The paintings of Maria Sorce Westland

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – Born to Sicilian parents and raised in Liege, Belgium, painter Maria Sorce Westland exudes a warmth reminiscent of basking in the Mediterranean sunshine.

Westland’s first language is French, but she grew up speaking Sicilian almost exclusively at home. She also speaks proper Italian, Spanish, German and English.

Prior to picking up a paintbrush, Westland enjoyed an international sales career in the aerospace industry, where she put her extensive language skills and personable demeanor to use while satisfying her love of travel.

It wasn’t until after her divorce in 2005 that Westland finally made time to pursue a long-lived desire to paint. She joined a weekly painting group that left a lasting impact.

Painter Maria Sorce at work on two small oil paintings in her garage studio in Big Sky. PHOTO BY SARAH GIANELLI

“When I go back to Belgium, I still go [to the workshops] because I love the group and love painting with them,” Westland said.

Westland’s oil paintings of landscapes, wildlife and still lifes are impressive considering she has been painting for a relatively short time. Her impressionistic work demonstrates a natural understanding of color, the interplay of light and shadow, and a confidence in taking poetic license when painting a scene from a photograph or directly from sight.

Her very first painting depicted a path through an olive grove in the south of France in the late afternoon light.

Westland’s subject matter has changed quite a bit since she began visiting Big Sky in 2008 with her future husband, a Canadian living in Seattle whom she met through work in Belgium. The couple moved here permanently in 2012.

Westland spends a lot of time plein air painting while her husband fishes, resulting in lovingly rendered familiar landmarks like Lone Mountain, the Gallatin River, and the flora and fauna that populate the region. Currently on her easel in her garage studio are two miniature paintings of the teepee adjacent to Ophir Elementary School and a Yellowstone National Park bison. Although common imagery, the sweet smallness of the pieces combined with Westland’s unique eye for color set them apart.

“The landscape is so majestic here,” she said. “When you paint landscapes you want to share with others the beauty you see. This is such an inspiring place. I’m so blessed to just be here and to paint.”

When someone buys one of her paintings Westland wants them to feel the same peace, serenity and fullness she does when painting in the open air.

“I don’t want them ever to get tired of looking at it,” she said.

Westland also dabbles in portraiture, and using the example of a portrait of her niece, said the experience is entirely different than creating landscapes.

“It’s very emotional when you paint a portrait, whether a person or an animal,” Westland said. “As soon as you put the eyes in and the face starts to appear, it’s like having another person with you. It’s more real in a way. It’s alive.”

With the same passion for learning that infuses all of her endeavors, Westland has continued to take workshops and immerse herself in the Montana art community. She has since studied under artists Susan Blackwood, Howard Friedland, Jill Carver, Frank Serrano, Alan Shawer, Michael Ome Untiedt and Elizabeth Robbins Pruitt.

A member of the now-defunct Made in Big Sky cooperative, Westland is also active in Southwest Montana Arts (SMArts), a collective of Gallatin Valley artists who get together for regular paint outs and demonstrations, and the Montana Artrepreneur Program (MAP) offered through the Montana Arts Council.

Her work can be found locally at Rhinestone Cowgirl and The Trove West in Big Sky, and at Little Bear Interiors in Bozeman.

Whether making the Italian pastry cornetti by scratch, overcoming brain surgery, or tackling new subject matter through paint, Westland greets life’s challenges with gusto.

“I don’t like to do things superficially,” she said. “Not that I’m aiming for perfection, but I try to do it the best I can. If I try something and miss it, I’ll do it over and over until I get there. Of course you feel discouraged sometimes when you paint something challenging, but I like to persevere. I don’t quit.”

Westland’s paintings can also be found at msorcewestland.faso.com.