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Montana artist focuses on unique elements from local towns

LAKE COUNTY – Three towns in Lake County have been checked off an artist’s list of places to paint in Montana.

Laura Blaker is determined to paint scenes from about 200 towns in the state in the next few years. She has finished the scenes for Polson, Ronan, St. Ignatius, and several more. 

The idea for the project started during a road trip she took on her way to a painting workshop. “I noticed that every small town has something unique about it,” she said. 

She decided to capture the “essence” of each town with a focus on Main Street, which is why she is calling the project “Main Street Montana,” not to be confused with the state’s project. 

She started her Main Street project on a limited budget in the summer of 2017 in her hometown of Missoula. As a single mom without any outside funding for the project, she wanted to make sure people liked the idea before she devoted resources and a few years of her life to it. 

“I put the first painting of Missoula up on Facebook and people loved it, so I decided to keep going,” she said.

Before she starts a painting, she visits each town and takes a photo. She said in Montana, where the weather can be unpredictable, getting the perfect lighting conditions has sometimes been a challenge. She visited Kalispell three times waiting for the cloud cover to move out to get the bright colors she wanted. 

When she visited Lake County, she was mesmerized by the beauty of the snow-capped Mission Mountains, and saw them as an important local element, so she added them to each of the three paintings. 

In Polson, she found a spot showing the mountains, the town and Flathead Lake, which is located along U.S. Highway 93. 

“I know it’s not Main Street, but I wanted to include the lake,” she said. “It’s an important part of that town.”

In Ronan, the focal point of the painting is the wooden arch over Main Street with the mountains in the background. The town’s name rests at the center of the arch in carved wooden letters. “I was really struck by that sign and how it frames the mountains,” she said. 

In St. Ignatius, she found another iconic Main Street.

“I know the Mission (church) is an important part of that town, but I really wanted to use the Main Street,” she said. “I found a street that has a view of the Garden Wall (portion of the mountains) and several businesses.” 

She said people have looked at the St. Ignatius painting and followed the street almost to the end and noticed the side of an iconic business known as The Malt Shop. “They say ‘I’ve been to that shop.’” She said people really feel a connection to the paintings when they recognize places they’ve been. 

After she photographs a town, Blaker heads back to her studio in Missoula and begins building several layers on canvas to support the bright colors that develop a town. She uses a palette knife to build up acrylic paint strokes on the canvas, creating a sense of movement as if a light breeze might have rolled through. 

Blaker started painting about 25 years ago when she volunteered with the Missoula Children’s Theater to paint set backgrounds. She discovered that she really enjoyed painting, and she went on to develop her skills with mural paintings. Murals would be too large for the Main Street project, so she decided to work with a 10 by 20 inch canvas for each street painting.  

She is selling the original paintings of each town for $500 and prints for about $150 to support the project. The original paintings are at the ROAM Gallery in Missoula. The collection is also displayed digitally at www. MainStreetMontanaArt.com.

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