Art exhibition opens prior to “Loon” performance

By Barbara Rowley Explore Big Sky Contributor

BIG SKY – When the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center kicks off its second season with the Canadian theater troupe Wonderheads’ presentation of their play, “Loon,” the event will be more than partially in disguise.

Prior to the show on Dec. 27, the WMPAC visual art galleries will come alive with faces covering the walls, or more accurately, face masks. A 6:30 p.m. art opening curated by Jill Bough will include dozens of masks representing multiple disciplines and cultures. Titled “Who Was That Masked Man?,” the exhibit features the creations of Big Sky School District middle and high school art students in the forms of masks made of clay and plaster.

WMPAC’s visual arts committee often ties gallery events to performances in the theater, and with the Wonderheads’ use of large full-head masks, there was an obvious link.

“Masks have been used in all sorts of ways throughout history,” said Big Sky School District art teacher Jolene Hegness. “And as a starting point for this project, students had to research the history and purposes of the mask types they were using.”

But when they got to work on their own masks, the students turned to more contemporary history: their own. Lone Peak High School Freshman Howie Robin drew inspiration from a Costa Rican mask, but added moose-like features to it in an homage to his family’s Big Sky business, the Hungry Moose Market and Deli. LPHS freshman Carter Johnsen’s mask has a distinctly Asian flair. “My parents lived in Korea and we have a mask from there on our Christmas tree, so I wanted to make one like that,” she said.

Hegness doesn’t find this personalization surprising. “When my students make masks, they seem to transform into something that has a part of the artist’s soul. I can see that they become almost living creatures to these artists.”

This is a sentiment echoed by Wonderheads’ founder Andrew Phoenix. “After our performances, people always tell us that they saw our faces move, which is impossible – they don’t move.” But, he says, masks give audience members the ability to project their own feelings and interpretations onto the story, rather than simply hearing and seeing what the actor wants to convey.

Building off the first WMPAC Art Café, held Dec. 3 in the gallery, the “Who Was that Masked Man?” exhibit will include interactive mask-making stations for young guests and mask-shaped cookies for a preshow snack.

The art exhibition is free. Ticket sales have been brisk for Loon, but as of press time on Dec. 21, a few tickets are still available at warrenmillerpac.org.

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A new committee of artists is in the process of scheduling exhibitions in the WMPAC galleries. These exhibits will be thematically linked to the events appearing on stage during the 2014-2015 season.

Exhibitions for the WMPAC 2014-2015 Season:

Dec. 11 – Jan. 24: “Who Was that Masked Man?,” opening concurrent with the Wonderheads performance on Dec 27.

Feb. 8 – Feb. 21: “The Modern Montanan,” featuring talented local artists to open in conjunction with the Big Sky Commission performance on Feb. 8.

Feb. 23 – March 1: “Invisible Montana; A Photographic Disclosure,” features photographers from around the state confronting poverty in contemporary Montana. Opening with the Sojourn Theater’s three-day, civic engagement theater from Feb. 26-28.

March 7 – April 1: “The Future of a Digital World,” to accompany composer and radio star Jad Abumrad’s appearance, “Gut Churn,” on March 7.