Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Five Questions with the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art

Great Falls, Montana

The Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art is located at 1400 First Avenue North in Great Falls, Montana. Photo courtesy Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art.

Popularly known as The Square, the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in Great Falls, Montana, is one of the city's leading cultural centers. With a particular focus on Montana and regional artists, The Square hosts a number of exhibits each year, including ones that showcase gems from its permanent collection. Even the museum's building, which is on the National Historic Register, is a work of art. Built in the Richardsonian style, it is constructed of sandstone mined south of Great Falls. The campus features outdoor sculptures as well as a butterfly garden. The Square also boasts a healthy calendar of community events, such as hands-on craft workshops, an annual garden walk, and free after-school art classes. We spoke with Kim Thiel-Schaaf, the museum's director of operations and grant development, about this cultural treasure in the Treasure State.

NEA: Please tell us a little bit about the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art and what makes it unique.

KIM THIEL-SCHAAF: Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art is housed inside the historic Paris Gibson Square building, which is an imposing Richardsonian structure built in 1896 and listed on the National Historic Register. The building is named after Great Falls’ founding father, Paris Gibson. The building was originally the high school and then became a junior high school until it closed in 1975. In 1977 a group of volunteers re-opened the building as a cultural center that originally housed a number of groups such as the Historical Society, Genealogy Society, and the Museum. Since that time, all but the Museum of Art have moved on to other spaces in the community. Every week we have visitors who come to the building to reminisce about their school days in the building in addition to visitors to the gallery spaces. The Square, as we are lovingly known to area residents, has  a mission that encompasses the collection and display of contemporary, modern and self-taught/outsider art; engaging arts education for all ages and abilities; and the preservation of the historic building. In fact, The Square is the permanent home of the outsider art exhibition Lee Steen – A Montana Original, the only significant public display of Lee’s work, which are stick figure sculptures made of found materials.

NEA: What’s your favorite part of the museum and why?

THIEL-SCHAAF: For me the thing I love the most are The Square’s multifaceted points of entry for every visitor. Whether you came to enjoy an exhibition or to take a pottery class and everything in between there is something here for everyone. And thanks to the generous support of Farmer’s Union Insurance, a Montana company, we are able to offer free admission to the museum. We also have a number of programs that are free to the participants because we believe strongly that physical, mental, or economic challenges should not be a barrier to participating in the arts. The Square holds as a core belief that “Art is for Everyone,” and we strive every day to live that value.

Installation view of Behind the Vault Door: Selections from the Permanent Collection, on view through September 4th. Photo by Bob Durden

NEA: What’s on exhibit now?

THIEL-SCHAAF: Behind the Vault Door---an exhibition of artworks from The Square’s permanent collection aon display through September 4---is the beginning of a renewed focus that will feature rotating exhibitions of works from that collection. Deborah Ford: Cartography & The Cultural Terrain  is a photographic exhibition on view through October 24. The Devine Imagine: Concrete Sculptures by Dr. Charles Smith is on semi-permanent display through May 2011 and is another fine example of self-taught (outsider) art. Of interest to Blue Star Families may be the moving and poignant Three Thousand & Counting, which is a contemporary art installation by Jean Price that commemorates the human cost of the Iraq War. And set to open in September are Theodore Waddell---Selections from the Permanent Collection, which are drawings and paintings of remote sections of the Missouri River in Montana, Mary Kelly: Rivers Remembered – Rivers Imagined, which features the Bozeman, Montana artist’s aqueous media on paper and board, and Susan Thomas---Sublime Image, a new mixed media work by this Great Falls-based artist. I invite you to visit our web site to learn more about these exhibitions and our educational offerings, and then plan a visit soon. You won’t be disappointed.

NEA: What do you hope visitors to The Square will take away from the experience?

THIEL-SCHAAF: I hope that every visitor to The Square is encouraged to explore creativity further---both their own and that of others---and form connections with contemporary art. If they reside in the local area, I hope they consider participating in the plethora of art classes and workshops for all ages from Pre-School Open Studio, Free After School Program, Clay Day at The Square, to Senior Classes. Here at The Square art truly is for everyone.

NEA: Aside from the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, what’s your own favorite museum to visit and why?

THIEL-SCHAAF: I am not sure I have a favorite, but I enjoy visiting all of the wonderful museums that call Great Falls home during the annual Sunday Art Sampler each spring. The Great Falls Museums Consortium hosts the free event on a Sunday in early spring which allows area residents to visit and renew their appreciation for the fine arts institutions we have here, such as the C. M. Russell Gallery, The Children’s Museum of Montana, The History Museum, The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, and, of course, The Square.

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