Rankin looms large in downtown mural

October 5, 2018

Montanan Jeannette Rankin still looms larger-than-life for many admirers.

She was an early and effective women’s rights activist. She was a lifelong pacifist. She was the first woman elected to Congress. She voted her conscience.

Now, a local artist’s larger-than-life portrait of Rankin adorns the rear wall of Kalispell Brewing Co.’s building downtown.

Artist Tessa Heck developed the concept for the mural in consultation with Maggie Doherty, co-owner with husband Cole Schneider of Kalispell Brewing. Doherty and Schneider commissioned the work.

On Sept. 25, Heck and her architect husband, Zach George, began painting the mural, using a special type of masonry paint. Their work, which took about a week to complete, was aided by a projector that cast on the wall the mural’s computer mock-up created by Heck.

One evening, a man walking by shouted, “Thank you for bringing some culture to Kalispell!”

Heck, of course, makes no such grandiose claims. But she said she was grateful for the vocal support of public art.

Heck has a master’s in fine arts from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland and a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in painting from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. She has previously painted murals, but not outdoors and not at such a large scale as the Rankin mural.

A discussion about public art put the project in motion.

Heck and Doherty met earlier this year after being introduced by Marshall Noice, a co-owner of Montana Modern Fine Art. Both Doherty and Noice serve on the board of the Business Improvement District for downtown.

Doherty said she believes in public art and its potential to enliven and enrich a community and its downtown.

She said when she and her husband acquired the building for Kalispell Brewing she felt the wall facing the parking lot promised an ideal setting for a mural.

Heck and Doherty agreed they wanted the mural to provide a fresh take on Montana, offering an alternative to depictions of rugged mountains or wildlife.

“I love Montana and I wanted to put a new spin on how Montana is represented visually,” Doherty said.

Ultimately, Heck proposed the portrait of Rankin, along with one of Rankin’s quotes. The women opted to portray her as an older woman, both to honor Rankin’s tenacity and to avoid the ageism that seems to favor portraits of women at a younger age.

The Rankin quote highlighted by the mural, proclaims, “Go! Go! Go! It makes no difference where, just so you go! go! go!”

Heck said she found the quote to be inspirational. It is said to have been penned by Rankin in a college journal.

Last year, the Kalispell Public School Board of Trustees voted to name the district’s new elementary school for Rankin.

Born in 1880 on a ranch outside Missoula, Rankin first joined the U.S. House of Representatives after being elected in 1916.

History suggests Rankin lived her convictions and voted them, too. She opposed wars ranging from World War 1 to the Vietnam War.

She was re-elected to Congress in 1940. She famously cast the lone dissenting vote in 1941 when Congress declared war on Japan following Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. The Associated Press reported that her vote was met with “a chorus of hisses and boos.”

Biographers report that Rankin knew that vote would end her political career. And it did.

Yet, according to her House of Representatives biography, at the time of Rankin’s death, at age 92 in Carmel, California, “Rankin was considering another run for a House seat to protest the Vietnam War.”

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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