By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF
GALLATIN GATEWAY – When Tika Altemoeller first stepped onto the Bozeman airport tarmac in 2001, she was struck by, of all things, the air. It was so fresh, so pure, tinged with inexplicable notes of Christmas.
The sensation was curious—it felt like coming home, despite the thousands of miles between the Gallatin Valley and her native Germany.
“I remember that air … I was like, ‘Wow, OK. I’m here,” said Altemoeller, setting a fresh cup of herbal tea onto her Gallatin Gateway kitchen table, a worthy companion to a colorful plate of German Christmas cookies at its center. “I’ve always had this feeling of home here, from the very first moment I arrived.”
Today, Altemoeller lives with her husband in Gallatin Gateway, an often-discounted township that in reality—and quite naturally—boasts the very best of both Big Sky and Bozeman. Complete with wide-open spaces, varied terrain, impressive views and plenty of access to the two populations and amenities it splits, sans the incessant crush of out-of-towners, the original spirit of Montana is alive and well in Gateway.
And their home, custom-made from repurposed shipping containers, is tactfully positioned in a sprawling field of grasses to allow maximum synthesis with the environs that cradle it.
It’s there, bordered by aspen groves and the foothills of the Gallatins, Altemoeller’s art has evolved, manifesting into the “Montana Collages.”
“More than anywhere else, I get the feeling that I’m at home here because we built this house, and it was such a cool process to do it,” Altemoeller said. “I was like, ‘I can make collages about Montana with the theme of home.’”
Her first consistent foray into collage began with Japanese-stylized pieces inspired by “Instructions for The Cook,” a roughly 800-year-old text written by Dōgen Zenji, a Japanese Buddhist priest, writer, poet, philosopher and founder of the Sōtō school of Zen.
Those pieces recruited an amalgamation of Japanese characters and magazine cutouts, which Altemoeller cut and shaped with precision.
But with the her most recent series, “Montana Collages,” she worries less about hard edges, focusing on combining texture, original photographs of Montana, color, text and fashion magazine rippings into unique pieces that honor her perceptions.
“I like to just rip it (magazine pages) and see what happens,” she said, underscoring the wildness of the spaces that inspire the pieces. “Sometimes, I’ll see the pieces begin to make a collage on their own on the table.”
For Altemoeller, the process of collecting those intimate imprints of Montana is not complicated—she simply heads out into the abundant landscapes with an iPhone, snapping shots that catch the eye.
“I never pretend I’m a photographer,” she said. “I have my phone, I see things, I take a picture of them.”
Working from a rustic, barn-like studio space roughly a mile from her home, she assembles those snapshots and clippings and words into working compositions—each rendered unique with its own tones and celebrations of Montana.
Even the mundane, such as a street sign and a stop sign, are essential, and the end result is a snapshot of her insight into The Last Best Place.
A stalk of grass; a delicate pile of snow; the crusted metal of a bridge; a field traced by telephone pole lines; these are all worthy features, no matter their inconspicuous presence. To quote a Montana Collage:
not this, not that
Along with making collages in homage of Montana, Altemoeller is regularly commissioned for custom pieces; for more information and to purchase a collage, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, her website thestudiotika.com, or via her Instagram account @tikaelliot