Speakers wrap up the John White Series

Thanks to our talented lineup (from left), Kyren Zimmerman, Randy & Jim Mohn, Amy Grisak, and John Fraley, we know a lot more about our corner of the world, from the depths of Flathead Lake to moviegoing, fire lookouts to wilderness reflection. Thank you to our presenters, all who came and listened, and the volunteers and staff who make it all possible!

We’re already looking forward to the 22nd annual edition. In the meantime, send us your nominations for next year and consider joining our John White Series committee, which will roll up its sleeves and get to planning this fall.

Chinese came to cook, clean, and lay tracks, but their stories were seldom told

Until now, that is.

Mark T. Johnson, a University of Notre Dame professor who lives in Helena, started delving into the stories of some of the Chinese who made the leap to the West when he came across untranslated archives of material at the Montana Historical Society dating from the 1880s to the 1950s.

At the time, Johnson was teaching at a school in Shanghai and had connections to many eager language learners and bilingual readers. Assembling a transnational, multigenerational team, Johnson undertook the supervision of deciphering hundreds of mostly primary documents—typically letters—for English-language audiences.

His book, The Middle Kingdom under the Big Sky: A History of the Chinese Experience in Montana (University of Nebraska Press), details the difficult and sometimes rewarding life of one of our state’s largest classes of immigrants. At one point, Chinese residents accounted for more than a tenth of the state’s population.

Many Montanans know that Chinese labor was instrumental in laying tracks for the railroads on which much of frontier life depended, as well as laundries, restaurants, and other essential services.

Johnson

On Monday, April 10, Johnson visits the Northwest Montana History Museum to detail his findings and process. He will illuminate the pressures Chinese Montanans felt in their new digs and from their families back home.

Navigating government bureaucracy, frequent racism, and an ever-changing political landscape, Chinese Montanans often advocated for themselves and contributed more than just labor to their communities.

Mark your calendars for a rare glimpse into the lives of many who arrived early in Montana and aided our region’s development.

Photographer dives into our past

Maritime archaeology explorer Kyren Zimmerman gives us a tour of fascinating objects at the bottom of Flathead Lake and other area waterways. He uses ROV and other technology to render images of sunken boats, rail cars, and other treasures. See for yourself at the last of the talks in our 21st annual John White Series at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26.

With just a couple of dozen tickets left, which you can purchase online or at the museum from 10 to 5 weekdays, we expect this event to sell out as with other talks in the series.

See you Sunday!

Author invites view into “My Wilderness Life”

Writer and former wildlife biologist John Fraley appears Feb. 5 in the third installment of the museum’s 21st annual John White Series.

For the first time, popular Northwest Montana author John Fraley, who usually turns his pen to historical figures of Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and other wild spaces, has turned his attention to himself. His newly published fifth book, My Wilderness Life, tells of the inspiration and sometimes tragedy of giving into the risk of exploring remote places.

“I didn’t want to write a self-indulgent memoir,” Fraley says, “so instead I basically followed the template of my other books. Each chapter features the challenges and rewards of adventuring in the wilderness, except this time they’re adventures I experienced firsthand.”

Always an engaging speaker and an inquisitive researcher and observer, Fraley takes us along on the trail of his life and where reflection and wilderness intersect.

The John White Series is named for longtime custodians at the former Central School, who encouraged Kalispell learners for decades.

The 2023 series wraps Feb. 26 with Kyren Zimmerman talking about marine archeology photography and what lies beneath the surface of Flathead Lake and other waters.

“To Catch a Thief” steals into the new year

Movie Night at the Museum begins the year with a showing of the 1955 romantic thriller “To Catch a Thief” starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. The film screens 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, at the Northwest Montana History Museum. 

John “The Cat” Robie (Cary Grant) no longer steals for a living. The former jewel thief is happily living on the French Riviera, tending his vineyards and enjoying the good life when a string of burglaries cause the police to suspect that Robie is up to his old tricks again. Facing arrest for crimes he did not commit, Robie realizes that the only way he can prove his innocence is to find and catch the actual thief. 

Thinking like a burglar once again, Robie identifies the individuals and families living and visiting the area whose wealth and possessions make them the most lucrative targets. That list includes a rich American tourist Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter Frances (Grace Kelly). Robie strikes up an acquaintance with both ladies and from there, the story moves through plot twists and turns that only writer-producer Alfred Hitchcock could create.

When he was offered the role of Robie, Grant, like his character in the movie, had retired. But after accepting the role, he continued to remain active in the movie business for 11 more years. 

This film is the third film in which Hitchcock featured Kelly as the leading lady, citing her “elegant sexiness” as a reason he selected her for the role.  

Admission and popcorn are free, but donations are accepted to defray costs. Soda pop, water, beer and wine are available for purchase. Seating is provided, but viewers can bring their own cushions or seating if they like.

Located in the former Central School in Kalispell, the Northwest Montana History Museum brings the past alive through exhibits, artifacts, educational programs and events. Regular museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at 124 Second Ave. E., Kalispell. Call 406-756-8381 or visit nwmthistory.org for more.

Amy Grisak presents on “History of Fire Lookouts in Northwest Montana”

Author, radio co-host, and sustainable-food practitioner Amy Grisak will present her years of research on fire lookouts of Glacier National Park and Northwest Montana as part of the museum’s 21st annual John White Series.

Grisak will cover fire suppression efforts and events starting with the Big Burn of 1910, which consumed 3 million acres and 87 lives, prompting creation of the lookout system. In Northwest Montana, with its predominant logging industry, such measures were critical to the economy and livelihoods of the area. “It’s one thing to learn about the number of acres burned,” she says, “and another to learn the personal stories.”

“I’m a fire-lookout nut,” says Grisak, who has hiked into many existing lookouts, such as trekking the 11 miles to Huckleberry Lookout in Glacier National Park. She also will present information and images of fire lookouts that have been lost along with ones such as Hornet, which marked a century this year up in the North Fork.

A former resident of Coram, where she built 220 raised garden beds out of stone on her property, Grisak now lives in Great Falls, where she co-hosts the radio program Front Range Outdoors and writes books and articles. She will sign copies of her Nature Guide to Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks and Found Photos of Yellowstone at the event.

The John White Series is named for John Whites Sr. and Jr., whose friendly faces warmed up Kalispell and area learners for decades. 

Details:
2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15; half-hour social time and refreshments after the presentation.

Tickets for individual events are $15 (members)/$20 (nonmembers).

Visit nwmthistory.org/programs/john-white-speaker-series for tickets and more info. Tickets also may be purchased by stopping in or calling the museum and talking with Terri or Margaret, 406-756-8381 option 5 or 6.

Regular museum hours:
10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday
Northwest Montana History Museum, 124 Second Ave. East, Kalispell, MT 59901; 406-756-8381; nwmthistory.org

Experts set to expound

We have four wintry Sundays of fun on tap, through Feb. 26.

Amy Grisak (second from right) works in words, radio, and her backyard “farm” in Great Falls. She launches the series Jan. 15 with a talk on historic fire lookouts of Northwest Montana, one of which—Hornet Lookout, 45 miles north of Columbia Falls—just marked a century.

On Jan. 29 Jim and Randy Mohn (second from left) present a program you won’t find anywhere else: a review of Kalispell’s historic theater scene.

After decades as a wildlife biologist, John Fraley (right) turned to writing books. At first he focused on historical figures of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Now he’s turned his keen eye on himself. His fifth book, My Wilderness Life, is just that: a reflection on a life spent nagivating and making sense of the natural world. Hear how his story made it to the page, and about the people and sights that inspired him along the way on Feb. 5.

Maritime archaeology photographer Kyren Zimmerman (left) goes deep to find his subjects, which lurk under the surface of Flathead Lake and other waters. He talks Feb. 26 on what lies beneath. From sunken boats to train cars, he takes his passion for noninvasive marine photography to a technical level. He converts image files into 3D renderings and uses an ROV (remote-operated vehicle) to document and photograph his finds. Zimmerman has traveled as far as Fiji and the Channel Islands and all over Montana to work and hone his skills, always innovating.

Visit nwmthistory.org/programs/john-white-speaker-series/ for tickets and info. All talks start at 2 p.m. and are followed by a Q&A and a half-hour casual social time.

A note about tickets: You can order the series online or individual tickets through the link above, or you can call Terri or Margaret (406-756-8381 option 5 or 6, respectively) or come by the museum 10 to 5 Monday through Friday.

Kalispell turns out for new exhibits

“Norris Road,” by Jeff Corwin

The uniforms stand at the ready in our new “10 Items” exhibit focusing on “The Way We Wore.” You’ll never see a cleaner Dairy Queen getup. Also featured: Oddfellows gear, hats for many occasions, and a meter maid outfit (including the incredibly courteous note that out -of-town visitors received despite lack of parking skill). Dozens turned out at the opening Dec. 15 to see the new offerings and share in some holiday cheer. With the area foresters partying on the second floor, it was quite a lively night.

Also downtstairs and across the hall from the uniforms, Jeff Corwin’s photography of Western landscapes, many of them Montanan, show vistas from all over, including Norris (above).

Corwin’s photography stays up through April, the uniforms through August.

However, you might as well visit soon because our decorations and bits of holiday history that appeared in every room–courtesy volunteers and a hundred schoolkids from Bigfork to Kalispell–many only be up for another week or two. Don’t miss ’em!

The holiday party runs for a month

If you missed our open house Dec. 1, never fear: The decorations stay up through December.

Volunteers led the effort to have dozens of kids from Kalispell to Bigfork decorate our museum, as explained in-depth by reporter Hilary Matheson at the Daily Inter Lake (https://dailyinterlake.com/news/2022/dec/01/local-youths-help-decorate-museum-history-mind/).

Every room received a festive, historic, and regional touch, from information about how Montana trees went to Washington, D.C., to holiday celebrations by Glacier National Park employees.

Come visit, and see for yourself. Happy Holidays!

Montana landscape photography

Exhibits focus on Montana landscape and “The Way We Wore”

“Landscapes of the American West: Photography of Jeff Corwin” Dec. 15, 2022-April 30, 2033
“10 Items: The Way We Wore” Dec. 15, 2022-August 31, 2033

Join us for an opening reception 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, at the Northwest Montana History Museum.

On Dec. 15, museum visitors will get two exhibits for the price of none as the Northwest Montana History Museum opens new shows in its two temporary-exhibit spaces.

After 40-plus years working in commercial photography around the world, Montana photographer Jeff Corwin turned to fine art and found inspiration in landscape. Of the 17 pieces in “Landscapes of the American West,” most feature rural views of Montana, including areas near Sourdough, Dillon, Livingston and Wilsall. Two images are of Eastern Washington.

A vacation near Ennis planted the seed for Corwin’s move to east of Bozeman. Now he lives in Cardwell, where he’s building a house. Even so, Corwin says, “I go out and shoot every day.”

His work speaks to the quieter country. “I tend towards the emptiness of landscapes, not the glory of mountains and meadow and late afternoon light,” he says. “I don’t seek out that emptiness, but after so many years, just react to it.”

From a pillowlike snowfield constrained only by a fence in Bozeman, to the lush green leadup to a low butte in Rapelje, Corwin finds much to focus on and frame in his Montana journey.

“The Way We Wore” represents the latest in the “10 Items” installations for which curators take a roundabout look at the collection and present a select group to illustrate a certain theme.

Volunteers Judy Elwood and Sharon Bristow and board member Jane Renfrow will put on display a selection of uniforms connected to the Flathead Valley.

Most of us know the psychological impact of pride felt at the act of putting on a uniform, whether enlisting in military service or joining a sports team or club. The people who wore the uniforms included in the exhibit must have felt a similar thrill. They signaled the high honor of belonging.

The uniforms prepared for the exhibit range from a 1950s Boy Scout uniform and a nurse’s cape and cap to school gym clothing and a band uniform from the Kalispell Fire Department. Also included: a ceremonial coat that belonged to Judge Joseph E. Rockwood, a member of the Patriarchs Militant of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Rockwood served two terms as a judge in the 11th Judicial District, then two terms in the Montana House of Representatives. His 1920s home, on the National Register of Historic Places, stands at 835 First Ave. East.

Details:
5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022; free admission
Northwest Montana History Museum, 124 Second Ave. East, Kalispell; 406-756-8381