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Helena on Display to Museums

They descended upon the town in two white vans, snapping photos and recording video. They marveled at stained-glass windows and period wall decor.

Board members from the Mountain-Plains Museums Association spent Friday touring various cultural landmarks in Helena in preparation for a regional museum conference in October expected to draw as many as 350 individuals from 10 states to Montana’s capital city, where they will infuse an estimated $160,000 into the local economy.

The Red Lion Colonial Hotel will serve as conference headquarters, but attendees will be bused around the community to visit historic and cultural sites. With the guidance of the Montana Historical Society, the MPMA members scouted out some of the options. Their agenda for the day included trips to the Capitol, Cathedral of St. Helena, Algeria Shrine Temple, Archie Bray Foundation, Holter Museum of Art, ExplorationWorks and Fort Harrison. They spent part of their morning touring the various amenities that make up the Montana Club, starting with the Rathskellar lounge in the basement — deemed a “man cave” by one member in the group — and moving up the stairs to peek into various other dining rooms and gathering spaces.

“I think it’s haunted,” said Mark Ryan of Fargo, N.D. “It’s got a spooky vibe to it.”

But despite the potential ghosts, he said Helena has a lot to offer. Monta Lee Dakin, executive director of the MPMA, seems to agree. She took a trip to the city after the local museum community urged her to check it out.

She said the conference, “Currents of Convergence: Making Connections in Big Sky Country,” is a way to showcase the state as well as the city. She knows of individuals who are planning to visit Yellowstone and Glacier or go hiking in nearby wilderness while they’re in town.

The board’s early trip to the town is a way to generate interest in the area, she said, with the members going back to their own cities and museums to “talk it up.”

The Mountain-Plains Museum Association represents Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. The fall conference will feature keynote speakers and presentations from people representing all those areas, as well as other parts of the country.

Anyone in Montana who works, volunteers or has an interest in museums or the arts can attend the event, scheduled for Oct. 17-21.

Reporter Allison Maier: 447-4075 or

Originally posted at The Helena Independent Record.

Curator’s Corner | October 2010

The world of the collections professional can be a dark and mysterious enterprise.  Ask virtually anyone what exactly a curator or a collections manager does for a living and responses are likely to involve musty basements, lab coats, valuable, long-lost antiques, and the occasional (and sadly inaccurate) Indiana Jones reference.

But for these oft-misunderstood (and at times maligned) museum servants, public exhibitions provide just the opportunity to change these perceptions.  In short, they directly connect a museum’s constituency to the material remnants of that community’s shared cultural heritage.  And it is in this vein that we examine the Historical Museum’s remarkably varied and far-flung recent exhibitions schedule in this edition of the Curator’s Corner.

Jason R. Bain, Curator of Collections,

HM@FM On The Move
Article by Jason R. Bain, Curator of Collections

The year 2010 has been unprecedented for collections staff at the Historical Museum. Never before has the Museum opened so many exhibitions in so many different venues in a single year. We are undoubtedly, and in many respects, a museum on the move. The 2010 exhibition schedule features displays as broadly divergent in scope and context as the blockbuster Fire Of 1910, selections of which have opened as far away as Seeley Lake and Murray, ID, and the far more literary Echoes Of The Maltese Falcon at the Missoula Public Library. Furthermore, public access to these outstanding shows has been greatly expanded through the launching of a new website and the Museum’s first foray into the world of social media. Continue reading

Eye On Exhibits

With the snow falling in the higher elevations, the leaves all but turned in color, and the temperatures plummeting wintertime has returned to the Missoula Valley with a vengeance. But the change in season means more than just frostbite and blisters acquired raking copious quantities of fallen leaves. It also means the time has come for the new annual holiday exhibit at the Historical Museum!

This year, the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula presents a one-of-a-kind, music-themed holiday exhibition entitled, Snowflake Sonata. The exhibition boasts the display of several loaned musical instruments, including: a guitar, xylophone, drums, harpsichord, recorder, accordion, and trombone, to name but a few. Drawing from the Museum’s permanent collections, the exhibition will also feature: musical Christmas ornaments, musical miniatures, figurines, sheet music, a rare photograph of the Italian ADC detainee orchestra, a roll-up music case, piano rolls for a player piano, a t-shirt from the International Chorale Festival, and much, much more!

Continue reading

Madame Mary Gleim's West Front Street Location

Curator’s Corner | September 2010

Enthusiasm is critical in museum work.  A true passion for our vocation and a genuine intellectual curiosity, one might argue, is nearly as important as the professional collections management skills essential for the care, display, and long-term preservation of museum collections.  For this very reason, the Department of Collections has been most fortunate to welcome our new staff member, Kim Kaufman, whose unbridled zeal for her latest collections discovery is the subject of this edition of the Curator’s Corner.

Jason R. Bain, Curator of Collections,

Collections Aide-de-Camp Unearths “Lost” 1910-Era West Front Street Photos

Article by Kim Kaufman, Collections Aide-de-Camp

Historians love photographs; old photos, new photos, any photos.  For me, a self-described “local history sleuth,” I can think of no better way to slake my lust for history than a recent assignment to sort through the Museum’s photographic collections in order to satisfy reproduction requests from two local Missoula websites.  My task in hand, in short order I was happily enveloped in Missoula’s sepia-toned history. Continue reading

Curator’s Corner | August 2010

Despite the 90° forecast for this afternoon, the summer is rapidly drawing to a close.  Hunters and Griz fans alike are gearing up for the upcoming seasons, and when neither ungulate nor bobcat is safe in Montana it can only mean that fall is nearly upon us.  Here at the Museum that also means that the time has come to look back on the year in review; our accomplishments, our future plans, and the many wonderful events and people that make Fort Missoula such a special place to be a part of.

Department of Collections Projects:
After many long months of drafting policy, updating records, and identifying the unidentifiable items deposited in the Warehouse storage yard sometime during the Carter Administration we have reached the finish line of the American Association of Museums (AAM) Re-Accreditation process.  Having completed our accreditation team site visit in April with flying colors, the official stamp of approval was heralded this month by a well-worn staff and an Executive Director sane and secure in the knowledge that the next such test will befall those of us that remain sometime after his retirement.  But this designation is more than just a reason to celebrate an end to administrative toil, it is truly a feather in our collective cap.  As one of only 6 AAM-accredited museums in the state, we are acknowledged as an institution meeting the highest precepts of professional museum practice.  As Curator, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the untiring contributions of collections staff and our outstanding cadre of docents and volunteers who have made this achievement possible.  The entire Missoula community is indebted to their labors. Continue reading

Curator’s Corner | February 2010

Amidst the flurry of activity surrounding the preparations for the spring exhibition, it may be difficult to believe that anything else could be taking place at the same time. But the Museum world can be a demanding mistress, and time waits for no man, so here is a sampling of other projects and events that have been keeping Collections staff fully occupied over the preceding weeks and months.

By,  Jason R. Bain, Curator of Collections,


Although the “Fire of 1910” has received most of the attention and media coverage in recent weeks, staff are also simultaneously preparing the latest traveling show to make its way to the Fort. Coming to the Museum’s North Gallery in April, “Let Wonderland Tell Its Story: William Henry Jackson’s 1871 Yellowstone Alberttypes” features photographic prints from the first overland geological survey to map and explore the newly-created Yellowstone National Park. Seldom viewed or publicly exhibited, this series represents an American artistic masterpiece and is essential to our understanding of the legacy of Yellowstone. Collections staff are also considering the possibility of a limited “Recent Acquisitions” exhibit to showcase many of the outstanding Missoula Mercantile items newly acquired as a consequence of the closure of the former downtown Macy’s store. Finally, the Museum’s recent accession of a superbly-preserved cross-cut saw collection from former University of Montana faculty member Mike Roney promises to provide the foundation for a renovated and revitalized wood products exhibition in the Museum’s Timber Building.

Other Collections Projects:

In addition to preserving what remains of the former Missoula Mercantile, the Museum has also been fortunate enough to receive recent acquisitions from the former Smurfit Stone plant that should make excellent additions to the permanent collections. New acquisitions aside, all staff have been hard at work preparing for the Museum’s AAM Re-Accreditation visit in April. The intensive process has engendered an institution-wide re-evaluation of the means by which the Museum acquires, maintains, and makes available its broad and diverse collections, thereby opening previously unexplored avenues for improvements to existing exhibitions, storage techniques, and future projects. Finally, as Jane’s successor I have not only assumed her duties here at home, but also in the broader Museum community as well. In this vein, I have accepted the nomination as the new Montana State Representative to the Mountain-Plains Museums Association (MPMA), and will be serving as a board member in that capacity over the course of the next year. This service will permit the Museum to maintain its continuing presence at the regional level, and will enable our institution to keep a finger on the pulse of the museum community in our own state.