MSU unveils late author’s papers and new archive

By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

“It starts, early in the mountain summer, far back among the high spilling slopes of the Bridger Range of southwestern Montana. The single sound is hidden water—the south fork of Sixteenmile Creek diving down its willow-masked gulch …

“A low rumple of the mountain knolls itself up watchfully, and atop it, like a sentry box over the frontier between the sly creek and the prodding meadow, perches our single-room herding cabin.

“Alone here on our abrupt tiny shelf, the three of us eased through May and the first twenty-six days of June secure as haws with wind under our wings.”

Included in the collection are typed and digital manuscript drafts, as well as sketches and maps drawn by hand. PHOTO BY JESSIANNE WRIGHT

Included in the collection are typed and digital manuscript drafts, as well as sketches and maps drawn by hand. PHOTO BY JESSIANNE WRIGHT

So begins Ivan Doig’s “This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind,” published in 1978. On Monday, Sept. 19, at 3 p.m. the original typed manuscripts of this book and many other Doig works will be unveiled in a public event as a part of the Ivan Doig Archive launch at Montana State University.

Ivan Doig passed away last year at the age of 75, following a nine-year battle with multiple myeloma. Shortly after, Doig’s surviving wife Carol donated private diaries, personal interviews, post cards, letters, photographs, sketches, manuscripts and memorabilia to the university.

Jan Zauha, outreach librarian at the MSU Library, described this as a way of bringing the iconic author home. Doig published 16 volumes of fiction and non-fiction, and while he lived in Seattle for many years, his works took place in Montana, harkening back to his roots and own childhood growing up along the Rocky Mountain Front near White Sulphur Springs.

“I feel like we are doing something very special for a very special writer,” Zauha said. The archive consists of 183 boxes, with the majority of the papers digitized and accessible both on-site in Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections at the university library in Bozeman, as well as online at the newly released Ivan Doig Archive website. The archive offers a glimpse into the mind of the writer and is a trove of historical research, Zauha said.

William Wyckoff, a historical and cultural geographer of the American West and MSU professor of geography, came to the university in the 1980s. New to Montana, somebody suggested he read Doig’s “This House of Sky,” Wyckoff recalls. “[The book] helped cement what a special place Montana is,” he said.

Of Doig’s writing, Wyckoff noted his unique lyrical language and exploration of vernacular and how characters live on the page. “What always impressed me about Doig is his acute sense of place—his language, his landscapes.”

The archive launch, held in the Strand Union Building’s Ballroom A, will include opening remarks by MSU President Waded Cruzado, Dean of MSU Library Kenning Arlitsch, and Dean of MSU College of Letters and Science Nicol Rae. A panel discussion will follow and Doig’s wife along with several scholars and historians will consider Doig’s work, life and place in Montana’s literary and historical landscapes. A wine and hors d’oeuvres reception will conclude the event.

Among the panelists are Marcella Sherfy Walter, a research historian who worked closely with Doig; William Wyckoff, who studied Doig’s fictional maps and sketches as well as lyrical language; and Rick Bass, a Montana writer and MSU writer-in-residence. Montana historian and MSU Distinguished Professor Mary Murphy will moderate the panel.

Bass described Doig as a spokesperson for the Northern Rockies, admiring his “willingness to inhabit landscape and territory that has not had a spokesperson.”

“One of the things I find most valuable of Doig’s work is location; his celebration of the Rocky Mountain Front,” Bass said. “Landscape was so important in his work. I think it’s best to have his works as close to those landscapes as possible. There is an intangible benefit to studying them on-site where one is closer to the culture and the subject.”

Students, scholars and others curious about the author and his works, are all welcome to attend the archive launch or visit the library’s special collections to view Doig’s papers, Zauha said.

For more information on the archive launch contact the MSU Library at (406) 994-3139. To view the archives, contact MSU Special Collections at (406) 994-4242 or visit