The Downtown Art Challenge brings the legacy of Clarence Rundell to the streets of Kalispell

Late on Saturday afternoon, General Delorme moved to rue Witt Montana so that he could continue painting without the interruption of the rain. It was just one of several adjustments Delorme made during the day in his normal process.

For starters, she drew faster than usual. The trees she had painted along the shores of Flathead Lake, and the fine detail they required, might normally have taken her a day, but Delorme didn’t have a day. As a participant in the Downtown Kalispell Art Challenge, she only had 10 hours.

The art challenge drew 10 local artists who were located around downtown Kalispell and given 10 hours to complete a painting inspired by one of Kalispell artist Clarence Rundell’s paintings of regional landscapes. The time limit is indicative of the speed with which Rundell is said to have worked. Posters displaying QR codes at each artist’s painting location allowed people to bid on the work. As of August 29, the combined bids for the 10 paintings reached $4,711. Art bidding closes at 7:30pm on September 9th.

The fundraiser was hosted by the Kalispell Downtown Association and the KALICO Art Center. Participating artists include Tessa Heck, Alyssa Shaw, Gene Delorme, Haakon Ensign, Kenneth Yarus, Kerry Broughton, Susan Guthrie, Madison Apple, Tanya Lambrecht and Marshall Noyce. Each artist was located 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 SunRift Beer Company.

Rundell’s name has been making a resurgence in recent months. An artist who lived in the Flathead Valley for decades, Rundell died in 1984 at the Veterans Home in Columbia Falls. Among his works that remain around the city are a series of murals depicting scenes in Glacier National Park. The murals were painted directly onto the stucco in what is now the Rocky Mountain Outfitter building, but was formerly the Eagle Shoe Store in Kalispell.

The paintings are 86 years old and based on photographs by Great Northern Railroad photographer TJ Hileman. Rundell’s murals at Rocky Mountain Outfitter include Lake McDonald, Upper Two Medicine Lake, Lake Josephine, Upper St. Mary Lake, Scarface Point, Janet Lake, Trick Falls and Upper Kintla Lake.

Glacier National Park murals painted on the walls in 1936 by artist Clarence Rundell still adorn the Rocky Mountain Outfitter in Kalispell on February 25, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flat Head Beacon

Bruce Guthrie, a sales associate at Rocky Mountain Outfitter, wondered how to draw attention to the murals that customers typically missed while browsing the store’s outdoor equipment and supplies offerings. Eventually, he came up with the idea of ​​creating postcards for the store to sell and also use to give the artwork a little more recognition. The postcards hit the market around last March and were an effective conversation starter. Guthrie said the idea eventually came up for 10 artists to do some version of what Rundell himself had done. Guthrie brought the idea to KALICO Executive Director Jemina Watstein, who helped secure a grant from the Montana Arts Council, and Kalispell Downtown Association Executive Director Pam Carbonari.

“You can broadcast 10 artists and have them do something in one day, but you relate it to where it came from, this guy in 1936 at 30 years old went in and did this and 86 years later it inspired this event, it’s something that’s fun. It’s good to know about your city,” Guthrie said.

Part of Rundell’s story that inspired the challenge and caught the attention of locals involved how he painted each of the RMO scenes in one day.

“I think it kind of invited people to all the businesses,” RMO owner Jandi Cox said. “And you can go BS with Marshall or go and meet Ken Yarus. They are all delightful.”

During a break from his Heaven’s Peak oil painting outside Sweet Peaks, Montana artist and modern fine art gallery owner Marshall Noyce said many people stopped by, many curious about the easel he uses for his oils , which is a glass plate on a table. Noice said he uses the same piece of glass all year and then switches to a new one each year on Jan. 31, which is his birthday.

“I wanted to paint a picture that was somewhat similar to the originals,” Noyce said, adding that Heaven’s Peak is a familiar landscape to him because of the 13 summers he spent doing workshops in Glacier for the Glacier Institute. He said he usually paints more abstract pieces, but the departure from his normal approach was nice.

“It’s fun for me to paint something that a lot of people who will look 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 artists were visited Saturday by a group of family and relatives of Clarence Rundell, including former Kalispell Mayor Doug Rout.

“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 a work of art. This is super cool. That’s how I want to be remembered, by the people who have my artwork.

Rundel was Raute’s great-uncle, and the former mayor says he has fond memories of the man behind the piece, who he says was close to his mother, who is Rundel’s niece. Raute said Rundell was always generous in letting the children in the family watch him paint in his apartment, often preparing a cup of Kool-Aid for them to drink from while they watched. He often came to Raute’s house for dinner, often showing up before dinner to say hello. When Raute’s mother begged him to stay, the typical response was “Well, I’m not hungry, but I’ll eat so it doesn’t happen.”

Some of the family traveled from Olympia, Washington, to see the art challenge, but most of Rundell’s surviving relatives who attended continue to live in the Flathead Valley. Rundell’s descendants continue to own his paintings, which he left to the family, and Raut said the work is considered a “treasure” to his relatives.

“It was great, it was a great honor for him. I just wish he was alive when this happened,” Raute said when he saw the artistic challenge inspired by his relative.

“It was the thrill of a lifetime for all of us, the great nephews as well as my wife. She had known him for about 15 years before she passed away,” Raute said. “We’ve always admired his ability to take familiar scenes and bring them to life.”

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