Modernism in Big Sky Country
Isabelle Johnson, “Calves, Winter” (1950), oil on canvas board, 15.5 x 19.5 inches (all images courtesy Michelle Corriel)
Montana Modernists: Shifting Perceptions of Western Art (2022, Washington State University Press) by Michelle Corriel is an art history book focused on the careers and work of a group of six post-World War II artists who called Montana home and brought Abstract Expressionist influences from major US metropolitan areas and modern European movements (particularly Post-Impressionism, Cubism, and Bauhaus) to a state that had almost no market for the avant-garde. Their goals were not to achieve commercial success but to experiment with, teach, and spread an appreciation of Modernist art to their communities.
“Place,” the first of three sections, explores the work and creative relationship of Montana natives and ranchers Bill Stockton (1921–2002) and Isabelle Johnson (1901–1992). The second, “Teaching/Artistic Lineage” delves into the teachers who influenced the Montana Modernists, then focuses on the pedagogical approaches and legacy of companions in life and work, Frances Senska (1914–2009) and Jessie Spaulding Wilber (1912–1989).