Sunday, May 27, 2012
From the Great Falls Tribune, May 27, 2012
Old Fort Benton opens Bourgeois House, Starr Gallery
The Bourgeois House at the fort in Fort Benton houses the Starr Gallery. TRIBUNE PHOTO/LARRY BECKNER Fay Todd, left, talks about a Bob Scriver bronze sculpture with Jeffrey Alpizar in the Starr Gallery at the Bourgeois House in Fort Benton Saturday. TRIBUNE PHOTO/LARRY BECKNER
In late May 1855, Andrew Dawson, the American Fur Company's chief trader at Fort Benton, wrote in his daily log, "cloudy, rainy, disagreeable day."
On the next day Dawson wrote, "fort full of water."
The next, "another rainy day."
And then on May 26, exactly 157 years before the River and Plains Society dedicated the newest addition to the old Fort Benton museum complex, Dawson wrote, "more showers."
The assembled audience chuckled as River and Plains Society Board Member Randy Morger read from the old logs. Outside, a drizzling rain neatly echoed Dawson's observations from a century and a half ago.
Some things never change.
Inside too, little seemed to have changed from the fur trading days. Trade blankets and powder horns lined the shelves at the trade store. A buffalo head kept watch over the assembled audience, staring out from above a cracking fire in the adobe fireplace.
After the dignitaries had given their speeches, and rounds of heart-felt applause had been showered upon the many people who made the dedication possible, the audience was invited to step out into the rain, cross the inner courtyard and enter old fort's newest addition.
After more than 15 years of planning, preparation and finally construction, the Bourgeois House and the Starr Gallery of Western Art are at last completed. Saturday marked their grand opening.
Standing on the exact site from which the American Fur Company once operated a vast frontier trading empire, the Bourgeois House and Starr Gallery are certain to delight anyone with an interest in authentic western history and and appreciation for rare western art.
"Come on in and see what we have to offer," said River and Plains trustee Jack Lepley as he invited the crowd in.
The Bourgeois House is a faithful recreation of the office, living quarters and council room of the Bourgeois, the title given to the chief trader at each of the American Fur Company's trading posts. And contained within this important structural tribute to Montana's past is another, equally impressive treasure — the Starr Gallery of Western Art.
For its inaugural exhibit, the Starr Gallery is featuring 18 sculptures by famed Montana artist Bob Scriver, rare Karl Bodmer prints contributed by the Starr Foundation, and John Mix Stanley's original portrait of Alexander Culbertson, founder of Fort Benton in 1846.
"Authenticity, culture and history — what better place than Fort Benton to find that?" asked Pam Gosink from the Montana Office of Tourism. "Congratulations on a job well done."
Thursday, May 24, 2012
From the Great Falls Tribune, May 23, 2012
These are the bronzes that were held in Edmonton at the Royal Alberta Museum.
Historical addition, museum to open in Fort Benton
This small Scriver bronze entitled "No More Buffalo" is the namesake sculpture of a 53 piece series that will be displayed at the Starr Gallery of Western Art over the next several years. PHOTO COURTESY OF RIVER AND PLAINS SOCIETY
DEDICATION TO BE HELD SATURDAY
The Bourgeois House and the Starr Gallery of Western Art will be dedicated during a public ceremony in Fort Benton at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 26. Admission is free to the public, who also can visit all other Fort Benton museums and historic landmarks that day for free, all courtesy of the River and Plains Society, which oversees the fort's restoration.
Funding for the reconstruction of the Bourgeois House and the Starr Gallery was provided by the Montana Office of Tourism's Tourism Infrastructure Investment Program, Fay Todd and family and the Starr Foundation.
Fort Benton "saw more romance, tragedy and vigorous life than many a city a hundred times its size and ten times its age" wrote historian Hiram Chittenden in his 1903 book on the Missouri River steamboat era.
The fur trappers, Native Americans, river boats, buffalo hunters, gold miners and whiskey traders who made Fort Benton a center of commerce and culture in the Rocky Mountain West have long ago faded from living memory. But next Saturday, May 26, a new addition to the museum complex at old Fort Benton will be dedicated, faithfully restoring some of the sights and imagery of what was once the innermost port in the world.
The public is invited to attend opening ceremonies for the Bourgeois House, a historical re-creation of what served as the headquarters and living area for the American Fur Company's chief trader at the remote Montana Territory outpost.
"That's what the American Fur Company called the chief traders at all their forts — the Bourgeois," explained Sharalee Smith, director of the River and Plains Society Fort Restoration Committee.
Built from brick modeled on artifacts preserved from the original 1850s adobe fort, the Bourgeois House is the first structure to be added to the Old Fort's re-creation in 10 years.
"When we first started out back in 1995, we built the trade store and then the warehouse and the blacksmith's/carpenter's shop," said Smith.
The old fort also includes the original 1847 blockhouse, the oldest building in Montana still on its original foundation. According to Smith, the original two-story Bourgeois House was designed to impress upon its visitors the wealth and prestige of the American Fur Company.
"The far left of the building's ground floor was the Bourgeois' office," she said. "The remaining two-thirds of the ground floor was a huge room they called 'The Council Room.' When Indian chiefs and other important people would visit, that's where the American Fur Company officials would entertain them.
"Upstairs, going up the fancy porch, was the Bourgeois' living quarters. Then the other rooms going down the other two-thirds of the upper story were apartments for the clerks. The educated guys got to live in nice little apartments, each with their own doorway."
While the re-creations of the Bourgeois' office and living quarters are impressive in their own right, the Bourgeois House is far more than simply an interpretive center for a bygone fur trading post. Also on the main floor of the Bourgeois House is the new Starr Gallery of Western Art. The inaugural exhibition for this important addition to Montana's cultural legacy is called "The Land, The People, The Artists' Vision."
Headlining the new exhibit are 18 statues by Bob Scriver. Cast during a 20-year period beginning in 1959, the "No More Buffalo" series represents some of the Montana sculptor's most important work.
According to a 1998 interview with Scriver by the Los Angeles Times, in 1959 the chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council asked Scriver to create 12 statues illustrating tribal culture. The challenge prompted him to fashion 53 statues in bronze, plaster or fiberglass depicting 1,200 years of Blackfeet history. The Provincial Museum for Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, stored the works for more than a decade, and they have rarely been displayed publicly.
"The whole collection was returned to the Montana State Historical Society last fall," explained Smith. "Some of these statues are huge and weigh well over 700 pounds."
Over the coming years, the Starr Gallery intends to rotate through the remaining pieces of the "No More Buffalo" collection, eventually displaying all 53 works in the series.
Also on display starting Saturday will be a collection of rare Karl Bodmer prints detailing Montana's scenery and Indian cultures of the 1830s, and an original portrait of Fort Benton's founder, Alexander Culbertson, likely painted in the 1870s by western artist John Mix Stanley.
"The Stanley portrait is the only original work by that famous western painter known to exist in Montana," said John G. Lepley, executive director and curator for the River and Plains Society. "And the prints from Swiss painter Bodmer's travels with Prince Maximilian to the interior of North America still stand today as the most accurate and detailed pictures of Native American life during that era."