The seasonal landscape of artist B. Martinez 

B. Martinez, aka Missoula artist Tabitha Beard, has got to be one of the hardest-working artists in town. She has an opening show somewhere most First Fridays of the year. For instance, in September she exhibited at Upcycle and in October she will have work up at Draught Works. She also maintains a booth all summer at the People's Market. Beard is a full-time artist, which can be challenging when it comes to making ends meet.

"Art money doesn't come in like other money comes in," Beard says. "Sometimes the pay is a week out, sometimes it's a month or two out. So I have an idea for how I do it [make a living], which seems to be working so far."

Beard, who works in reclaimed and recycled materials, starts doing First Fridays in August, usually through December. "Then I'll hopefully get into the two Made Fairs," Beard says. "Those three days will wipe me out [of inventory] for December. Then I like to pick up First Fridays again after January, but January is when I start up my teaching months with the school district and the Sparks grant."

The Sparks grant is part of a program, now in its third year, that was awarded to the Missoula school district via the Kennedy Arts Foundation. Missoula was one of 16 districts in the country—and the smallest—to receive the grant. As part of its overall arts program, the grant provides pay for artists from the community to come into schools to teach and integrate art into curriculum standards, ensuring equal access to significant arts programs to all students.

"I love it," Beard says. "I get to collaborate with teachers and what their school's specific needs are to combine what I do with the best parts of science, math, writing—everything. I like to teach that there's a language to visual art. The world around us is made of shapes. Shapes tell stories, shapes tell what we're thinking or feeling. You can put those shapes together and create something."

click to enlarge B. Martinez works in reclaimed and recycled material. - PHOTO BY CHRIS LA TRAY
  • photo by Chris La Tray
  • B. Martinez works in reclaimed and recycled material.

Beard holds creative writing and English literature degrees. She intended to be a writer, but storytelling through visual art became her calling.

"If you think about it historically, language—written language—its first forms were visual art," Beard says. "So when I am thinking about an upcoming show, I often use that background to come up with a title and to tell a story."

Beard's materials come from frequent prospecting trips to Home ReSource, random alley finds, friends donating scraps from remodeling projects, or even random encounters on frequent driving trips she makes around the area.

"There's a bunch of wood piled up along the fence line out on Roller Coaster Road that I've been eyeballing for a while," Beard says. "If I see a live person out there on the right day I might stop and say, 'Hey, can I poke around in some of this?'"

Mostly, Beard finds herself painting on pieces of reclaimed wood. She leans heavily on images of the outdoors: river scenes, bicycles and landmarks around the Missoula area abound. Now and then something entirely different will pop up—a more speculative image, for example—that surprises people most familiar with her work, and they suggest her work is changing. It's an evolution Beard doesn't necessarily see in herself.

"I feel like I'm still doing the same thing I've always done," Beard says. "But I'm so deep in the process of making a mess and the materials that I don't even notice."

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