As I carried out my new exploration and documentation of the Montana historic landscape from 2012 to 2016, there were new developments underway that I missed as I moved from one region to another during those years. The creation of Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild within a section of the national forest at Lincoln happened after I had revisited Lincoln–so I did not visit this exciting new sculpture park until May 2018. The park’s mission is to celebrate “the rich environmental and cultural heritage of the Blackfoot Valley through contemporary art practice.” Moving the TeePee Burner, which had stood for decades outside of the town between the Blackfoot River and Montana Highway 200, was the appropriate first step. This large metal structure once burned wood refuse from the Delaney and Sons sawmill–now it is the centerpiece of creative space set within the national forest just off of the highway.
The Gateway of Change (2014) by Jorn Ronnau of Denmark serves as an effective transition from the TeePee Burner to the other installations in the sculpture park. Casey Schachner’s Stringer (2017), below, is a great pine fan, recalling in its strength and lift the industrial works of the past.
My favorite installation in 2018 was the Picture Frame by Jaakko Frame of Finland, a massive interpretation of how we take nature and frame it constantly in our mind’s eye, or in our camera lens!
Another favorite was what seemed to be a trench, but is named the East West Passage (2015) by its creators, Mark Jacobs and Sam Clayton of the UK. The “walkable” structure creates a below-grade passage, giving a sense of direction in what can otherwise be a directionless landscape.
Tyler Nansen’s Bat Beacons (2016) at first glance seems redundant–why have pine poles installed in a pine forest? But Nansen wants to “encourage the preservation of bat habitats in Montana,” by creating possible roosts for bats with the black bat boxes at the top of each pole.
Frankly everything you encounter as you walk through this special landscape is interesting, if not thought provoking. And the artists are international, just as in the past the people who carved out the forests, dug the mines, and created towns came from across the globe. What an appropriate representation of the people who made the Blackfoot River Valley a distinctive place. In my earlier posts I have discussed how the
U. S. Forest Service really upped its game in public interpretation at historic sites from my fieldwork in the mid-1980s to the new survey of the mid-2010s. Blackfoot Pathways takes the interpretive experience in new and worthwhile directions, acknowledging the industrial past of the forests but also identifying new paths for the future.