A mother refocuses on art

Artist collective opens in north Bozeman

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – When you meet Liz McRae for the first time, it quickly becomes evident that she’s a woman who gives 110 percent to whatever she commits to, whether it’s starting a business, making art, raising her kids, or her latest venture—opening Grainhouse Art, an artist collective and gallery in north Bozeman’s historic Misco Mill.

But being fully focused can also mean having to place other interests on the backburner.

Without a touch of regret in her voice, McRae talked about selling her company Wizbang Hats when she had her second child in 2010.

At 11 and 8, McRae’s children Fin and Maeve have reached an age that has allowed her to turn her attention back to a lifelong passion for art and writing.

“I’m sort of emerging from being a full-time mom back into this world,” said McRae, who knew it was time when she realized that her kids were beginning to be able to take care of themselves.

“I almost needed to find my independence in order for them to find theirs,” she said.

While preoccupied with mothering, McRae remained involved in the arts. She started the Art Harvest program at Ophir School, sits on the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center’s visual arts committee, and helps execute Mountainfilm on Tour when it comes to Big Sky.

After selling her business, she built a studio in her backyard, as if planting the seed for her art to flourish years later.

“It was maybe more of a space to get out of the house,” she said. “Outside of the space I identified with mother, caregiver, wife.”

McRae considers herself equal parts writer and visual artist, and pairs short poems with her paintings. Currently working in encaustic and mixed media, she says her paintings are typically representative of whatever she is celebrating or struggling with in her life.

While her art is “less pointed” now than it was in college—she described mummifying and shaving the heads of Barbie dolls and attempting to return them to Toys R Us—they remain conceptual and thought-provoking.

The series on display at Grainhouse Art is largely abstract and explores notions of division and unification.

Conjuring thoughts of fences, road crossings and intersections, the series asks the viewer to see lines not only as means of dividing space, but also as a place of coming together.

The haiku paired with a painting of bold intersecting lines on a neutral ground reads, “roads cross and split land / touch and fold over themselves / I hope we meet there.” Another poem reads, “scars that divide us / can also be exactly / where we meet to heal.”

While the series has larger political implications, McRae used an example from motherhood to illuminate her meaning: “Being a mom, I’m on one side of the fence [but] you have to figure out how to come together … to move through that anger or emotion to something more positive.”

McRae’s current series of encaustic mixed-media paintings explores notions of division and unity on a personal and political level.

For McRae, art fosters that process. “Some people heal broken bones,” she says, “there are people who do all sorts of things to make the world a better place … my role as a human is swimming around in the arts.”

McRae said that adding a literary component to the visual helps her figure out where she stands on an issue, develop an idea, or gain emotional clarity.

“It’s a very full experience for me … because mainly what I am is a storyteller,” she said. “Whether it’s visual or words, the stories are what compel me to move through the process of creation.”

Another process of creation culminated on June 1 with the opening of Grainhouse Art, a collaboration between McRae and longtime artist friends Molly Stratton, Laurel Hatch and Anna Patterson. In addition to their own distinctive work, the gallery will showcase an outside artist each month, and have items on consignment from area artists.

Along with McRae’s abstracts, the first exhibit features bright, poppy still lifes, subdued landscapes and intricate compositions created out of stitching on paper.

“There’s a language there that we’re all speaking in different ways,” McRae said about what unifies their different aesthetics. But, she said, the plan is to have the artwork change on a monthly basis to keep the space fresh—and keep her painting.

“We were all really wanting a place to not only show our work and see other beautiful work, but also where we could critique each other and learn together,” said McRae, describing the vision behind Grainhouse Art. Although not sure exactly where it will go, McRae sees a dynamic space of creative inspiration, with guest speakers, parties and outdoor movie screenings.

“We really want to be thinking outside of the box,” McRae said. “[Grainhouse] is not just going to be a gallery—we’re hoping it’s going to be a place of collaboration and creation.”

Grainhouse Art is located at 601 E. Cottonwood Street in Bozeman. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. Visit the Grainhouse Art Facebook page for more information.