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By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

Originally from Helena, Allison McGree first moved to Bozeman in 1999, after her sophomore year at Gonzaga, in Spokane. A sixth generation Montanan, McGree was drawn back every summer to work at the Yellowstone Raft Company. After graduating with an art degree, she stayed in Spokane as an assistant professor, but after a year missed the mountains.

McGree returned to Montana and worked as a Big Sky ski instructor for several seasons as she worked toward a teaching certificate from MSU Bozeman. She has continued to paint, and she spent three years traveling the state with the nonprofit Art Mobile of Montana, working in schools, retirement homes, private art studios, and country clubs across the state.

Through an ongoing fellowship with the Institute of Study of Knowledge Management and Education, based in Half Moon Bay, Calif., McGree has learned about the latest teaching tools and technology. A national group, ISKME is working to create a free database (Open Educational Resources) so teachers can access information with a focus on modeling cutting-edge thinking in K-12 education.

Today, the 31-year-old works as an artist in residence in Montana schools, and is working to start a nonprofit, Project MArt (more art), that would bring art to more people. Project MArt’s goal is to promote, facilitate and support individuals of all ages in the healing, exhilarating, and educational experience of art. Living in Bozeman, she’s now a Bridger convert.

From the artist

I’m intrigued by skies and water. I can sit on the porch and just watch the clouds move across a landscape, … or beside a river watching water. Clouds and water are mesmerizing, and difficult to paint.

I start painting and then see the direction I’m moving in. Usually if I try to plan it doesn’t work out, and I end up changing my mind.

My grandma is an artist. I used to chase her around, and that was how I got into painting. Now she’s bedridden and can’t use her hands anymore because of her arthritis. For a while I’d put the paintbrush in her hand. Now she directs me, and I paint for her. Because she’s an artist and she has the eye, her instincts are still really keen. I have to really focus on what she’s thinking instead of what I want to do. Our work is different. She worked in watercolor. I work in oil paint, and my colors are way crazier than hers. She was much more realistic.

I like oil because it doesn’t dry as fast. It thickens like butter. You can mix colors together and layer them on top of each other. It’s more sculptural.

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Gonzaga was really traditional. I painted a lot of still lives, and did [figure] drawing. I learned important skills, but it wasn’t until I could paint what I was interested in that I truly became excited about painting.

The Art Mobile travels the state with a gallery of original Montana artwork boxed up in the back. The Teaching Artist hangs the artwork in schools, cafeterias, libraries, classrooms, in retirement centers, and home-school groups at churches. I’d give a museum docent tour of the gallery and also teach hands-on art lessons. It had so many art supplies and [so much] artwork I could barely fit my own luggage in there.

I met amazing people, artists and teachers. Montana is lucky. There are so many incredible organizations and individuals. The Montana Arts Council was recently awarded a grant where they described Montana as not a series of small places, but instead one big community.

I did a mural in Belgrade with 240 sixth graders [last] year. It was amazing. I had groups of 8-10 kids throughout each day. We were done in four days. They got to paint on a wall, which seems like something they shouldn’t do, so it’s fun.

I like getting kids into art. I like their perspective. They’re not inhibited or worried about being right or wrong.

Montana kids don’t have much art until middle school or high school, outside of the Artists in Residence program, and what classroom teachers have time to do. I go to Butte once a month to be a K-8 artist in residence and I visit the forth grade classrooms at Hawthorne Elementary once a week. I do lessons with spray paint, wire, everything, paint, pastels, markers, glue, air-dry clay. It’s rapid-fire art, but it’s great.

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My dad is one of nine, so there are 71 of us in his side of the family. I get to teach my cousins art at Butte Central, [which] I’m grateful for.

Each [of my] paintings or series ebbs and flows. Each has a life of its own. There is usually a time in the painting where I want to rip it, burn it or give it away. Then I turn it against the wall and wait for it, then come back to it with a different perspective, instead of letting agony take over.

When the energy to make a painting exactly right slowly fades into being easier and less restrictive, a flow takes over [and], it gets more comfortable. It’s like I’m trying to answer a question for a while, and I beat it into the ground, and slowly the question answers itself, and it’s not as difficult to paint.

I love painting places. You can paint the same thing 700 times, and it’s always going to be different. I could paint Lone Peak forever.

If you get too focused on exactly where a painting took place, then you don’t look at it as a painting—you’re looking at a place and not the painting itself.

My goal was to have 30 new paintings by the time I was 30. I was painting on the eve of my 30th birthday, but I did it.

Art allows us to digest things. To see the world in a different way. It allows you to problem solve and get from a point of utter confusion, and, instead of stopping, adjust and go toward problems. It’s important to for all of us. Walk through the door with the big question mark overhead.

I think art is connection. You can listen to music or see a painting or a sculpture, and you feel like you understand someone else or yourself more. Or sometimes it just bewilders you—allows you to wonder why someone did something, makes you think, and changes the way you see world.

How do you make yourself as happy and fulfilled as possible? You never know how long you’re going to be around. Art gives you a chance to do that.

McGree will have a show in May 2012 at the new 406 brewery in Bozeman, and one at Zoot Enterprises April-July.

allisonmcgreefineart.com
projectmoreart-mart.com