In a perfect case of the right artist for the right cause, L.R. Montgomery will open an exhibition this Friday at Dodson’s Jewelers of 45 new works he has painted of scenes from the Dishman Hills Conservation Area. He will donate 20 percent of all the proceeds from the show to the Dishman Hills Conservancy.
“Dishman Hills is one of the loves of my life,” Montgomery said. “I’m always there painting anyway, so it made a lot of sense for me to have a show to benefit the conservancy.”
As one of Spokane’s premier plein air painters, Montgomery has been setting up his easel alongside the trails, ponds, ridges and rocks of Dishman Hills for decades. His painterly presence, holding a brush while knee deep in grass or sinking in the mud, became so expected, and appreciated, that Dishman Hills Conservancy executive director Jeff Lambert named him the natural area’s official artist-in-residence.
“Some people work all their lives for an artist residency,” Montgomery said, laughing. “(Lambert) just came over to the house one day and handed me my own business cards. He said I was there all the time anyway.”
Montgomery does act as ambassador, of sorts, for Dishman HIlls, Lambert said. The artist is often questioned by hikers who come across him painting plein air. He hands out pamphlets and offers on-the-spot history lessons to those who ask about the various places where he paints in the 2,800 acres of woodland. The fact that the land is tucked into a highly residential area, surrounded on two sides by the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley, makes it even more remarkable. And accessible.
“Sometimes I just have to hike in farther away from the trails or I’ll start having conversations with people, which is fun, but I can’t get any work done,” Montgomery said.
Nearly everything he paints of Dishman Hills sells, Montgomery said. The artist’s joyous emotions, his embrace on canvas of the changing seasons, the way he lovingly paints the leaves and rocks, the long shadows at dusk, comes through to people.
“I met one girl on the trail riding on her horse, and she bought three paintings from me,” Montgomery said. “A painting isn’t really worth any money, but a story is priceless.”
The money raised by the exhibition will go to the conservancy’s efforts to acquire the land necessary to complete the conservation corridor, running about 8 miles from Appleway Avenue to the Rocks of Sharon. The land will be used for conservation, recreation and educational activities.
“L.R.’s paintings are fabulous. That’s the number one thing, of course,” Lambert said. “But the other draw is what a great venue and great time it will be to celebrate community support for the Dishman Hills.”
Dodson’s Jewelers’ owner Penn Fix and his wife and managing partner Debra Schultz are longtime supporters of both local artists and area conservation efforts. At any given time, the walls of the building’s main floor and the 1,500 square foot gallery in the mezzanine are filled with 250 paintings from 15 different artists that the gallery represents.
Schultz co-founded the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy and serves on the board of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.
“It’s exciting to be able to help two groups (artists and conservationists) we care so much about,” Fix said.
Fix said that an added draw for art-goers to this month’s exhibition is the relatively low price points. The starting price for an original painting is $150, in order to enable more people to own a work by Montgomery.
“There are pieces he has for $900 and $1,200 that could easily go double anywhere else,” Fix said. “L.R. wanted to make the show accessible.”
One reason Montgomery can afford to offer art at lower prices is his sheer proflicacy. “He’s got that ability and energy to produce so much and of very fine quality,” Fix said.
“I paint every day,” Montgomery said. “My parents taught me that if you find something you love, you don’t have to work.”
Montgomery describes himself as the son of a millwright and a Norwegian homemaker. His early years as a child in Hillyard were fun times of bike riding, playing with friends and dinner every night with family. He also loved to make art in his room.
His passions now are riding horses and painting. He and his wife Carole, who knew each other as children, live in a house near another property he adores to paint, Manito Park.
Montgomery is always ready to share his uplifting outlook with those he meets while painting in nature.
“People like to buy my paintings for the story that goes along with it,” Montgomery said. “I usually do a small 5-by-7 or 8-by-9 and then take it back to the studio to paint it bigger, but a lot of people want to buy it right off the easel even though it’s not done. I give them the first right of purchase on Saturdays.”
The Dishman Hills’ paintings by Montgomery are as varied as the land itself. There are giant outcroppings on the south end and meadows full of flowers near Appleway. “We also have rocky ravines, wetlands and ponds and people find them all beautiful,” Lambert said.
Montgomery would agree.
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