Wednesday, April 25, 2007


It was Shopping Safari Day but I didn’t get up early and I forgot my list. In spite of that, it was an auspicious adventure in Great Falls. First on my list was stovepipe from Big R ranch supplies, which has moved into an abandoned K-Mart. A big sign on the front door asks customers to please check their firearms at the front desk before shopping. I asked several clerks how many times a week that happened. “Oh, couple dozen in the summer.” Around here a gun is a sort of ranching implement. Coyotes, gophers.

The store has acres of everything except the little fly traps I wanted. They are simplicity itself: a plastic bag with a plastic baffle at the top where flies go in and never come out. The bait is an old horse turd soaked with something so repulsive that one cannot use the trap indoors or even in the garage. They said, “It’s not fly season yet.” But I’ve had flies for a week. “Huh,” I scoffed. “You haven’t caught up with global warming!”

But what I really wanted was stovepipe so I could hook up my little cast iron bunkhouse stove and sit by it in the morning while I drink my coffee. We found the pipe, which is remarkable since I’ve discovered that none of the little farm supply places can carry it because they don’t order in big enough quantity and the people who make the pipe consider them a nuisance. Then we found three kinds: “blue,” black (the standard) and galvanized -- but nothing had prices so the clerk did battle with the computer until we found out that the galvanized was so cheap that I could have bought it last winter if I had known!

I had an interesting conversation with another clerk who was wearing a cowboy hat, which made me mistake him for a customer. He’d been a saddlemaker over in Eastern Montana (he didn’t want to tell me where) until he’d gotten bucked off a horse and stove up enough that the only pitiful excuse for an indoor job he could find was clerking for Big R. He was embarrassed. But actually morale seems to be high at Big R.

Then I went over to the CMRussell Museum to look at the Scriver bronzes they’ve just been gifted, but I’ll tell about that on my other blog:

Next stop was the new Pacific Antiques Mall: one of those places where there are stalls rented to individuals as well as the main guy’s merchandise. I was blown away. It’s a huge place and absolutely crammed with stuff -- not necessarily what you might expect as “antiques” back east or on the coast because a lot of it is cowboy gear: hair chaps, rawhide ropes, bridle bits, big hats, leather cuffs. In the individual booths were everything from black golliwog dolls and homemade rough tool boxes to elaborately carved cabinets costing plenty. There were some Scriver bronzes. Lots of glassware and figurines. A tender Royal Copenhagen female nude with a cat. A jaguar’s head as a bowl. I’d have bought both if I’d had the bucks and/or any space for them.

But what almost made me weep, given what I’ve been reading, was a frail wicker rocking chair from St. Peter’s Mission near Fort Shaw, one of the early Jesuit Missions. I daresay it had been sat in by Father Philip Rappagliossi himself, about whom I will tell you more later. (I’m reading his letters home, in which he assures them that his health is improving, though we know he died in the end.) It wasn’t even expensive. I hovered and dithered over whether to buy it. I’d have to borrow money... But where would I put it?

I’m not entirely sure the man running this vast operation (the building is so huge that he could have indoor parking in the winter if he wanted to) really understands what that chair is. He’s from North Dakota. Leased his ranch to his son and came over here to see what he could do with this idea. He said he’d wear his cowboy boots except that the concrete floors were already too hard on his feet. He says there’s tons of all this stuff in the country around and he’s selling most of it to Canucks.

Then along came another big tall older fellow who looked vaguely familiar and turned out to be someone I’ve seen around art premises over the years. They began talking freely in front of me about evaluating a Leonard Lopp painting someone wanted to sell. Leonard Lopp! He was a big name in the Sixties among people who like scenery that has a lot of pretty colors in it and who think a BIG oil on canvas is what a painting really ought to be like. We began naming others from that period: Les Peters who did lovely subtle paintings of wildlife, Leo Beaulaurier who did Indian portraits on black velvet which sounds awful but were actually rather sublime when lit properly. They’re both in big demand according to these guys. And so on. Ghosts in the room. (If you can call a space roughly the size of an airplane hanger a room!)

Then the most surprising event of the day! This guy offered me a job! He wants to install a high-end gallery in one corner and needs someone to take weekends. I was so startled I almost accepted! But then I had to say, Oh no! I’m just too pure! It would spoil my moral stance to be buying and selling. Anyway, I don’t know the prices of anything these days. I just knew the artists half-a-century ago! But my head echoed with what Alan Deale said when I quit the ministry: “Who are you going to be, Ginger Renner?” (She’s a big expert on Russell in case you didn’t know. Lives very well.)

This guy was relieved, I think. After all, he knew nothing about me, although his friend recognized me. I WAS dressed-up, since I put my preaching togs back on because they were hanging at the front of the closet.

Barnes&Noble and the grocery store were normal and uneventful. I scored some Jack Daniels Mustard and bought much-too-expensive cat food because that’s all that’s on the shelves now. (Melamine is showing up in the food pigs, because the cat food makers sold all their contaminated cat food to the hog farmers. Maybe those cultures who stigmatize pork have a good idea.) Meadowlarks are singing now and it was warm enough to open the pickup window and stick my elbow out. Sunday it’s supposed to hit eighty.


Patia said...

Fun post. I've added Pacific Antiques Mall to my list of things to do in GF.

There's a similar biz in Missoula called the Montana Antiques Mall. Four stories of stuff in a cool old building.

Could you buy the chair and donate it to a local museum or some such?

prairie mary said...

Aside from the fact that I have no money, I always have an inner debate about material objects. Wouldn't it mean more to recover and lift up the actual lives and thoughts of the Jesuits at St. Peters than to preserve a little old wicker chair showing signs of hard use?

Prairie Mary

Whisky Prajer said...

Wasn't aware that pigs were being fed tainted cat food. Geez louise, "our" chemical companies will do anything to keep from parting with a buck.

Da' Goat said...

My mom told me about the antique mall the other day. Apparently part of some chain of galleries out of Seattle...though I can't imagine how much of a "chain" an antique mall could really be. She also tells me GF is undergoing something of a rebirth. She's fairly upset about it, considering what it is doing to traffic in the Sun River Valley where she lives, but it has to be better than the depressed Great Falls of the 1980s and early 90s that I remember.

I commuted into work at the Kmart on the Northwest side one summer after my first year in college. I know it is a giant chain itself, but I was sorry to hear it is no longer there. It was part of what killed downtown GF, but I got used to it always being there or is it the KMart on 10th ave?). I wonder if onde day someone will reflect on the implement store that will get put in the "old walmart" over there on smelter avenue. For that point, I wonder how many people even remember why there is even a smelter avenue in Great Falls.

Patia said...

Wouldn't it mean more to recover and lift up the actual lives and thoughts ...

Nah, I'd go for the chair.