Sculptor Pies creating a ‘region of art’

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Kenton Pies’ first of five life-size depictions of wild horses of Horse Plains, Montana, is nearing completion. He is pictured with the first horse, a pinto, which weighs more than 600 pounds. Local artist Andy Gonzales welded the silver hooves on the sculpture. Among the other four wild horses to follow will be two adults and one colt at a gallop, and one rearing to show his status with the herd. (Joe Sova/Clark Fork Valley Press)

When Kenton Pies moved to Sanders County in 2005, it was his goal to create an “art mecca.” Not to be confused with the Muslims, the Webster third definition calls “mecca” “anything that one greatly desires or tries to achieve.”

Pies knew that for art to “prosper,” the county would need artists, sculptors, potters and performers. Also needed are patrons, collectors, buyers and investors with a passion for art and the “where-with-all” to acquire the products of artists.

Pies started Valley Arts Association with two like-minded friends who shared his ideas. After several meetings where interested parties formulated ideas to spread art concepts, and he toured several art centers in the state of Montana, Pies tried vainly to find a building where an art center could be established. He tried to get several artists to have a show at Quinn’s Resort or the Sanders County Fair Pavilion. Neither location worked out. During this planning process, Pies met Karen Thorson and through their sharing of ideas they formed Artists in Paradise. This group grew and came together to be what it is today.

When the Paradise Elementary School closed from a lack of students they — with several locals, and interested parties — took over the school grounds and spent countless hours repainting and remodeling The Paradise Center. It took long hours for John and Karen Thorson, Rudi Boukal and valley volunteers to successfully make a way for plays and works of art to be accomplished.

The new Paradise Art Center, Sanders County Arts Council, Art on the Walls of Valley General Hospital, and Art and About placing paintings in local businesses have all improved the overall “art mecca” idea in the Sanders County area of Montana.

Another art venture created by Rick Harter and Ilene Paulsen is the murals they painted on the exterior wall of the Florist Shop with subject matter from Montana.

IN 2013, Pies was contacted by Mercer Island, Washington’s city hall to create a new dragon play sculpture to replace the one Pies built in 1965. He contacted Derek vonHeeter to use his metal shop where they cut and welded the dragon’s skeleton. It then was trucked to Mercer Island and coated with concrete, which Kenton troweled and colored with “dragon colors.”

Over several years, Pies planned to do a sculpture of the “Wild Horses of Plains.” While compiling a list of 42-plus interested locals who thought this sculpture would be a very good addition to the Plains landscape, he got the approval of the mayor, city council and Montana Rail Link. The railroad owns the property upon which the horses will reside.

Over a period of eight months and about 400 hours, Pies built a prototype of a life-size horse out of steel — covered with expanded sheet metal to start the herd. The group of wild horses will be installed in the greenway across from the old Plains Elementary School, now the MTWest Dentist business.

The name Wild Horses of Plains came from when the Indians ran horses through this area. Dave McEldry’s description of the Wild Horses:

“Plains, Montana (first known as Horse Plains) is situated in a valley which provided season pasture for the horses of the Flathead, Pend Oreilles and Kootenai tribes. Various high points around the valley allowed the native people to camp, fish, hunt and keep watch over their free-ranging horse herds which to newly arrived white settlers, seemed to be running wild. These animals were frequently moved back and forth between the Flathead Valley, Camas Prairie, the Little Bitterroot Valley and Horse Plains. Their riders moved freely around the Pacific Northwest and hunted the buffalo in the Musselshell River country, many miles to the east. The bloodlines of these fine animals are no doubt still present in horses of this area … These Kenton Pies originals are reminders of the “wild” horses of Horse Plains, Montana.”

THE POTENTIAL benefit of these horse sculptures to the town, Sanders County and Western Montana are anticipated to be many. At this time, it is essential for the community to support Pies’ effort by contributing donations of any amount so that he can create four more life-size sturdy steel horses to enhance Plains, Mont. Overall costs total about $30,000. If $15,000 is raised locally, it is possible to get the remainder from a grant.

As the community efforts continue to patronize the art activities of Sanders County and towns, it will contribute to the “art mecca” concept Pies sought after for several years.

Send donations to: Kenton T. Pies, P.O. Box 850, Plains MT 59859, or call 406-826-7788.

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