Gildford native's Hi-Line paintings featured in new book
Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson
North Star Elementary School fifth-grader Dylan Miller, 11, center, of Gildford is recognized during a special assembly at the school Thursday morning by author Donna Hopkins, left, of Whitefish and Montana Women Involved in Farm Economics calendar project Chairwoman Gladys Walling of Winifred for his winning entry in WIFE's 2012 The Art of Farming calendar. Miller's drawing was chosen for the calendar's cover.
As a youngster in the first half of the 20th century, James Bakke climbed up the watertower in his hometown of Gildford.
He took photographs of downtown Gildford, the train station, the hotel, the Merc building and the entire then-thriving business district.
He put the photos together and used them to do a painting using Crayola products because he couldn't afford oil paints.
When Bakke was 16, his family left their farm that had been family-owned since homestead days. They moved to Whitefish, and there he began doing paintings of the landmarks in that western Montana town.
Then he fell in love with Glacier National Park and did hundreds of paintings of the natural wonders found there.
Bakke's paintings became well-known, but the quiet, almost reclusive Bakke, did not.
Now, Donna Hopkins, a retired Flathead Valley Community college professor, has decided it's time to change that.
She has self-published a book, "James R. Bakke Montana Artist from The Prairie To Whitefish To Glacier National Park." It includes many of his paintings with stories about the artist.
Hopkins lived in Whitefish many years ago, and recalls the good times she had talking to Bakke and marveling at this work.
She went away for 20 years, and when she returned to teach at Flathead Valley, she looked him up.
It took some convincing, but he agreed to interviews for the book.
He told her his tales of being born the youngest of nine children and growing up a mama's boy.
He got his first job on Burlington Northern Railway after graduating from Whitefish High School. With his first paycheck, he bought a good camera.
He spent the next 33 years working for the railroad, but his passion was painting. He even took pictures on his lunch hour.
As years went by, he became a student of Dutch impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh.
Now 80, and unable to paint because of arthritis, Bakke talked of his years of painting.
The book has four general parts: His Gildford era, Whitefish, Glacier and portraits.
Hopkins was in Gildford on Thursday, visiting some of the places Bakke painted that are featured in her book.
She visited the homestead, 3 miles out of town, where Bakke grew up. It was there that Bakke painted "Prairie Shipwreck — Bakke Homestead" that is featured in Hopkins book. It shows the family home and several out buildings. The painting shows a barn that had just been leveled by a tornado.
Hopkins also stopped for a book signing at the Merc, which has prominently featured two of Bakke's paintings for years.
But the highlight of her day was a stop at North Star Elementary School, where she helped the Women Involved in Farm Economics organization present an award at a school assembly to a fifth-grader who might be the next Bakke.
Dylan Miller's — the award recipient — work will be featured on the calendar put out each year by WIFE which holds a statewide contest for which young people submitted their artwork.