Exhibits & Outreach » Current Gallery Exhibits

Current Exhibits

These Noble Brutes: Engravings of the American Bison, 1749-1909

March 15-June 4, 2016

Explore the natural history of the bison, its centrality to Native American tribes, and its dramatic decline through vintage historic engravings (printed between 1749 and 1909), historic images and text. The exhibit is supplemented with artifacts from the WHC Collection.


History on Canvas: J.K. Ralston

March 15-September 1,2016

James Kenneth (J.K.) Ralston (1896-1987) was a noted western artist who lived in Billings for many years. This exhibit features original paintings and bronzes, including some never-before displayed early pieces from the WHC archive.





Speaking of Immigration: Voices of a Modern Migration 

Through May 12, 2016

Welcome to a bold experience in project based learning.

Beginning in January of 2015, two classes of students from West High learned about video production, interviewing techniques, exhibit building, research skills and much more. To facilitate this process, the Community Storytelling Partnership was formed. Joining the Western Heritage Center were MontanaPBS, Billings Public Schools and the Billings Public Library. The partners share an interest in providing students with experiences that build lifelong skills.

In this year’s project, the students studied immigration, through the voices of contemporary individuals. Throughout the process, the students collaborated in researching, writing, and problem solving, while gaining an understanding of the immigrant perspective. As they built this exhibit they also built their critical thinking and conflict management skills.

The Community Storytelling Partnership provided the tools, the training, and some guidance, but this is an exhibit from the students of Bruce Wendt’s and Kim Webber’s West High classes. Thank you, students, for your tremendous efforts! We couldn’t be prouder.




Echoes of Eastern Montana: Stories from an Open Country
Through December 19, 2016

This interactive exhibit will share stories of the people of the Yellowstone River Valley and Northern High Plains. Visitors can watch interviews, listen to amazing stories, read personal diaries, peruse family photo albums, copy favorite recipes, learn new Crow and Northern Cheyenne words, play interactive games, and hear local music.

People in communities as diverse as Wibaux, Colstrip, Laurel, Hardin, Forsyth, Harlowton and Billings tell compelling stories of sacrifice and struggle and offer lessons about leadership, home, and family. Come laugh at outrageous tales and discover the changing world of Eastern Montana.


Billings: The Railroads Shape our Town

Billings Montana is a railroad town. Since its inception in 1882, the history and share pf the town have been influenced by the railroads. Throughout Billings is evidence of the railroad's impact in planning, designing, and promoting of the settlement of the region. This short film illustrates how we can still see the impact of the railroad in Billings.



Dude Ranch Lobby


The museum’s lower gallery has been made over to replicate the lobby of a 1930s dude ranch lodge.  Rustic western furniture, inspired by the designs of Thomas Molesworth, and a stone fireplace, provide the ideal setting to display paintings by James Kenneth Ralston, a regional artist inspired by the great stories of the West.


J.K. Ralston: History on Canvas

James Kenneth (J.K.) Ralston (1896-1987) was a noted western artist who lived in Billings for many years.  In 1946, Ralston and his son built a log cabin to serve as the artist’s studio.  In 2005, the cabin was moved to the Western Heritage Center and the cabin’s interior was restored to reflect his working environment.  Ralston’s oil paintings and sketchbooks include scenes depicting his early years growing up on ranches and riding the range in Montana.  He relied on family heirlooms and collected artifacts to help him create accurate depictions of famous western events.  The Western Heritage Center merged with the J.K. Ralston Studio and now houses a significant repository of the famed artist’s letters, memorabilia and artwork. 

In Voice of the Curlew (J.K. Ralston Studio, Inc.:1986) Ralston is quoted as saying: 
"In looking back over the years, I must say the art game has been good to me.  It has been rewarding far beyond anything I ever dreamed of as a small boy living on ranch along the Missouri River.  Art was always the way I found to express myself and of the things that have meant so much to me and to my people."

I’m glad that the dice was so rolled out that to be a cowboy I was born.  I saw the curtain rung down on the last of the old time range business in Montana.  Like a lot of others, I hated to see it go.  Now it is history and I am very, very glad that I lived in time and to see and be part of it.  

I have been drawing pictures as far back as I can remember and I have made it my life’s work to try and make the old west live on canvas."

Photo: Billings Mayor Willard Fraser confers with James Kenneth Ralston in Ralston’s studio cabin, 1960s.  The cabin is now located on the grounds of the Western Heritage Center.

American Indian Tribal Histories Project

The permanent American Indian Tribal Histories Project Exhibit provides visitors with an overview of Montana’s Native American tribes through maps, tribal flags and an explanation of their symbols, Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribal member oral histories and a chronology of the American Indian Tribal Histories Project, whose mission is to preserve and maintain American Indian tribal histories and culture.