During February’s First Friday ArtWalk, galleries still echoed with opinions about Gallery Blue’s November closing: What’s the long-term impact to the overall arts scene? Where will Blue’s artists relocate? Will a new gallery fill the space?
Meanwhile, just a few blocks away from the heart of downtown, a new gallery—doubling as a crafts and “wearable art” store—was quietly opening its doors for the first time.
“We opened at 5 that night, passed out a few flyers and waited to see what would happen,” says Judy Hartz, owner and “co-conspirator” of Whooping Crones Gallery at 508 E. Broadway. “We didn’t know what to expect, but the people came and they stayed and most of the night the gallery was full.”
Hartz opened Whooping Crones with Cheri Govertsen Greer, an artist who previously displayed her paintings at The Artist’s Shop. Greer manages the gallery side of the new operation, which currently features seven fine artists in addition to the mostly Montana-made crafts. Hartz and Greer were in the process of renovating their gallery space and signing new artists—contracts require exclusivity for work sold in Missoula—when Gallery Blue’s closing was announced.
“We were shocked,” says Hartz. “I think we can fill a little of the void, but Gallery Blue was an institution. As a gallery, I think we’re more of a unique setup because it’s a relatively small space and we have to be selective about what we show…I guess you could say we purposely decided to try to not be a ‘stuffy gallery.’”
Not stuffy, indeed: Landscape paintings by Helena’s Carol Novotne, for instance, are hung adjacent to cabinets displaying tied-fly candles.
“We want people to feel comfortable here,” says Hartz, who admits Whooping Crones’ name was lifted with permission from a group of “wise” and “creative” women who meet regularly in the Women’s Club hot tub.
“It’s a gathering place. You can sit and look and visit and you don’t even have to buy anything—it’d be nice occasionally, but we want it to be about more than that.”