Downtown Art Challenge brings Clarence Rundell’s legacy to the streets of Kalispell
Late Saturday afternoon, General Delorme moved to Wheat Montana’s drive-thru so she could continue painting unhindered by the rain. It was just one of many adjustments Delorme made throughout the day to his normal process.
For starters, she was painting faster than she normally would. The trees she had painted along the shore of Flathead Lake and the fine detail they required could usually take her a day, but Delorme didn’t have one. As a participant in the Downtown Kalispell Art Challenge, she only had 10 hours.
The Art Challenge brought together 10 local artists who positioned themselves around downtown Kalispell and were given 10 hours to complete a painting inspired by one of Kalispell artist Clarence Rundell’s regional landscape paintings. The time limit is a nod to how fast Rundell would have worked. Posters displaying QR codes at each artist’s painting location allowed people to place bids on the artwork. By August 29, the combined bid for the 10 paintings had reached $4,711. Art auctions close at 7:30 p.m. on September 9.
The fundraiser was organized by the Kalispell Downtown Association and the KALICO Art Center. Participating artists include Tessa Heck, Alyssa Shaw, Gen Delorme, Haakon Ensign, Kenneth Yarus, Kerry Broughton, Susan Guthrie, Madison Apple, Tanya Lambrecht and Marshall Noice. Each performer was stationed at a different location downtown, including Alchemy Lounge, Bias Brewing, Brannigan’s Irish Pub, the KALICO parking lot, MontaVino Winery, Nature Baby Outfitters, Wheat Montana, Sweet Peaks Ice Cream, and the SunRift Beer Company brewery.
Rundell’s name is one that has seen a resurgence in recent months. A painter who lived in the Flathead Valley for decades, Rundell died in 1984 at Columbia Falls Veterans Home. Among his surviving works in the city are a series of murals depicting scenes from Glacier National Park. The murals were painted directly on plaster in what is now the Rocky Mountain Outfitter Building, but was once the Eagle Shoe Store in Kalispell.
The paintings are 86 years old and are based on photographs by Great Northern Railroad photographer TJ Hileman. Rundell’s murals at Rocky Mountain Outfitter include Lake McDonald, Upper Two Medicine Lake, Josephine Lake, Upper St. Mary Lake, Scarface Point, Janet Lake, Trick Falls, and Upper Kintla Lake.
Bruce Guthrie, a sales associate at Rocky Mountain Outfitter, was looking for ways to draw attention to the murals, which customers typically miss when browsing the store’s outdoor gear and supply offerings. Eventually he came up with the idea of creating postcards that the store could sell and also use to give a little more recognition to the work. The postcards hit shelves last March and they’ve been effective conversation starters. Guthrie said that eventually the idea came to having 10 artists do a version of what Rundell himself had done. Guthrie pitched the idea to KALICO executive director Jemina Watstein, who helped secure a Montana Arts Council grant, and Kalispell Downtown Association executive director Pam Carbonari.
“You can take out 10 artists and have them do something in a day, but you associate him with the origin of this, this guy in 1936 at 30 came and did this, and 86 years later it inspires this event, it’s a fun thing. It’s kind of neat to get to know your city,” Guthrie said.
Part of Rundell’s story that inspired the challenge and caught the attention of locals involves how he painted each of the RMO scenes in a day.
“I think it kind of invited people into all of the businesses,” RMO owner Jandy Cox said. “And you can go BS with Marshall, or go up and meet Ken Yarus. They are all delicious.
Taking a break from his Heaven’s Peak oil painting outside of Sweet Peaks, artist and Montana Modern Fine Art gallery owner Marshall Noice said a lot of people stopped by, many of them being curious about the easel he uses for his oils, which is a glass slate placed on a table. Noice said he used the same piece of glass year-round, then changed to a new one every year on January 31, his birthday.
“I wanted to paint a picture that was somewhat similar to the originals,” Noice said, adding that Heaven’s Peak is a familiar landscape to him because of the 13 summers he spent teaching Glacier workshops for the Glacier Institute. He said he usually paints more abstract works, but the departure from his normal approach was nice.
“It’s fun for me to paint something that a lot of people looking at the painting will be able to recognize and see if my interpretation is close to their memory of that place.”
Noice, Delorme and other performers were all visited on Saturday by a group of Clarence Rundell’s family and loved ones, including former Kalispell mayor Doug Rauthe.
“They were telling me how he would give them paintings for birthdays and anniversaries and things like that,” Delorme said. “Their memories of him are works of art. It’s super cool. I want to be remembered like this, with people who have my artwork.
Rundell was Rauthe’s great-uncle, and the former mayor says he has fond memories of the man behind the artwork, who he says was close to his mother who was Rundell’s niece . Rauthe said Rundell was always generous in allowing the children of the family to watch him paint in his apartment, often making them a glass of Kool-Aid to sip on while they watched. He frequently came to Rauthe’s for dinner, often showing up before dinner to say hello. When Rauthe’s mother asked him to stay, the typical response was “Well, I’m not hungry but I’ll eat so I don’t get any.”
Some family members traveled from Olympia, Washington to attend the Art Challenge, but most of the surviving Rundell relatives who participated continue to live in the Flathead Valley. Rundell’s descendants continue to own paintings he left to the family, and Rauthe said the work was considered a “treasure” to his loved ones.
“It was awesome, it was such an honor for him. I just wish he was alive when it happened,” Rauthe said upon seeing the art challenge inspired by his relative.
“It was the thrill of a lifetime for all of us, great-nieces and nephews, as well as my wife. She knew him for about 15 years before he passed away,” Rauthe said. “We’ve always admired his ability to take scenes we knew and bring them to life.”