As its final act before disbanding, an organization that helps fund restoration projects at the Montana State Capitol building presented its annual holiday ornament celebrating the People's House Tuesday afternoon.
This year's ornament was created in remembrance of artist Bob Morgan. It features Morgan's painting "A Capitol Winter," which depicts the state Capitol building in the snow.
Former First Lady Betty Babcock served as the first president of the Capitol Restoration Foundation, which was formed in 1996 to raise public support and funds for restoration projects at the Capitol building and is now disbanding due to dwindling membership. The group has helped pay for stenciling and lighting in the Rotunda, etched globes and handrails in the grand staircase, and exterior granite benches, among other items.
This is the 12th year the Capitol Restoration Foundation will sell an ornament to raise money for restoration projects.
Shirley Herrin, a board member, said she was happy the final ornament honors Morgan, who died in 2015. Morgan lived in Helena and was known for his paintings of historic downtown.
Morgan was a founding member of the Helena Arts Council and helped start the Holter Museum of Art. He was a curator at the Montana Historical Society and worked on its behalf for decades. He created nearly 3,000 pieces of art, including one well-known piece depicting holiday shoppers on a snowy night along Last Chance Gulch, and another winter scene outside Hap's bar called “Where the Elite meet.”
Members of the Morgan family and Gen, Bob’s high school sweetheart, were at the presentation on Tuesday.
Gen made the crowd in the Capitol Rotunda laugh when she was given an ornament and said she had already seen it, because she purchased one.
“I’m so moved by all the kind words,” she said. “He was a good man and I miss him so much.”
The Morgans were joined by Gov. Steve Bullock and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. Bullock, who has a Morgan painting in his home, said he grew up close to the Capitol building and Morgan’s paintings remind him of what Helena was like then and what it is now.
Cooney, who has served as the interim director of the Montana Historical Society, said he’d known Morgan for years and had the artist's paintings in both his home and office. Cooney was the secretary of state when the foundation was created, and when the group was planning one of its first events, Morgan had a logo ready before he was asked to design one.
Cooney said he remembered how important it was to Morgan that a new Montana Historical Society museum was built and donated to make it a reality.
“I’m sorry to this day he won’t be there to see it,” Cooney said, adding the work to fund a new museum is an ongoing effort.
This year, the Capitol Restoration Foundation ordered 1,000 ornaments instead of the 500 it usually orders.
“We know practically everyone in Helena has a Bob Morgan print in their house,” Herrin said.
Ornaments are for sale at the Montana Historical Society and Leslie’s Hallmark for $25. Proceeds will be put into an account for restoration projects at the Capitol.