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Missoula Montana offers more than just world-class trout fishing and stunning mountain vistas.

Surrounded by jaw-dropping mountains and trout-filled streams it’s easy to assume that nothing in Missoula can top that. With its rugged Wild West history and unforgiving terrain, one may think that such a place lacks culture and sophistication.

And one couldn’t be more wrong. From gorgeous Native artworks to thought-provoking modern exhibits, Missoula’s art scene has never been more dynamic.

Art installation at Missoula Museum of Art and Culture
Browsing artworks at Missoula Museum of Art and Culture

Missoula Art Museum

Missoula Art Museum (or MAM) now resides in what was once Missoula’s first Carnegie library. Embracing the past and present, it beautifully melds original brickwork from 1903 with contemporary additions of glass and steel.

With a mission to showcase as many indigenous artists and regional talents as possible, MAM’s eight exhibition galleries display an eclectic and diverse collection.

Ken Little installation at Missoula Art Museum
Ken Little’s Trophy Room at Missoula Art Museum (MAM)

Such as the fun and colorful Trophy Room exhibit by Ken Little. Fashioned from mix-matched leather clothing and other discarded pieces, Little’s taxidermied “beasts” bring vibrancy to an otherwise somber art form. This exhibit remains on display until December 28th.

Montana Museum of Art and Culture

Over 11,000 historic works of fine art comprise the permanent collection of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture. Within this collection reside pieces by Donatello, Rembrandt, Picasso, Dali, as well as several ancient native and Asian textiles.

While small, the museum’s goal remains to not only be a resource for the college but for Montana and beyond.

Contemplating art at Missoula Museum of Art and Culture
Pondering the “Ratljóst”, the Icelandic word meaning “sufficient light to find one’s way”, while admiring UM Professor Matthew Hamon’s award-winning photography.

On exhibit now through December 14th, visitors can enjoy the chronological works of Montana modernist Jack Franjevic. A professor of art at the College of Great Falls, he devoted himself to teaching and a lifetime of learning. This lack of self-promotion led to the name Franjevic being virtually unknown beyond Great Falls.

In his 30 years as an art teacher, he mastered a wide range of styles found in 20th-century modernism. Browsing through his three dozen paintings from his family’s private collection, look for Franjevic’s interpretations of realism, abstract distortion in perspective, impressionism, cubism, German expressionism, and pop art.

Jack Franjevic Painting at Missoula Museum of Art and Culture
Like many of his paintings, this painting titled Circus, 1947, hung on the wall in his child’s bedroom instead of in an exhibition.

Never exhibiting his works, most of his pieces found their way into the homes of family and friends. This exhibit consists of pieces on loan from Franjevic’s family, making this the largest collection of Franjevic pieces ever mounted.

The Residence Inn in Downtown Missoula

One of the last places you might expect to find an elegant blend of fine art and history is a chain hotel. But that’s exactly what you’ll find in downtown Missoula. Where once the old Missoula Mercantile stood now sits the swanky five-story Residence Inn by Marriott.

The bustling sounds of commerce, such as the ding of cash registers, play overhead as you enter into the Mews.

Once the historic Mercantile’s pharmacy, the marketplace now known as the Mews consists of a collection of restaurants and boutiques encompassing the lobby of the Residence Inn. Which only seems fitting considering the building’s origins.

Residence Inn art installation in downtown Missoula
An original art installation consisting of books based in Montana or written by Montana authors oversees one of many setting areas in the Mews and hotel lobby.

The Mercantile’s construction began in 1877 and was THE PLACE to shop in Missoula. Deep into the 1920s, one could find everything from groceries and home goods to horse-drawn wagons and plows.

In 1959, it changed to Allied Department Stores and then the Bon Marche in 1978. The building changed hands again in 2003 to become Bon-Macy’s only to finally become Macy’s a few years later before closing in 2010.

For seven years the building lay empty and abandoned before Marriot decided to take a chance on it.

Due to foundation deterioration and asbestos, nearly 80 percent of the original building needed demolition. Thanks to Home Resource of Missoula, a vast majority of the building endured through salvaging and recycling.

Salvaged brick at Residence Inn downtown Missoula
In an effort to salvage as much of the original building as possible, designers incorporated original material wherever they could. Bricks from the original Mercantile set the scene in the hotel lobby.

Near and dear to the heart of Missoulians, Marriott and the town came together to preserve this historic landmark. Thanks to the creative efforts of many, historic photographs from the archives of the University of Missoula, artifacts found within the old Mercantile, antique catalogs pages, gigantic safe doors and salvaged parts from the ancient elevator shafts adorn the walkways, meeting places, and rooms.

From authentic indigenous artifacts to contemporary political satire, Missoula’s art scene remains as vast and varied as the mountainous terrain enveloping the lively college town.

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Jessica Pickett

Gypsy mom, storyteller, and daydreamer extraordinaire, you can usually find me researching our next adventure. An explorer, lover of craft beers, and anything outside I'm at my happiest getting lost in a new city or hitting the trails with my family in tow.

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