Saturday, March 07, 2009

"McKinley, Montana, Greenway County"

Alongside me is a little pile of clippings I was going to use as reference for maybe five different blog ideas, but while I was waiting to choose which subject, I took off my email and got blown away. That’s what happens sometimes, which is why I love it.

Lance Michael Foster
, who is in Helena, sent me comments on a couple of my blogs. Turns out he’s an artist/writer Native American I’ve never heard of, but who is way more skillful than many better known people. He’s not Blackfeet, but here’s a story of his that IS about Blackfeet. Here’s his studio website:

More than that, he unfolds out into a network. For instance, “McKinley, Montana” is a virtual community in “Greenway County” created by Allan Tooley. a graphic artist who is on Facebook. I tried Googling Tooley but was overwhelmed by references. He has a website but the print is so faint that I can’t read it. So I picked up the phone. Tooley was at a Cub Scout meeting but he’ll call me back. His wife says he writes a blog but “McKinley, Montana” is a ghost town now. I have to find out the name of his blog.

It appears that there is a real community of writers and artists that the media and other gatekeepers in the Montana context just don’t see, or rather can’t make money out of and are afraid of because of their sometimes subject matter, which tends to be like a sub-group that once existed in Missoula, tagged “Montana Gothic.” Romantic, punky, sci-fi, NeoCeltic, extreme, edgy -- whatever. For instance, Lance’s “first chapter” of a nonexistent book is an attempt to inhabit the brain of the Unibomber. The chapter is entitled simply “Ted.”

These guys are boomers or younger, educated but not bourgeois, and -- well -- “guys.” Men. I’m not sure quite how I ended up so much in sympathy with them. Maybe it was being an animal control officer, maybe it was rez life, maybe something else. It’s what has pre-disposed me to appreciate Tim Barrus’ work -- or before that, Gary J. Cook. The problem, for me, is that I don’t have broadband and I dislike all these Facebook, YouTube, etc. networks. They take too long and I never understand what I’m supposed to do.

See for yourself. Lance’s writing is on another of those aggregating (not aggravating -- a kind of online collective) websites that are trying to fill the vacuum left by crashing publishers and bookstores, the need for some kind of way to discover what’s out there:

Here’s their pitch:
“Red Room was named after both a place and a literary tradition. The famous Red Room of the White House is an extraordinary place where revolutionary behavior occurred in a small parlor. For example, when Franklin Roosevelt wouldn't allow female reporters at his press conferences, Eleanor Roosevelt held her own press conferences at the same time for the women. The conferences were so popular that the male reporters started attending, and the President had no choice but to integrate his press conferences in order to get any attention. A tradition of civilized revolution on behalf of disenfranchised writers is carried on in the modern-day Red Room.

"The Red Room" is also the name of four different literary works of different genres, by very different authors, spanning a century. One of these works, written by H.G. Wells, is about confronting fear itself, alone in a small room—a relevant allegory for writers. Red evokes passion, action, and drama, providing the perfect backdrop for literary creation.”

Lance has a Native American graphic novel in development, one with a dark center. He likes that dark stuff and handles it very well -- just enough mysticism to hint at two of his favorite writers: Stephen King and Ray Bradbury. Bradbury is on my own list. He also has an anthropology degree and a landscape architecture degree, which means that his awareness and accuracy when it comes to history and terrain are exemplary. He might enjoy the supernatural, but it is underlain by a strong infrastructure of reality.

I have a dark subversive purpose in contacting these men and their friends, and in spreading the word about them. The Montana arts scene has been co-opted by bourgeois, prosperous, status-seeking “ladies” of both sexes, who quickly pass over potential troublemakers like these. The establishment has become pot-bound and elderly, unwilling to be unsettled.

These younger guys are perfect candidates for the beginning of a new circle of artists and writers who are passionately driven, historically informed, but NOT hypnotized by Charlie Russell. It’s not that I want them to break up the Russell circle. I would still defend the order of which Bob Scriver was a part. Anyway, maybe they are already organized enough or don’t want to be organized. What do I mean by "organized" anyway -- aside from being better known. "Cowboy Artists of America" got TOO organized and are now at each other's throats.

These are quite different times from the Sixties and Seventies (though they are probably structurally very much like the first days of Montana as a territory on the way to statehood) with a need for messages that don’t separate Indian from white, that address what is outside the norm (even impolite and possibly criminal), cosmic, bizarre, and as dark as unemployment and business disaster. We need writers who can face up to plague and tragedy both personal and systemic.

I was slow to realize how much I was being “shushed” in Montana, not just by the long-standing literati, but also by the humanities establishment, the environmental/political entities, and even the UU context I once served or the official Blackfeet circles. They don’t know they’re doing it, for the most part. I’ve just evolved into a quite different place -- or maybe it’s truer to say that I’ve kept evolving and they haven’t. Strange that I find more affinity with a collective of At-Risk boys and their equally risky leader (Barrus) in Amsterdam than I do with the Montana Association of Teachers of Literature and English.

Not so strange that I find more affinity with a dying old lady across the alley from me. She is sharing her memories, like delivering colts or providing a horseback riding experience for disabled kids. They gave each child some plaster to mix up and showed them how to cast the hoofprints of the horse they rode. She is not part of the Valier social scene. For one thing , she lives in a trailer. She IS Montana. The arts community is snobbish, commodifying culture. They even took a survey to see how much money artists make.

How we love our markers for success. How fragile they are. But maybe something new is forming here in “McKinley, Montana, Greenway County.”


Anonymous said...

A few days ago my wife, Sue Hart, gave a talk on Montana's women authors at the Montana Historical Society. She brought a hundred-plus books, and then showed each one to her large audience, describing the woman who wrote it, something about her, and something about the book itself. She focused on both obscure and well known women connected to Montana. one of those books was your fine Bob Scriver biography, which she warmly recommended. Her goal was to be inclusive, not exclusive, and she supplemented her lecture with a three-page list of Montana's women authors. The talk was warmly received.

Richard Wheeler

Lance Michael Foster said...

Did you ever hook up with Allan?