A longtime passion for Montana and its landscapes inspires Helena artist Kathryn “Kathy” Fehlig’s art.
An exhibit of 16 of her current pastel and acrylic works is on display at the Holter Museum of Art through August.
Fehlig, who has deep family roots in Helena, was one of those artists who it turns out is “a natural.” Her love of art and her artistic gifts first emerged in kindergarten, which is when she remembers first getting praised for her artwork.
“You drew remarkable things,” her mother told her years later.
Fehlig, a Helena native, left Montana when she was 10, when her father relocated the family to St. Louis. But Fehlig admits she couldn’t wait to move back, which she did in 1968.
It was in fifth grade, that “I first realized I had talent,” she said during a recent interview at her home studio. Her teacher that year was trained in art and was enthusiastic about Fehlig’s work.
Even though there were no artists in Fehlig’s family, friends and some family members encouraged her to go on for an art degree. She earned a Bachelor of Arts at St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, in 1966 and a scholarship to Ball State University, where she studied toward a master’s degree in art in 1967. She later attended the University of Wisconsin-adison to earn certification in art education in 1968.
When Fehlig returned to Montana, she taught art at C.R. Anderson Middle School but later had a hard time finding a job using her art skills, she said. But she continued informally in art, meeting with a group of artists who would paint and draw together.
For nearly a decade, from the mid 1970s to 1987, while Fehlig owned, trained and showed Arabian horses, she did horse portraits in pastels. “I loved horses,” she said. “I always had one or two.”
But these days “mostly I do landscapes,” she said.
“I love Spring Meadow Lake,” said Fehlig of one of her favorite places to visit and capture in her art. Fehlig’s maternal grandfather, George Jacoby, owner of Helena Sand and Gravel back in 1929 actually created the lake when he started digging a gravel pit in an empty field and struck springs.
“Spring Meadow Lake is attractive because it has all the ingredients for great landscapes – water, trees, brush and mountains,” Fehlig said. Other favorite sites are Ten Mile Creek, the Missouri River and Nature Park.
Typically, she’s working in pastels. But these aren’t your grandma’s pastels.
For those who have visions of pale, washed out colors, think again.
Fehlig’s scenes are vibrant and bold.
She uses dry, rather than oil, pastels. “They are pure pigment – crystals of color,” she said. “If they are used right, they are very vivid.”
Self-taught in pastels, Fehlig had previously focused on oil painting in art school, she said.
When she started using pastels there weren’t many choices of materials. Now it’s become a very popular medium and there are a wide array of pastels and papers to choose from. “Now there are pastel societies all over the world,” she said.
For the past 10 years, Fehlig worked strictly in pastels, she said. “But recently, I started painting with a brush again and got into acrylics.” They’re ideal for use in her small home studio, where she needs to work in a more compact size. They also don’t have the chemical fumes that come with oil painting. Acrylic paints have come such a long way in recent years, she said, and now provide more flexibility than oil paints do.
“A fair-weather painter,” she often visits her favorite sites with a digital camera, capturing the lighting and moment that will later inspire her canvases.
“I always change the photos,” she said. “I enhance the colors or I change the scenery. Sometimes it’s so changed you wouldn’t recognize it.”
“I love color,” she added. “When I was in school at St. Mary’s they called me a colorist.”
And this year, this love of color inspired her to try her hand at abstract compositions – something she hasn’t done since art school.
A former member of the Upper Missouri River Gallery, Fehlig now shows and sells her works at Birds & Beasleys and at the Holter Museum of Art during her current show.
“I do my own framing,” she added. Framing of pastels is very specialized, so it best preserves their colors and unique qualities.
Since retiring as a graphic designer from the Montana Historical Society in 2003, Fehlig has run an independent graphic design business and has been focusing primarily on her landscape art.
A few of her recent honors include: selection as a Treasured Montana Artist by the Montana Secretary of State Linda McCullough, Helena Chamber of Commerce Artist of the Year, Best of Show in the Appalachian Pastel Society National Exhibition in Asheville, N.C., best of show in three Montana Interpretations shows in Butte and third place in the 2011 Art of the Plains juried show in Las Cruces, N.M.
For more information about her art, visit www.fehlig design.com.