Montana Ghost Towns: The Photography of Denes G. Istvanffy
Through April 30, 2015
By age sixteen, Denes G. Istvanffy was an award winning photographer in his native country, Hungary. In 1948, he immigrated to the United States and eventually settled in Billings, Montana. He was passionate about Montana ghost towns and mining camps and began photographing them in 1957. He was particularly drawn to nineteenth century mining towns, such as Bannack, Virginia City, Elkhorn, Marysville, and Garnet. Under a license from the Montana Centennial Commission in 1989, Istvanffy choose 30 images from his collection of nearly 1,000 to create this traveling exhibit. For Istvanffy, the photographic possibilities were endless and the images of mining in Montana were fairly recent and close to hand.
Who Are You, Who Are We?
Through April 30, 2015
Beginning in January of 2014, a class 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 the events leading up to the formation of the Not in Our Town movement. They learned about the historical events of 1992-1994 and interviewed the local leaders involved. Throughout the process, the students collaborated in researching, writing, and problem solving, while gaining an understanding that everyone sees the story from their own 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 West High class. We couldn't be more proud.
Secret Life of Artifacts: Native American Design
Through December 19, 2015
American Indian tribes developed clothing and belongings unique for a life of hunting in the Northern Plains. Even though the items were made for mobility, they were rendered with colorful cultural and individualized colors, shapes, and meanings. This wonderful display of traditional beadwork, paintings, and objects highlight the finest of the Western Heritage Center’s collections.
Echoes of Eastern Montana: Stories from an Open Country
Through December 19, 2015
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 promiting the settlement of the region. This exhibit and short film illustrate 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.