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Historic, renovated chapel to host art exhibit April 25-28

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The newly-renovated White Chapel at 1528 W Main in Bozeman will host the Paul Harris Art Exhibit from April 25–28. PHOTO BY TIMOTHY BEHUNIAK

By Timothy Behuniak EBS ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

BOZEMAN – In 1964, on a Thursday afternoon, an emboldened Marguerite Kirk jumped in her car, drove down to a construction site and placed herself between a bulldozer and a building.

At 4 foot 9 inches tall, Kirk—after whom Kirk Hill and Kirk Park in Bozeman are named —stood no match for the rugged workers and metal machinery. But she refused to move.

After a heated discussion and threats of arrest, Kirk,construction workers and the property owner made an agreement: if she could move the building off the site by 7 a.m. the following Monday, Bozeman’s first Catholic church would be saved, and in her ownership. If not, the church had a date with demolition.

Immediately, Kirk got on the phone with Montana Power, the predecessor of NorthWestern Energy. They agreed to raise all the power lines on Main Street so that the church could be cut, braced, and carried on two flatbed trucks through the middle of town to its new and current home at 1524 West Main Street.

Nicholas Harris, great nephew of Marguerite, was 10 years old at the time. While the church was being moved, he helped dig a new foundation and pour concrete. It hardened just in time for the building to be set and settled on Sunday night. The White Chapel was now in the family’s possession.

“In those days, there were about three or four thousand people in town,” Harris said. “Very few people had cell phones or televisions, so it was a major form of entertainment … the catholic church was literally going down Main Street. Everyone was cheering it on.”

Since then, the White Chapel has seen many enterprises, from the Country Bookshelf to a hair salon. More recently, Harris, also the great, great grandson of Henry Kirk, an 1872 Bozeman homesteader in, renovated the original church.

Harris is an architect and owner of the property which includes the White Chapel, Roost Fried Chicken, Feed Café and Saffron Table. For many years, he has worked to restore all these original structures. “I feel like it’s my calling to bring new life into these old buildings,” he said.

Although the architect usually has a plan or idea of what his renovations will lead to, his restoration of the White Chapel, which was originally built in the late 1800s, fell into a different mold.

“I started to work on this without a specific goal in mind of what it should be, which is kind of the spiritual part of the effort,” said Harris. “What I felt was that [the building] was a ‘wise, old lady’ that has witnessed births, deaths, marriages, families and community. It had fallen away from that when it moved here and formed into other businesses, but I have an instinct to bring it back to its original calling of being a gathering place for community members in Bozeman.”

In order to do this, Harris has added new doors, windows, electric, plumbing, insulation, a small wood stove, bathroom and kitchenette, and more. “I pretty much gutted it while trying to be true to its original character and bringing in modern conveniences,” Harris said. “I tried to get the best of both worlds.”

Now, a new gathering for community members will occur at the White Chapel, one centered on art.

The Paul Harris Art Exhibit, “Pairs: Seeing Doubles,” will run from April 25-28.  featuring work from local artists, as well as from the late Paul Harris, Nicholas’ father.

Paul Harris, a sculptor and illustrator who passed away last year in May, earned his B.A. and Master of Fine Arts degrees from the University of New Mexico. According to a biography on his website, Paul Harris had an award-winning, life-long career in the arts, teaching at several universities around the country, including New York University, Montana State University and the San Francisco Art Institute, and had his work shown globally, from Montana to Germany.

Behind the exhibition title lies a unique theme. The artwork will be displayed in pairs, exploring the relationship between two different works of art by the same artist and in the same medium, as well as the thought process which created them. This will allow gallery visitors to take a closer look at the art, and to compare the works in a new light.

“What I really want to do is pay homage to my father and do this show that honored him and his close friends,” said the artist’s son, Nicholas. “Some pieces will be for sale, but they won’t have price tags on them. I’m not trying to make it a commercial gallery. It’s more to celebrate my dad and the building coming back into use.” 

The exhibit’s reception is on April 25 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and will also be open for visitation from April 26-28 from 3-8 p.m.

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