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Story and photos by: Krista Corner
CHESTER - The Liberty Valley Arts Center and Gallery in Chester is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Artists from the Hi-Line and noted artists from elsewhere have displayed here. From its beginnings as a church in 1910, the building that houses the arts center has a rich history, director Craig Waldron said.
Waldron holds receptions for local and renowned artists, teaches art to children, and allows visitors to Chester to really see the creativity of Hi-Line artists. Waldron said that this year, in addition to normal activities, he hopes to restore the building's exterior while he awaits approval from the board to renovate the interior.
Waldron said the St. Mary's Catholic church owned the building first. The parishioners worshiped within the walls until 1963.
The building was bought by Dr. and Mrs. Richard Buker Jr. and turned into a youth and community center, Liberty County Library assistant Bev Jochim said.
Phillip Aaberg, a pianist from Chester, used it quite frequently during his high school years, she added.
In 1976, the building was donated to the Liberty County Arts Council, Jochim said.
In the past year, Waldron said there have been several children's workshops and several receptions for artists both local and more well-known.
Russell Chatham of Livingston is a renowned landscape artist. Waldron said the artist has sold several of his works to various Hollywood legends. The stars, he said, have found it quite “chic” to collect landscapes and other works of art from Montana artists. Chatham presented selections of his collection at the center last Friday.
Local artists show their work regularly as well. Brenda Yirsa of Big Sandy displayed her works in July of last year. “Craig invited me to display, and I took him up on it. He was great,” Yirsa said.
She said the show was fun, even though she didn't sell anything, adding that she would display again if asked.
At her reception last year, Yirsa said, there were people not only from Chester, but other states and Canada.
“On opening day, July 1, we had a reception for whoever wanted to come,”she said. “There was people from Canada and other states passing through Chester, and they stopped by. I was kind of surprised.”
Yirsa's art includes oil paintings, soft pastels and original art quilts.
Waldron said he has plans to renovate the building to its original charm as a church, but would like it to keep its art gallery feel. This spring and summer, Waldron will be replacing and painting the siding. He has submitted plans to renovate the inside, but he has not yet received approval. Waldron also wants to renovate the basement and co-op with a program out of Helena to build a “Discovery for Kids” center in the basement, he said. He added with the funding cuts in schools, there sometimes isn't much room for art. He hopes the center will be a place where the community's children can experience art and culture. The center hosts regular workshops for children, and last Friday, Waldron taught elementary kids about lithography. The lesson, he said, went along with Chatham's visit and display.
“The reception was a lot of fun,” Waldron said. “(Chatham) was very friendly.”
In addition to adding more educational programs for kids, Waldron would like to see the former use of a community hall revived.
“They used to hold dances here,” he said Thursday. “I might even like to use the basement for that as well.”
The Liberty Valley Arts Center is open year-round. Hours of operation are from noon to 4 p.m Tuesday through Friday and on Sundays. It is located four blocks south of U.S. Highway 2 at 400 S. Main St. For more information, call Craig Waldron at (406) 759-5652.