Photo: Leslie Van Stavern Millar II, detail of Jeanette Rankin and Queen Elizabeth I Dine at the Broadwater Hotel, Helena -1950, gouache on paper, 1995, copyright the artist.

Leslie Van Stavern Millar II: Montana Peepshow Stories

September 21 2016 - January 21 2017

Leslie Van Stavern Millar’s new exhibition, Montana Peepshow Stories, is engaging and entertaining, and we can say the same of Millar. Many are familiar with her art performance persona, “Science Woman,” who appears widely in parades across the state and researches and lectures on scientific topics, such as how art improves the quality of life and what makes living in Montana a unique experience.

More than 20 years ago, Science Woman presented the first Montana Peepshow Stories that depicted Queen Elizabeth I as a time-traveler visiting historic moments in Montana as part of the Caravan Project, a mobile art collective that visited rural communities throughout the state. For the MAM exhibition, Millar has added five paintings to the original five in the series. The new works depict the Queen and specific people and events in Missoula’s history, such as the Black Bicycle Corps of Fort Missoula, the Salish Pow Wow in Arlee, and President Roosevelt on the occasion when he spoke on Higgins Avenue in 1911.

The series of 10 paintings are housed in freestanding wooden boxes, calling to mind the peepshows of yesteryear. Visitors will find the peepshows featured in MAM’s Travel Montana Lobby and encounter the works throughout the museum’s three floors. Millar’s peepshows have a long history of involving viewers in a sense of discovery. Using gouache pigments, Millar masterfully paints the narrative scenes in meticulous detail and luscious color. Her bold, matte colors and figures frozen in position evoke innocence and sincerity. The compositions are stunning; Millar can divide a scene with a perfectly straight line and counterbalance with the sweep of a flag or roll of distant hills. Repetition is also the key to her work. The detail of a brick wall or the pattern on a woman’s dress moves the viewer’s eye through the image. Rather than creating frenetic motion, these patterns create stability and offer a fresh and contemporary view of the repeating patterns of local history.