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Mike Cooney/Rick Bass

Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, left, presents author Rick Bass with the Governor's Arts Award Friday afternoon at the state Capitol. Other artists who received the recognition are Monte Dolack, Jackie Pearsons, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Kevin Red Star and Annick Smith.

As a renowned visual artist of five decades, Kevin Red Star’s work has been exhibited in France, Belgium and Japan, to name a few.

Red Star’s paintings have been featured at the National Museum of the American Indian and the United States Embassy in Malawi among other art collections displayed far from Montana. But more vividly, Red Star, who grew up near Lodge Grass on the Crow Reservation, remembers the locations of his first exhibits. There, he drew pictures in his early years prior to joining the newly-minted Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico.

“I started out drawing in the sand, drawing on my mother’s friend’s living room walls,” Red Star said Friday with the Governor’s Arts Award hanging from his neck.

Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney presided over Friday’s ceremony at the Capitol, at which the Montana Arts Council presented six artists with the Governor’s Arts Award for their achievements in writing, visual arts and other media.

“We owe it to the ones that are coming to put in place things that’ll ensure that we’ll be here for another 10,000 years," said Arts Council member Corky Clairmont, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. "This is a long ride .... The arts have always guided us and taken us, in a good way, to tell us where we’re at, where we’ve been and kind of (help) us to move the next foot forward.”

Cooney thanked those that took part in the nomination process for the awards, which he held as affirmation of the state’s appreciation of the fine arts.

“As anyone knows who travels beyond our fine state, the arts in Montana are considered the gold standard,” Cooney said. “Just imagine for a minute the great collective of prize-winning writers, award-winning visual and performing artists, cultural bearers and traditional artists, and our musicians and orchestra leaders of international renown. All within our border.”

In addition to Red Star, the artists honored Friday were:

Rick Bass

Though a Houston native, Bass’s work as an author began in earnest with his relocation to the “place that’s full of things,” as he described Montana in a 2017 interview with Mountain Outlaw magazine.

Bass’s bibliography has surpassed 30 fictional and nonfictional works since he moved to the Yaak Valley in 1987. His 2008 book “Why I Came West” made him a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Formerly a petroleum geologist, Bass serves on the boards of the Yaak Valley Forest Council and Save the Yellowstone Grizzly.

“The last time I was in this building, I was in handcuffs,” Bass joked, referencing his 2012 arrest during a Capitol protest against the Otter Creek coal mine. “The folks then, as now, were courteous and supportive.”

 Monte Dolack

A Great Falls native, Dolack’s visual work has been exhibited around the globe, reaching even as far as the United Nations’ Palace of Nations in Geneva, and includes a 2014 poster commemorating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act.

“I chose to stay in Montana because of the nearness to nature and have also been able to carry out my dream of becoming an artist and communicating some of my observations to others,” Dolack said. “The influences of the dynamic tension between Montana’s diverse natural landscape and its collision with civilization, industry and development has been an important and continuing influence on my art and my artmaking.”

Dolack now resides in Missoula, where he first opened a studio in 1974.

Jaune Quick-To-See Smith

Smith, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, was born in St. Ignatius and raised on the Flathead Reservation, though she has long been a resident of New Mexico. Her work has been displayed worldwide, from New York to Vienna to the Missoula Art Museum, where she has donated nearly four dozen works.

“We, Salish Kootenai people, are a trading tribe, not merchants, not hoarders,” Smith said, “but sharing what’s available. I do that with my work and my time in the name of education. My tribe’s worldview has shaped my life and my art.”

Smith’s other awards include the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Visionary Woman Award from the Moore College of Art and Design and multiple honorary doctorates.

Jackie Parsons

Parsons’ repertoire spans beyond painting and writing to include pieces of beadwork and silversmithing, among other media. In 2007, she helped curate a Blackfeet Nation display as part of the rotating Smithsonian exhibit “Our Peoples: Giving Voice to Our Histories.”

“It doesn’t come around every year,” Parsons said of her award, “but it’s probably the greatest award that the state of Montana can give any person. I thank you from the bottom of my heart that I am a recipient.”

Parsons, whose Blackfeet name of Eck Skim Aue Kee translates to “Woman of Iron,” served as chairwoman of the Montana Arts Council for eight years through 2013.

Annick Smith

Originally a filmmaker, Smith’s career composing the written word has seen her printed in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times and the 1992 edition of the Best American Short Stories anthology. Her recent work includes the essay “Still the Last Best Place?” published in Montana Magazine and the Missoulian, which reflects on Montana’s evolution since the publication of the 1988 anthology “The Last Best Place,” which Smith co-edited.

Smith, the daughter of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, thanked the people of Montana in her parents’ native tongue with the ceremony’s final words.

“Kezét csókolom,” Smith said. “I kiss your hand.”

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