on cover art for this collection of biographies. I enjoyed what I learned, and trust you will too.

Let me introduce you to some of the eleven characters Beth has so beautifully rendered in the book. She was even willing to write up some short descriptions to share here.

Pretty Shield (1856-1944)

"Pretty Shield was born when the Crow people still lived the life they had led for generations, following their food sources (bison, plants) over a vast territory of present day Wyoming and Montana. By the time she was married, the Crow had been restricted to a reservation, which, over time, shrank further in size. Life changed radically, and the tribe knew hunger and poverty. Through it all, Pretty Shield fought to preserve the culture and people she loved. She "co-authored" a book with author and Indian advocate Frank Linderman by recounting the details of her life to him. She also raised one of her grandchildren, Alma Hogan Snell, in the old ways, carefully transmitting precious ancient knowledge to her."

Annie (Agnes) Morgan (1830s/1840s-1914)

"Born in Baltimore, African-American Agnes "Annie" Morgan headed west after the Civil War and became a cook with the US frontier army. Somewhere along the line she "cooked for Custer" though the exact details of that, along with other aspects of her life, remain mysterious. The homestead she claimed in the Rock Creek valley, near Philipsburg, is now a Forest Service cabin the public can rent. In its walls, the first and so far only "bag charm" in the Pacific Northwest, associated with the magic/spiritual practice know as Hoodoo, was found."

Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973)

"The Rankin Family, one of Missoula's first white families, was a talented and passionate bunch. After college, Jeannette, the eldest, wasn't sure what to do. After encountering urban poverty out east, she trained in social work, then dedicated herself to the women's suffrage movement, working in states around the country. After Montana women won the vote, but before women did nationwide, Jeannette campaigned throughout her home state to become the first female in Congress --and won, just in time to vote "No" against World War I, because she was a pacifist. Concern about peace inspired her to run again for Congress, only to win and once more vote "No" against World War II. She never stopped working for peace, inspiring and participating in an anti-Vietnam march in 1968 when she was close to 90 that was named after her --the 'Jeannette Rankin Brigade'."

Myrna Loy (1905-1993)

"Born and raised until her teens near and in Helena, Myrna Williams, later Loy, always had strong ambition. First she wanted to be a dancer, but when her mother moved the family to Los Angeles, Myrna discovered the world of film. Once she made it into movies, she worked non-stop for years until her big breakthrough, "The Thin Man" and its sequels, made her America's leading darling. Her exposure to politics while growing up in Montana, accounted for her second love: changing the world through political and civic action, especially the UN. Into old age, she continued working in movies, television, and the stage. When she died, she was still beloved, respected, and honored as a favorite actress and personality throughout America."

Elouise Cobell (1945-2011)

"Elouise, born Yellow Bird Woman, was born in the Browning hospital on the Blackfeet Reservation. In their part of the reservation, her father and mother were tribal leaders to whom people came for help. So Elouise grew up hearing about people's trouble accessing their own money --proceeds from the land their families had acquired when, in the 1880s, the reservation, like many across the nation, was divided into parcels owned by individual tribal members rather than the tribe as a whole. Elouise went on to become an accountant, and then tribal treasurer. Finally the puzzle of access became clearer: there was a long history of corruption, stealing, and no accounting at many levels of government. After trying to remedy the situation in multiple other ways, in 1996 Elouise became the lead plaintiff in a landmark case against the US government that took 16 years, and her life (she died before receiving any money herself), but resulted in the largest class-action win against the government ever. Though approximately 500,000 landowners across the nation each got only about $1,000 in the end, the win was still a huge victory for Indian people."

As I said, it was an honor to work on this project. It was also a novel experience since I have never worked so directly with historical figures. But I am a lover history for all the reasons cited by Nietzsche in the quote above. It is well worth our close study here and now. With all the change and turmoil in our country today, these true stories of valor, perseverance, creativity, intelligence and compassion have raised my spirits and my hopes. Written for Young Adults, I recommend the book to all.

I welcome everyone to a book launch party to be held at Montana Art & Framing (709 Ronan Street) on April First, 4-7:00 pm.  At Five o'clock Beth Judy will be reading from Bold Women of Montana. I will be sharing the original artwork and discussing the illustration process.

Bold Women of Montana (as well as others in the Bold Women series) is published by Mountain Press in Missoula. www.mountain-press.com

The book is available locally at Fact & Fiction and The Book Exchange.

My THANKS to Beth Judy, Gwen McKenna (Editor) and Jeannie Nucholls (Designer).