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Museum opens new exhibits
Two works from Les Bury’s “Art of the West” photography exhibit which officially opened Friday evening at the Ravalli County Museum. WILL MOSS - Ravalli Republic

The Ravalli County Museum’s newest exhibit opened Friday, spotlighting a pair of local photographers in preparation for the 18th Annual Ernst Peterson “Photograph Montana” Contest.

Last week’s opening features two photography exhibits - Les Bury’s “Art of the West” and Barbara Michelman’s “Pure Water” - plus a collection of Southwestern pottery and kachina dolls on loan from Larry Strate.

“It’s a triple whammy,” said museum director Tamar Stanley.

The traditional exhibit space on the museum’s second floor is currently housing Bury’s collection of Western landscape and concept photography.

“Les Bury is … our answer to Ansel Adams,” said Stanley.

The extensive range of work on display in Bury’s “Art of the West” showcases his “40-year exploration of the nature and landscapes of Montana, Utah, California and Arizona.”

“I’m not afraid to photograph anything,” said Bury. “My interest in photography hasn’t really changed much in the last 40 years. I like to do everything from macrophotography to long sweeping panoramas … I don’t feel like I’m restricted, and I try not to get pigeonholed into any particular style.”

Bury, who has been photographing since he was 14 and bought his first adjustable camera in 1951, values the idea of being able to capture singular moments in time.

“[That’s what] I really enjoy doing with my photography … catching a moment in time that can’t ever be repeated. That’s the nice thing about the camera,” he said.

Michelman’s “Pure Water” exhibit is the first to be displayed in the museum’s new artist in residence gallery, now housed in what was the museum’s gift shop.

“We just wanted to change it up and have something fresh down there,” said Stanley. “We still have the book shop and some gift items, but basically it’s an artist in residence now and Barbara is our first go at it. We’re excited to have that.”

Michelman’s exhibit consists of a number of images that incorporate moving water, light and texture.

“I’m really interested in that intersection in the play between light and water and finding new ways into the subject,” she said. “Just about all of them were shot right here in the valley, up Bass Creek or Kootenai Creek.”

Michelman’s prints were done in her own studio using different mediums and textures to create varied atmospheres for each piece.

“I’m interested in what happens when you work on all these different surfaces,” she said, pointing out that it’s part of an image making process that she sees as distinct from simple photography.

“My sense is that digital image making is not photography, it’s not painting, it’s its own art form and I find that very exciting,” she said. “It’s just what happens when you recast what image making is about; we’re not locked in to anything. The possibilities are, as far as I can see, wide open with digital image making and I think that’s very exciting.”

Michelman said she was excited for the opportunity to work with the museum in opening the new space.

“I just really want to acknowledge Tamar Stanley for giving me the opportunity,” she said. “I think it’s an expanded opportunity for everyone so I’m very grateful for that.”

In preparation for the upcoming Ernst Peterson photo contest, both Bury and Michelman will be offering photography workshops to the public.

“All our potential contestants have the opportunity to learn photography through the view of two totally different concept artists,” Stanley said.

The Strate Collection of Southwestern tribal pottery and kachinas, also on display in the museum’s second-floor exhibit space, includes more than 84 items representing 31 different artists from the Pueblo tribes including the Acoma, Casa Grandes, Santa Clara, Navajo and Hopi.

The exhibits will be on display through the end of January.

The Ravalli County Museum, which is housed in the former Ravalli County Courthouse, built by A.J Gibson in 1900, is open Tuesdays through Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is located at the corner of S. Third Street and Bedford in Hamilton.

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Reporter Will Moss can be reached at 363-3300 or