Village of dreams, city of colors

The Red Rooster is a shop in Missoula’s historic downtown, in an old building with creaky floorboards. There’s a hidden door to the basement, Harry Potter style, where I stash my paints and dream of the passageways and sidewalk vaults of historic Underground Missoula. The store itself brims with fine housewares arranged in pyramids of formidable height and balance. Who is the patron saint of not being a bull in a china shop? Props to that saint: it’s amazing that I don’t shatter anything while carrying ladders back and forth, wider than usual in four layers of painter’s clothes, or opening and closing the hidden door, upon which hang about two hundred kitchen implements that chime more or less gently as one passes through.

Kim, Janae and Heather, the owner and employees, are a creative, enthusiastic and friendly trio. Kim hired me to paint a Beatrix Potter-style scene advertising their spring extravaganza, which– I cannot even describe what they’ve done, but I’ll try. The shop is a world within a world. In every nook, there’s a fully decorated miniature cottage in woodland style, with woodland denizens, each themed and detailed down to the tiny letter in the tiny post box. The roofs are thatch or twig or faux grass. In the big window, a four-foot tree house spreads its limbs, well-read mice relaxing within its plush library. Children can visit and search for treasures, but I’m pretty sure adults would find it just as fascinating. It’s the closest thing Missoula may have to the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Chicago Museum of Art. Here’s a sample (click to enlarge):

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It’s even more cunning in person. (Viz.: the rabbit artist is painting a human nude. Touché.) Red Rooster will be open late for First Friday, so if you’re local, stop in during the gallery crawl. The display is also visible during regular business hours for the following dates:

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And. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Victorian miniatures: Red Rooster is also adjacent to the Oxford Bar, a.k.a. the Ox, probably the diviest bar in Missoula. So while painting, I was a fly on the wall (an artisan on the ladder?) by the Ox’s regular cast of the troubled, the wandering, the addicted: a slew of coughing humans taking shifts on its smoking bench, set kindly below an awning to keep off chilly rain. An astonishing number of scarred-lung loogies were retched up and deposited on the pavement.

The men and women chatted about where one could sleep for a few nights without the sheriff finding one and flushing one from the bushes. They riffed on DUIs, grudges, long-ago origin stories. There were occasional shouts and slurs, but they were kind to me. Maybe people respect an artist in working clothes? The Oxfordians ambled over, wafting second-hand smoke, and literally watched the paint dry. Many people shared stories about their own art, often with much (justifiable) pride. One guy learned horsehair weaving in prison, making belts and headdresses. Another man insisted upon gifting me a can of auto glass cleaner to help keep the windows nice. The harshest jibe I got was “I hate to break it to ya, man, but that ain’t no rooster!” as I put the finishing touches on Jemima Puddleduck.

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There were other passerby, too, the most charming of whom were a posse of Japanese foreign exchange students. They scarcely spoke English, but there was ample pointing, laughing, cooing, and photo ops. I like to imagine people looking at this small storefront halfway around the world. What a wide palette of experiences and challenges this work brings! Very grateful for the opportunities.

Next up is Cloth & Crown, the clothing boutique on the other side of Red Rooster, which requests borders resembling cascades of succulents. Another fun gig, surely involving more fascinating company, both inside and out!

P.S. A lot of you, especially out-of-towners, asked for a full view of “Water Fable,” the piece that was in the ZACC’s Art Activism show, so here it is:

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The opening was fun: a lively crowd filled the ZACC that night, gazing at the artworks and visiting the companion show of art against domestic violence. The rooms brimmed with improvisational dance, wine, music, and t-shirt silk-screening. Hence my splattered old paint shirt now sports a snazzy logo… though I realize that I gave it to Patricia inside-out. Ah well: that means it will look just right reflected in glass!