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Two Eagle photographers exhibit work at museum

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MISSOULA – The Missoula Art Museum opened an exhibit with the photographic work of 14 current and former Two Eagle River School students on Friday.

At the museum, three floors are filled with paintings, sculptures, and other mixed media work. Contemporary giant Robert Rauschenberg’s piece is on the top floor. 

Down the stairs and to the right, the students’ work hangs in a row on both sides of a long hallway. The work is focused on a collaborative theme around the city life of New York with buildings, people, concrete, and a bit of nature. 

Teacher and photographer David Spear took the students to New York on a photography field trip in 2016 for what he calls “the trip of a lifetime.” In addition to taking photos, students visited the International Center of Photography, the New York Times and several iconic landmarks. The Missoula exhibit opened with a short film portraying the trip. 

John Calsbeek, the museum’s associate curator, said that he was excited about the project. Museum officials often bring in work from artists in high schools around Missoula, but they decided to venture further out and display the work of students in Pablo after Spear introduced them to the project. Spear had his own show at the museum in 2010. 

“We give young artists a professional show to encourage them to further their work,” Calsbeek said.

Before it was time to talk to an audience of people at the exhibit opening, photographers Lee Atwin and Nina Leone Hernandez found a spot to sit and calm their nerves. Lee said it has been great to have a diverse amount of people from New York to Montana look at his work.  The students displayed photos at the People’s Center in Pablo and set up another exhibit of their work in New York when they were there. 

At 7 p.m., the photographers stood together in front of a crowd in a packed room next to their photographs. Spear introduced the students saying he felt a sense of déjà vu earlier that day. He said eighteen months ago he picked up the same students at their homes on the same route to get to the airport to go to New York. 

The week-long trip almost didn’t happen, but at the last minute, enough funding was procured from donations including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Spear said he once lived in New York and was amazed at the different perspectives students brought to the city. He never realized that New York does have a touch of nature in some locations and several students sought it out and focused on it. The students photographed the city using many rolls of film. 

Esperanza Orozco-Charlo told the crowd at the exhibit that she enjoyed the trip to New York, but one scary moment stuck in her mind. She said she sat down to rest against a wall after walking and walking through the city with her camera when suddenly a friend yelled at her to get up. 

She looked behind her and saw something she never figured she would see. “It was a rat,” she said. She jumped to her feet. She was too stunned to get the fuzzy creature’s photo. She finished the story by saying: “A guy on the street looked at me and said: ‘Welcome to New York.’”

She also said that many people were confused when the students told them that they were from a reservation in Montana. “They didn’t know what a reservation was,” she said. She added that people were interested as she explained the details. 

Spear said earlier during the introduction that he thinks the project will “fuel the way the reservation is seen” in a positive way as the students share their work. The photographers decided to honor where they are from and call their project “Rez Made.”  

Mars Sandoval said his fondest memory happened after he dumped his Pepsi several times before ordering dinner, and for some reason, it occurred to him that New York was known for good steaks. He ordered one and found it to be delicious and perfect. He took a photo to send to his father. 

Xavier Smith said it was easy to get lost in New York. His group spent an hour wandering around looking for their hotel with their adult chaperone. “We ended up in Central Park,” he said.

Spear said Nina Leone Hernandez noticed the homeless population in the city and it bothered her so much that she slipped a few dollars under several homeless people as they slept. “She has quite a big heart,” he said.

Spear wrapped up the introduction by saying that the photographers are accomplished artists with shows in New York, Pablo and Missoula, and he asked them to keep moving forward in their lives with more accomplishments. He hopes to take more students to New York every couple of years if he can figure out how to fund the trip. 

This year’s show will be open until Dec. 31. Photographers featured in the exhibit include: Mars Sandoval, Xavier Smith, Taelyn Lafley, Nina Leone Hernandez, Whisper Michel, Jenna Mullaney, Nikki Burke, Bailey Wippert, Lee Atwin, Michelle Tomma, Shawncee Brave Rock, Esperanza Orozco-Charlo, Alexia Parizeau and Tristan George.

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