Steve Glueckert felt pretty uncomfortable having books like The White Man's Bible and Rahowa (translation: "racial holy wars") spread out on his dining room table. They weren't exactly the kind of titles he wanted people to notice the moment they walked through his door.
"It was hard letting people see that I had them," says Glueckert, an artist and the longtime curator at the Missoula Art Museum. "I think I could laugh about it now, but what's inside those books, it's kind of this mix of ignorance and misguided anger. There are passages that are pretty hurtful and hard to read."
Glueckert incorporated the white supremacist books into a sculpture he made for Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate, an exhibit that opens at the Montana Museum of Art & Culture (MMAC) on Jan. 7 and features work by several local and national artists. For his piece, Glueckert used books by white supremacist leader Ben Klassen of the World Church of the Creator as a platform for a larger commentary on race, incorporating multi-colored rats caged and in a literal race for dominance.
"After reading the books, which are poorly written," he says, "I decided that one of the things about the World Church of the Creator is that they portray these situations where the white race is the victim of everything. Using a falsehood to scare people is something that's rooted in all of this literature."
Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate stemmed from an incident in 2004 when the Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN) received a call from a defecting member of the World Church of the Creator (now called the Creativity Movement). The former member supplied MHRN a key to the group's storage unit on the outskirts of Superior, Mont., where the members often met.
"They didn't know if it was a setup or if there was going to be a bomb or what was going on," says Brandon Reintjes, art curator for the MMAC. "They got the keys and went to this deserted storage locker. They had no idea what was going to happen when they opened the door. But there they were, 4,000-plus volumes of this incredibly seditious and terrible material. You can't even read it it's so devastating."
In fact, the storage locker contained thousands of copies of 13 different white supremacy propaganda titles. The MHRN directors at the time, Christine Kaufmann and Ken Toole, took the books and distributed them to various research libraries and to organizations that monitor these groups. But 3,500 books still remained. Tim Holmes, a Helena-based artist, used some of the books for an art piece. When Katie Knight, the then-curator of education at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, saw Holmes' work, she organized a call to artists—juried and invitational—that eventually resulted in Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate. It first opened at the Holter in January 2008, and has been traveling the state over the past two years—through towns small and large, from Miles City to Sydney to Bozeman, among others.
"The Montana Human Rights Network did not want to destroy the books," says Knight. "They also didn't want them occupying every nook and cranny of their crowded offices, so that's where the concept for this show is really brilliant. All the books got used."
Missoula artist Lisa Jarrett used some of the books to create a cross-out poem and combined that with collage paper, graphite and transferred ink to produce three panels for the exhibit. She lifted actual text from books like The White Man's Bible and, keeping the sentences in order, crossed out particular words so that, by the process of omission, she created a positive message. But like many of the artists in the exhibit, Jarrett didn't want to completely erase the tone of the original subject matter.
"The things these books say," Jarrett says, "it breaks your heart. I wanted to expose viewers to that as well. As horrible as it is, I felt that it was an important component."
Knight says that the exhibit so far hasn't seen any negative reaction, even in areas where white supremacist groups continue to meet.
"I think it is true that these white supremacist groups are pretty much on the marginal fringe," she says. "But what they represent, of course, is a much larger threat, the kind of anti-immigrant scapegoating, the more institutionalized forms of racism."
Besides the exhibit at the MMAC, an installation by Missoula artist Dana Boussard and her family will show at the Mansfield Library. Titled "Hate Begins at Home," the piece features a house with walls and curtains made from the World Church of the Creator books. Inside the house, a projector will show a film Broussard created.
"It's a piece in which Dana is writing words from these books onto the beautiful body of her daughter," says Knight. "It's that idea of how what we pass onto our children can be very ugly. Or alternatively, balanced."
Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate opens at the Montana Museum of Art & Culture at UM's PARTV Center Thursday, Jan. 7, with a reception at 5 PM. Free.