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Bakke photo exhibit finds home at Glacier airport

November 27, 2018

The photographs of James R. Bakke, a Whitefish artist who died in 2013, have found a new home at the Glacier Park International Airport, thanks to the support and conviction of Terry Abell and Bret Bouda.

Abell is the executor of the James R. Bakke estate. After the death of the artist, Abell found among Bakke’s possessions a forgotten box of slides. Thousands of original color slides had languished in boxes and left to waste away. At this point, Abell brought the photographs to his friend, renowned Glacier Park photographer Bret Bouda.

“I was amazed at what I was seeing,” recalled Bouda. Bakke was a well known painter, but his skills as a photographer were an untapped aspect of his life and work. Bouda found himself looking through slides that were beautiful, historic and in desperate need of preservation. And Bouda, an avid lover of both photography and history, began the long work of scanning all of the salvageable images.

When the work was finally done, Abell and Bouda knew they had a real treasure on their hands. They partnered with the Museum at Central School for the first display of James Bakke’s photography.

That could have been the end of the story, but both Abell and Bouda weren’t ready to throw in the towel.

“His work needs to be seen,” said Abell.

The men have dedicated uncountable hours to this work - not for themselves. There is no profit in it; their only goal is simply to see the work out in the world.

Bouda worked with the Stumptown Historical Society, the keepers of Bakke’s paintings, and Rob Ratkowski, the director of Glacier Park International Airport, to put up a display that combines historic photographs of the airport and a painting of President Nixon on a visit to the airport in the 1970s.

When Bouda and Abell hung that collection, they found the empty space on the wall near the security office and decided it would be a perfect home for the Bakke photo collection. Ratkowski agreed.

“This was an excellent opportunity for us to begin establishing more of a sense of place,” said Ratkowski. The airport is planning a terminal expansion project in coming years that will infuse local art, local architecture and local themes to give travelers a better sense of the place they’re visiting.

The photos are now up and on display near where passengers line up to enter the security area. The next time you fly out of Glacier Park International, pause to take in the work of a master artist who captured enduring images of Glacier National Park and his Flathead Valley home.

Photographer Brenda Ahearn may be reached at 758-4435 or bahearn@dailyinterlake.com.

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