Below, on Lake McDonald, they were trailed by racing sheets of shadow that darkened the troughs between the waves, and turned green forests black. Then, as the low ceiling ripped open, wave crest and mountain crest alike blazed with silver, a fiery shimmer that kindled the world anew. But you can't chase the light. If you start chasing the light, you're doomed to failure. Still, Ogle swirled more white into his gray, lightened the palette just a bit, tried to catch the patina spilling like mercury across the lake before it was swallowed by another shadow.
The artist shook his head, mixed the palette darker and muttered something to the effect of "your brain is on twitch, you know, the whole time you're out here.
Which explains, perhaps, how he can paint 3, Glacier National Park landscapes and come back eager for number 3,, how he can follow a century of creative footsteps - made by some pretty big shoes - and keep it fresh as that light just now breaking through.
Different weather, different atmosphere. Right now, this is the only time in all of history that the light's going to be exactly like that. And as he spoke, it shifted, softening the skyline of stone that cracks blue sky with sharp silhouette. Dave Mihalic is former superintendent of this park, and also an artist, and calls this "a magical landscape that causes creative juices to flow. He wrote that in the forward to Larry Len Peterson's book, "The Call of the Mountains: The Artists of Glacier National Park," where he also wrote that this is a landscape that "inspires creative genius in artists.
Genius or no, Mihalic spent a lifetime chasing Glacier's light, "the incredible morning light of Glacier that casts giant shadows of mountains one on another or slices through the crisp morning air to sparkle the dew. It is the same dew that sparkled for the first artists, the Native Americans who captured these peaks on rock walls and tepee hides. It is the same dew that sparkled for the early European modernists, hired years ago by Great Northern Railway to paint "America's Alps" for promotional ads.
It is the same dew that sparkled for cowboy artist Charlie Russell, who worked from a waterfront cabin just a stone's throw from Ogle's easel. Sure, somebody else might have painted this scene before. But not him, and not on this day, and so it is perpetually clean and new and, as he said, "a once-in-a-lifetime chance. That's how Glacier gets you, is tiny moment by tiny moment. Despite its million-acre wilderness, its neck-craning peaks and plunging valleys, Glacier Park captures people in the most intimate and individual ways, the ways artists just can't help but chase.
Montana's modernist art heritage in general, and certainly Glacier's in particular, can be traced in a fairly direct way straight back to the Great Northern Railway.
Exactly one century ago this summer, the railroad barons lobbied successfully for creation of Glacier, which they saw as a destination for well-heeled and well-funded eastern tourists. Immediately, Great Northern began commissioning artists to promote the new park - John Fery, Winold Reiss, Julius Seyler and other European painters eager to bring fine art to the new West. They plastered the country with postcards and stamps and playing cards, brochures and luggage stickers and books, coins and maps and travel guides, canvases and murals and poster prints.
One of the first to sign on was Fery, veteran of the Vienna Academy of Art and known for big pieces that made people feel as if they could walk right into his landscapes. The railroad was crystal-clear as to the purpose of its patronage: "We ought to get out 12 or 15 pieces a month," Great Northern wrote to Fery in That's also what they were paying Reiss for. An alumni of Munich's Royal Academy of Fine Arts, his specialty was portraits rather than landscapes, and in particular portraits of Blackfeet Indians.
Reiss," wrote the railroad's president, "was the first painter who saw the Indian abstractly as subject for art. Reiss did for Native Americans what Russell did for cowboys, capturing both the romance and the reality in a way that elevated Western art to fine art, and opened a window easterners could look through and wonder.
He also opened a painting school, which, while not the intellectural salon Russell built on Lake McDonald, did serve as a magnet for creative talents. Each knew this shoreline, and this skyline, and heard the color of summer in the endless rhythm of waves sizzling a retreat across sun-warmed gravel.
But you'd not mistake the paintings of one for the work of another, despite their shared experiences. Glacier fills a vast physical space, of course, but also a tremendous spiritual space that countless artists have worked to fill. They've painted for much the same reason Larry Len Peterson collected their works in his book - because "my mind can never pluck and hold the scenic majesty of this wonderland.
For Ogle, at least, it is a simple attraction. He paints with a portable wooden easel, and with bear spray in his pack. He paints year-round, through blizzards and blistering summer sun, and fall is his favorite. He paints with mosquitoes and tourists buzzing in his ears, and with that shifting light he can't quite keep up with, and with rain and wind and soft snow underfoot. This isn't the academics of studio work - "this is pure, the purest form of painting there is. Sometimes, Ogle spends a week at a time, "and by the end of that time, you're just hitting on all your cylinders.
You start to catch the bones, the raw bones of what's in front of you. The park, he said, has seen a renaissance of painters these last couple of decades, driven by increased interest in Western art, but he sees it much the way he sees this whitewater river - he's part of an artistic flow that started long before, will continue long after; it is recognizable through spring surge and summer drought, but never quite the same water one moment to the next. It's endless.
The drive to do the art hasn't changed. Just look at it - it's the same inspiration. Bright white water spilling from aquamarine pools, red argillite brushed with neon green lichen, blue sky, rainbow mountain, glowing cloud against deep space.
Gray dipper, yellow butterfly, dappled swirl of trout and river rock. Wind in the cottonwood, leaves flashing green and silver. Yet there it was still, a piece of it caught on his canvas like a cloud on a peak, a once-in-a-lifetime moment that's lasted a century and more. A young boy broke away from his tourist family and watched the brush race to keep up with the sky, and then he laughed out loud, and applauded, and in an instant that boy owned a piece of that mountain, because he saw it created right before his eyes.
Who knows? Perhaps that young tourist boy will return one day with paints of his own, to capture and be captured by these timeless scenes. Or, if not him then surely someone else, one more in the apparently endless line of Glacier Park artists, constantly chasing the light. Reporter Michael Jamison can be reached at or at mjamison missoulian. Photographer Kurt Wilson can be reached at or at kwilson missoulian. Log In Become a Member. Dashboard Logout.
Infinite muse: Artists are forever chasing Glacier's changing light. Share this. Ogle has made some 3, paintings from Glacier and is perhaps the most well-known painter of the park currently working. Kurt Wilson. A small palette of primary colors allows artist Mark Ogle to mix any color he needs.
From left, humorist Irvin S. Glacier National Park Archives. While his painting dries in the rocks along Lake McDonald, Ogle picks up his materials to move to a different location for another painting.
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Ogle cleaned his brushes, packed his kit, took with him a scene only he could see. You must be logged in to react. Click any reaction to login. Be the first to know We'll send breaking news and news alerts to you as as they happen! Sign up! Related to this story. Glacier National Park Centennial. Sep 7, Close 1 of 9. Notifications Settings. Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device. News Alert. Breaking News.