Thursday, June 12, 2014


Chinook Woodcrafts

Chinook Woodcrafts is not an ordinary gift store.  It is actually a love story.  Some years ago Nasrine Gill was looking for a place to live on the east slope of the Rockies.  When she passed a certain house on the edge of Valier -- which has a remarkable number of windows and a large yard -- she fell in love with it.  Nasrine is not an ordinary person (unless you consider how many extraordinary people live in Montana).  She was raised in Switzerland, married an Irishman and had five beautiful children, now adult.  She was a jumping horse trainer -- on her walls are photos of her taking her highly competitive mount over a high hurdle.  In the end of that phase she was divorced and ended up with the family house.  The land was bought for development at a point in the financial picture (heard of the Celtic Tiger?) when Irish money was worth far more than US bucks.  That windfall brought her to Montana, in love with cowboys and Indians.

Nasrine Gill and Joseph Guevara

Bouncing around Sweetgrass country was Joseph Guevara, a technical fabricator and assembler who had worked in aerospace industries, lasers, fiberoptics, hydraulics and -- in the years before his retirement  -- high tech surgical equipment.  When Nasrine arrived, he fell in love with her -- her enthusiasm, their shared and instinctive love of animals, and her gut-level courage.  Joe’s style is perfectionist, technical, results-focused.  It took a few years to work through their differences.  Now they love to explain each other’s virtues.

The "window house" at the west end of Valier.

One of the forces that drew them together was art and especially wood crafts.  What might have been a sun room (with a crystal chandelier installed by the former occupants!) is now an art studio.  The garage is fitted out with wood-working machinery.  I have yet to see Joe’s room of big model airplanes.  The result of this combination of heart and mind is the little gift shop called “Chinook Woodcrafts.”  

What to look at while you wait for someone to come from the house.

But they are not the only creative people featured here.  The offerings are exceptional.  Something about long winters and heritage pride results in extraordinary creativity.  This is the place to look for landmark heritage gifts.  

Barbara Moritz makes elegant bead jewelry while her husband Gary Moritz casts small, detailed bronzes.  (At the local school he taught a class in “Sculpy” plastic clay sculptures of animals.)  Mary Brooke’s quilting is bright coverlets, but also bags, aprons, and table runners.  Bonny Field and Sandy Carr supply hand-dyed and cloth-wrapped coil baskets and Sandy Carr also does framed bead work.  Sharon Briden’s Hardanger embroidery is exquisite.  Other things include frames made with barn wood from Larry Tooley, weather vanes from Jody Field, baby clothing from Cynda Stanley in Missoula, stick horses from Lorna Kovach in Ovando and carved bears and metal work from Les Smith in Cut Bank.  Pony-sized horseshoes attached to weathered wood red hearts are particularly charming.

An otter in hot pursuit of a fish.

Nothing is more fun than Joe’s humorous woodcarving, a skill he resurrected from a three year course of study in his high school years in Imperial Beach, California.   Small classic wooden toys like hobby horses and trains are the backbone of their business.  Nasrine has created a series of clocks adapted from country artifacts like blue enameled saucepans.  When I visited, she had just finished a night light, a small cube with tiny cut-outs allowing light to glimmer through.  Both artisans are careful workers with a light touch, that little sparkle of humor.

Long-timers passing through Valier know about the high-end gift store attached to DeVoe Hardware and the unique mountain man resource, Medicine River Gallery, at the stoplight crossroads.  Chinook Woodcrafts is a little bit off the west end of town with access directly from Highway 44.  

Entrance to Chinook Woodcrafts

For years Velda Locke has sponsored a Christmas Bazaar showcasing the talent in Valier.  Some of us have speculated on whether Valier could actually develop into an artist colony since there are many small buildings that would make good summer studios.  Perhaps it isn’t possible to plan such a thing, but every new entrepreneur makes a difference.  Fishing isn’t everything, though some people think it is!

In our culture we are accustomed to having objects pushed at us, promoted especially hard around Christmas.  But many tourists have learned that it's wise to shop year-round and they make part of their travels a search for treasures.  This modest little shop holds many.  If you’re interested in consigning your items, please contact Nasrine at 279-3218 or via email :  (That's right -- she still uses an email provider in Ireland where her children are.)

No comments: