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Six creators who should receive the Montana Governor’s Arts Award next

Montana Arts Council welcomes new honorees to exclusive club on Friday

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The Montana Arts Council presents the 2018 Governor’s Arts Award winners’ ceremony on Friday in Helena. This year’s recipients are each more-than deserving of the honor: Rick Bass, Monte Dolack, Jackie Parsons, Kevin Red Star, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith and Annick Smith.

Instead of retreading the past accomplishments of this year’s honorees, though, I thought it’d be more interesting to create a list of people who should be honored in the future.

Putting together this list, I was a little surprised that some of these people have not already received the recognition, while others I feel deserve the award even if they might not possess the usual characteristics of past recipients. You can view the list here. In compiling my list of seven people who I feel the MAC should honor, I tried following the guidelines that the nominating committee follows.

PrintAccording to their website, each honoree must demonstrate:

1. Artistic excellence and achievement
2. Dedication to Montana
3. Ongoing contributions to the cultural community
4. Worthiness of statewide recognition

I feel each of these people meet all of these qualifications and more. So, onto the list!

1. Terrance Guardipee, artist

Entering the Valley of the Sun by Terrance Guardipee. Photo courtesy of terranceguardipee.com
Entering the Valley of the Sun by Terrance Guardipee. Photo courtesy of terranceguardipee.com

I found it strange that Guardipee wasn’t already recognized, considering he may be one of Montana’s most famous Ledger Artists. Or, as his official bio states on his website, he “is an internationally acclaimed Blackfeet painter and ledger artist, consistently recognized for the traditional depiction of his Blackfeet heritage and contemporary innovation demonstrated in his work. Terrance was one of the first Native artists to revive the historical ledger art tradition, and was the first ledger artist to transform the style from the single page custom into his signature map collage concept.”


His work is featured in the permanent collections of prestigious institutions such as the Smithsonian Institute, the Gene Autry Museum, the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College, and the Museum of Natural History in Hanover, Germany. He also was the featured artist at the National Museum of the American Indian in 2007, and was selected to create an image for The Trail of Painted Ponies at the 2008 50th Anniversary Heard Museum Indian Art Market. In addition, at the 2008 Santa Fe Indian Art Market, Terrance was awarded first place in his category and best of division.

Guardipee is also known for using traditional Blackfeet symbols in much of his work. As he told the Missoulian in 2013, ““The symbols, even though they’re ancient, the symbols still have the same power – personal power protection, tribal power protections, they still have great significance.”

I would not be surprised if Guardipee is soon to be welcomed to the club in the near future seeing as he’s just as much a part of Montana’s artistic fabric as anyone else in this year’s group, if not more so.

2. R. Tom Gilleon, artist

Cardinal Number III. Oil on canvas by R. Tom Gilleon courtesy www.tomgilleon.com
Cardinal Number III. Oil on canvas by R. Tom Gilleon courtesy www.tomgilleon.com

I was also just as surprised to find that Mr. Gilleon was not a member of the Governor’s Awards club. Someone who still resides in Montana, Gilleon’s works have been a staple during Western Art Week here in Great Falls for many years and he not only has works in the C.M. Russell Museum’s permanent collection, he’s also the only living artist to have a solo show at the illustrious Russell Museum, 2013’s Let Icons Be Icons: The Art of R. Tom Gilleon.


According to his online bio, “Gilleon is best known for his paintings of tipis illuminated from within by an evening fire, or from without by the haunting gleam of the setting sun. He traces his talent for creating these arresting light displays to his grandparent’s home: “My memory of the important events in my early life are set somehow in dramatic theater lighting,” he recalls. “We lived in a little place where there was no electricity and the inside of our wooden home was lit by kerosene lanterns. I always felt drawn into the light and everything around the glow disappeared into a blur.”

Gilleon studied at Ringling College of Art and Design and subsequently took a job as an illustrator for NASA’s Apollo space program. Since that time, he has spent many years working with Disney and other theme park design groups as both a designer and illustrator. He has been an illustrator and storyboard artist on films such as Disney’s Dick Tracey.

Gilleon’s a talented artist who has put the Montana arts scene on the map perhaps more than almost anyone else who is still living for my money. He’ll likely soon to see his name added to the exclusive group, as well, considering Mr. Dolack was named just this year.


3. Eden Atwood, musician

The daughter of Pulitzer Prize winning author, A.B. Guthrie, Jr., Atwood has made a name for herself in the world of contemporary jazz since she started her career in music at age 15.


She was the youngest jazz artist signed to Concord Records and made her debut with Marian McPartland on “There Again” in 1994. Since then she has continued to record and perform internationally. She’s toured Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand and headlined the first ever Bangkok Jazz Festival, performing some of The King of Thailand’s compositions.

She’s also a leading advocate for raising awareness of androgen insensitivity syndrome, a condition she’s had since her birth. She is the co-founder of The Interface Project, which, “communicates the lived experiences of intersex people by recording the voices, transcribing the words, and publishing the stories of people born with a variation of sex anatomy, according to its website.

Atwood now calls Missoula home where when she’s not playing music she’s found a second calling as a therapist. Atwood’s accomplishments speak for themselves, and she’d be a fine candidate to receive the prestigious Governor’s Award soon.

4. Kostas Lazarides, songwriter/musician

Lazarides may be the most famous person from Montana that you’ve never heard of. Known primarily for his songwriting talents, Kostas, as he’s known in the songwriting world, has written or co-written more than 800 songs over the course of his career.


He’s worked with some of the biggest names in country music such as Kenny Chesney, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, Conway Twitty, Emmylou Harris, Wynnona and others.

His first track as a songwriter, “Timber, I’m Falling in Love,” was recorded by Loveless in 1989 and went to number one on the Billboard country charts, becoming Loveless’s first number one hit. The single he wrote with Yoakam, “Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” earned Yoakam a Grammy Award win in 1994, as well. Kostas has had remarkable success as a writer, and as a performer, particularly in Canada. He also is a past recipient of the CMA Songwriter of the Year award.

Kostas calls Belgrade his home and has hosted, or spoken at, songwriting forums, workshops and conferences across Montana. While one might argue that much of Kostas’s success has come outside of Montana, he’s been a resident of the Treasure State for several decades and has lent his talents to artists, and to venues, across the state for years, along with his Nashville success. He’s a deserving recipient in my eyes and would be a welcome addition to the club.

5. Katie Goodman, actor/musician/theater owner

Like Kostas, much of Goodman’s success has come away from Montana, but, also similarly to Kostas, she has deep roots to the Treasure State.

Daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman and a Boston native, Katie Goodman served as the co-founder and artistic director for the Equinox Theatre in Bozeman along with her husband Soren Kisel.


A comedian/singer/writer, Goodman created the Broad Comedy troupe in 2001. She’s a regular contributor to O: The Oprah Magazine and has given keynote speeches and led corporate workshops for more than 10 years. She’s the author of “Improvisation For The Spirit: Live A Creative, Spontaneous, and Courageous Life Using the Tools of Improv Comedy,” and a founding member of the nationally touring improv comedy troupe, Spontaneous Combustibles.  She was also the founder and producer of the National Women’s Theatre Festival in Los Angeles and an Artistic Director of the Philadelphia Women’s Theatre Festival.

I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing Goodman several times for fundraisers for Planned Parenthood and she’s a delightful person to interview, as well. Goodman’s done more for women’s rights by playing her piano and making jokes than many other people have who’ve done it in seriousness. The Governor’s Arts Awards committee would be wise to recognize her as someone who more-than deserves this recognition soon.

6. Christopher Paolini, author

Like Atwood, Paolini’s first taste of success in the creative sphere happened when he was 15 years old. It was that year when Paolini wrote the first draft of Eragon. Later that year his family self-published the book. In 2002, while vacationing in Montana, author Carl Hiaasen found and read a copy of Eragon and brought it to the attention of his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf Books For Young Readers. The rest, they say, is history.  The title was the third-best-selling children’s hardback book of 2003, and the second-best-selling paperback of 2005. It placed on the New York Times Children’s Books Best Seller list for 121 weeks.

inheritance-coversNow known as the Inheritance Cycle, in 2011 the Guinness World Records recognized him as the youngest author of a bestselling book series. His first book also was made into a 2006 movie with the same title. While the film was panned by critics, it grossed $249 million across the world.


A native of Paradise Valley, Paolini also has a deep love of his home state.

On his website he states, “The variation in the scenery provides a continuous source of inspiration, fascination, and entertainment. Even after living in Montana for over a couple decades, I never tire of it,” and “I love Paradise Valley. It’s been a great source of inspiration, and more importantly, a good home.”

To me, Paolini seems just the type of person whom for the Governor’s Awards were created.

In conclusion, whether or not any of my picks are named in the future, part of the fun is speculating who we think may or may not deserve the honor and the reasons for our beliefs.

If you have any ideas for who you think would be a good pick, or why someone on my list might not be a good pick, feel free to comment below!

And for more information on the past recipients of the Governor’s Arts Awards, check them out here.


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