By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
BIG SKY – Creighton Block Gallery, located in Big Sky Town Center, is home to a diverse collection of Western art, including impressionist landscapes, traditional representational wildlife art, and historical Western paintings.
Every piece tells a story, and Colin Mathews, who owns the gallery with his wife Paula, is eager to share each with customers who walk through the doors. His own stories are often just as intriguing.
Donning a white cowboy hat, bolo tie, bright red ski shirt and jeans on a cold January day in Big Sky, Mathews, 67, is reminiscent of a cowboy skier – and he pulls it off. With a twinkle in his eye and a way with words, it’s easy to lose track of time in his company, whether the conversation is about fine art or his years growing up in Sausalito, Calif., among writers, artists and musicians.
Mathews’ passion for the arts has been lifelong. He studied art history at California’s Stanford University and in Austria for a year, providing him with a classical education from the Renaissance through Impressionism.
In the 1970s, after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Mathews worked as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., where he enforced oil price controls for the U.S. Department of Energy before practicing at the law firm of Vinson & Elkins. In 1992, he retired to pursue other business interests before returning to the West, “to live among a better class of human beings,” he says.
“My office décor would be the envy of my former law partners,” Mathews adds with a good-humored grin.
Creighton Block Gallery opened in Big Sky in October 2010, moving from its original location in Virginia City, Mont. After living in Virginia City for 13 years, where he opened a restaurant prior to operating the gallery – and also served as mayor for three years – Mathews felt it was time to move on. And as a lifelong skier, a chance to live at the base of Lone Mountain was a big incentive.
“My passion for skiing is matched only by my passion for my family, my friends, and art,” he said. Born in Salt Lake City, Mathews’ parents instilled in him a love for the sport at age 4, when he put on his first pair of skis. His affinity for deep snow is reflected in the sign on his gallery door, which notes, ‘We ski powder mornings.’”
Although Mathews now staffs the gallery when he needs to take a ski break, he says the notice remains more for nostalgia than any other reason.
Since bringing the gallery to Big Sky, Mathews has developed relationships with many of the artists he represents, now proudly calling them friends.
“Artists are among the bravest people I know,” he said, comparing their plight to a children’s game where pegs are repeatedly hammered through holes in a wooden bench. “Artists put their soul into creative work and offer it to the public not knowing whether it will be well-received, or whether the artist will experience something akin to the last peg standing [in] the immortal children’s toy, the peg bench.”
While Mathews has his own favorite pieces in the gallery, he’s careful to let patrons discover treasures for themselves.
“Almost everyone has had the experience of looking at a painting and having it sing to them,” he said. “The universal experience of a painting touching one’s soul is part of what makes owning a gallery such a marvelous experience.”
Mathews’ love for his business is also evident to the artists he represents.
“He has a great energy when you enter the gallery,” said Paula Pearl, an impressionistic wildlife painter based in Bozeman whose art has been hanging in Creighton Block for about five years. “It all boils down to the fact that he’s passionate about the arts, and that comes through.”
Creighton Block’s inventory has quadrupled since 2010, and Mathews opened a second gallery in the Town Center’s new TNG Tower building in December 2014 – a contemporary gallery featuring art with Western inflection but with modern expression.
Outside of his galleries, Mathews is also involved in bringing arts to the community.
“Colin has a vision for the arts in Big Sky,” said Tallie Lancey, Vice President for the Arts Council of Big Sky and board member of the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center. “His leadership with the Arts Council’s annual art auction has enabled our organization to grow in ways we wouldn’t have thought possible.”
Mathews also serves on the Arts Council board, sponsors the art prize at Lone Peak High School, and enjoys the occasional opportunity to hang monumental art as a backdrop at WMPAC. His most recent undertaking is to further beautify the area by placing five sculptures by famed English sculptor Simon Gudgeon, who specializes in large pieces for public display, around the new TNG Tower building.
“Owning a gallery facilitates community involvement,” Mathews said. “And offering my time to community has been a lifelong passion of mine.”