The Chinooks of Jussila YAM hosts storyteller, poet and artist Neil Jussila

Neil Jussila will tell you stories. An abstract painter, poet, Vietnam veteran, and the current artist in residence at the Yellowstone Art Museum, Jussila has a knack for painting pictures with words.

When Jussila was 16, at the urging of a family friend, he timidly took some of his art to the Montana Institute of Arts in Butte. This social organization took him in, and he began to hang with a crowd of painters. After their art sessions, they would gather at the Log Cabin Bar.

“I was intimidated. I was a real amateur,” Jussila said. “They accepted me as another adult, treated me to a beer. Real grown up stuff to a 16-year-old.”

As Jussila tells it, one night around the bar, Jackson Pollock is mentioned. The group asks, “Do you think that’s art?” Local artist Fred Mass, who had taken Jussila under his wing, lights a pipe. As a billowing cloud of smoke rolls from him, he begins to describe the arctic front that Butte was in the grips of. “It’s going to come to an end. When it comes to an end, you’ll know right away. The skies will be leaden and you’ll feel a warm wind coming in—that’s the Chinook. By the end of the day, you’ll see streams coming down the streets of Butte, people waking in the slush, and it will just feel good.”

Jussila continues to narrate the story. “Fred said, ‘I don’t think that you could depict the sensation of a Chinook any other way than through abstract painting and expressionism.’ I was young at the time when I came across that information. It stuck, and it has been one of the guiding principles in my life of art.”

Jussila, whose work is dashed with abstraction, thick brush strokes and primary colors, is working on a new series of scroll paintings. His residence at the YAM has allowed him the freedom to work with these large-scale prints, crafted from his original abstract paintings, featuring his poetry handwritten in Jussila’s characteristic script.

“It was a lot better than having ‘#48, Red Sun at Dawn,’ on there, which people cannot connect with,” he said.

Jussila, “halfway through 73,” is living a contemplative life. His paintings are about being fully in the moment, the celebration of spirit, freedom and energy, life and mind, and love.

Being the YAM’s artist in residence has been prolific for Jussila. He launched a series of miniature watercolor paintings, which he placed for sale for $55 at the front desk of the YAM. “Some days, I would make about 30 watercolors, fast and one after another, and then I did so many of them I got tired of them. I just ran out of steam.”

Jussila decided if he were to stay a full year as the resident, he “better get busy and start doing something that I’ve always been interested in doing.”

“I have to really concentrate on creative work, so I have to get cracking and doing things that I think are important.”

While in Japan during the Vietnam War, Jussila was first introduced to scroll paintings and purchased one from a pawnshop in Tokyo.

“It is my most prize possession,” he describes. “I have looked at that and looked at that over the years, and I have experimented with the idea of scroll paintings for many years.”

Many false starts and failures later, he started playing around with digital printing, which allows the paintings to be enlarged and that print hung in an affordable, elegant way.

Jussila will be in residence through October 2, 2016. His studio hours at the Gary and Melissa Oakland Artist-in-Residence Studio at the Visible Vault are Tuesday through Friday 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m and 1:30 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.

The Art of Masquerade YAM shows its wild side at masked fundraiser

Yellowstone Art Museum’s first Masquerade Ball successfully packed the museum with more than 400 party-goers. Attendees at the sold-out fundraising bash took to the theme in grand style, clad in anything from ball gowns to ghoulish face paint to one attendee in a towel and mud facial mask.

Billings AlternaCirque hung from the rafters of the museum, performing aerial acts and serving as bartenders while DJ Benefit kept an energetic vibe. Though lines were long, event attendees who stuck to it had tarot card readings and were taken on a ghost tour of the museum.

Numbers aren’t in for the total amount raised just yet, but ticket price math seems to equal a success. What may have seemed like an outlandish event for the historically conservative museum showed a wilder side to nonprofit fundraising, hopefully smashing the idea that raising funds is best left to auctioneers and black-tie attire.

Curator discusses Pulitzer Prize photographs display at YAM

Coming to the YAM August – December 2011

Among the bullets they shoot their cameras, and in viewfinders they watch as the world unfolds. Documenting moments of time, photographers record humanity’s stories—stories of human anguish and triumph, of the impoverished and defenseless, the fearless and the frustrated, and often stories of the forgotten.

Arguably the most iconic photographs of all time, the works of Pulitzer Prize recipients are coming to the Yellowstone Art Museum in August. Vividly these still images represent humanity’s resilience through triumph and disgrace. So many stories are captured in the grains and pixels of photographs—stories that make up who we are.

The exhibit, titled “Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs,” is the most comprehensive traveling display of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, featuring works by Pulitzer recipients from 1942 to present.

Newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer established journalism’s highest honor, the Pulitzer, in 1917. The Pulitzer Prize for distinguished newspaper photography was established in 1942, and a second prize was added in 1968 for feature photography. To receive the Pulitzer, photographs must first be published in American newspaper, though subject matter has a global scope.

From the raising of an American flag at Iwo Jima to the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald to attack on the World Trade Center, a total of 160 works (including all 118 Pulitzer winning photos through 2011) are displayed in “Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs.”

Continue reading Curator discusses Pulitzer Prize photographs display at YAM

Combining forms: Polly Apfelbaum’s ‘Fallen Paintings’

Billings resident Trista Henry takes in “Mini Hollywood,” a display of Polly Apfelbaum’s work at the Yellowstone Art Museum, which opened on April 1.

Instead of hanging on the wall, contemporary artist Polly Apfelbaum’s creations are displayed on the floor. Like painting or sculpture, Apfelbaum’s work relies heavily on color, texture and form, yet her textile pieces are created from materials formed into abstract shapes to create what she has termed “fallen paintings.”

“I’m a person who is between paining and sculpture,” Apfelbaum said in a recent interview while in Billings setting up her latest artistic endeavor. Termed “Mini Hollywood,” the art display opened April 1 at the Yellowstone Art Museum.

Since a showing of her assemblage art in 1986 in New York, where Apfelbaum calls home, she’s been working as an artist and exhibiting her work internationally. Crushed velvet, crepe paper, felt, bed sheets and safety pins are some of the materials Apfelbaum has used in her work. For the Billings instillation, she selected sequined fabrics commonly used in the fashion industry.

A close-up of the fabric Poly Apfelbaum uses reveals sequins shimmering in the gallery lights.

These fabrics, laid on the floor like carpeting, sprawl from the corners of three galleries on the YAM’s first floor. Yet the material, like wet slabs of colorful paint, embodies a high sheen. The work is playful; the colors create holographic rainbow hues across the gallery and float from the ground to the ceiling, creating a multi-layered effect that fills the spaces.

“I want people to feel the color,” Apfelbaum said. “When you look at a painting on the wall, that’s one thing, but when you have to walk through, colors start moving and shifting, and that for me is really wonderful. Every minute it’s a different thing.”

Continue reading Combining forms: Polly Apfelbaum’s ‘Fallen Paintings’

Postsecret founder Frank Warren discusses upcoming YAM exhibit


Wrenching confessions, guilty pleasures and clever observations of the world are subjects of some of the hundreds of anonymous postcards Frank Warren receives each day.

Warren, who considers himself an “accidental artist,” began receiving secrets in the mail as part of a one-time community art project in 2004. He distributed 3,000 self-addressed postcards in the Washington, D.C. area with a message inviting strangers to share a secret with him. The requirements were: It had to be true, and it had to be previously undisclosed.

Five years later, Warren—often referred to as the most trusted stranger in America—receives about 1,000 postcards each week, delivered to his home in Germantown, Maryland. Many postcards feature elaborate artwork and delicate handwriting confessing a never-before told secret.

“I had no idea how it would resonate with so many people,” Warren said in a recent phone interview. “It’s been shocking, but also very gratifying.”

Secret Owner

Warren shares the postcards he receives online, in books, and through art exhibits, and all have received exceptional response. His fifth book, “PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God,” was released Oct. 6, and more than a million books in the PostSecret collection have been sold. Each Sunday selected postcards are shared online at, a Web site that receives more than five million visitors each month. In addition, collections of postcards travel the country as art exhibits, and 400 of these postcards are currently on display at the Yellowstone Art Museum.
Continue reading Postsecret founder Frank Warren discusses upcoming YAM exhibit