State represented well by cool art in nation's Capitol

A refurbished plaster relief of Col. Robert Shaw and black soldiers is on display in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Fort Shaw, west of Great Falls, was named for the Civil War hero. The piece of art was created by American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. TRIBUNE PHOTO/RICHARD ECKE

Montana has a presence in Washington beyond its members of Congress and its two representatives in the Capitol's Statuary Hall collection — artist Charlie Russell and Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin.

I found that out during a recent trip with my wife to the Washington, D.C., area. We had some time to sightsee before Carol's conference began, and we soon detected evidence of Montana's existence.

In the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian, for instance, the Blackfeet tribe was prominently mentioned. It's one of 15 tribes featured on an upper floor of the sweeping structure. The museum contains a dramatic central skylight that allows natural light into the building.

Meanwhile, the National Gallery of Art offered an exhibit that was startlingly spectacular and had a Montana connection. The massive plaster piece resembles a similar sculpture on display on the Boston Common in Massachusetts.

This restored plaster, a work of art, is painted gold, and is quite a sight to see. It shows Col. Robert Shaw, a Civil War hero, on horseback.

Shaw's demise in a bloody Civil War assault on a Confederate fort, along with dozens and dozens of African American soldiers, was the subject of a fine 1989 film called "Glory." Actor Denzel Washington won his first Oscar, a best supporting actor trophy, for his work on "Glory."

Fort Shaw was located in the Sun River Valley west of Great Falls, a military fort after the Civil War that closed as a military installation before the end of the 1800s.

In its military days, soldiers from Fort Shaw marched in 1876 during the Army's move against gathered Indian tribes in southeast Montana. The Fort Shaw soldiers arrived to find the 7th Cavalry under Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer had been wiped out by Native American warriors at the Little Bighorn.

Toward the end of our trip, I opened the New York Times Book Review and found Great Falls author Jamie Ford in the Top 20 for paperback trade fiction for his best-selling "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," which focuses on the country's imprisonment of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II.

Montana always seems to pop up somewhere.

A tall, lanky guy walked along the sidewalk last month outside the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History near the Mall in Washington, D.C.

He looked familiar. My wife and I continued to walk toward the man, and we recognized him as Aaron Weissman, a Great Falls businessman who lives a block away from our house on the Lower North Side.

It's weird to see someone you know in a strange place, although it's probably not all that strange to run into someone in a touristy area such as the nation's capital. Some years back, we stood in line for the Haunted House ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and spotted Diane Volk, a Great Falls businesswoman, in the same line we were in.

Probably the least startling encounter would be in an airport, where we have run into people we know from time to time.

Still, it's fun to run across Montanans when you're far from home.

Nearly a dozen Montanans from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation worked as stunt men and wranglers on "Cowboys & Aliens," an offbeat film starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford that opened in theaters Friday.

"We also provided horses" during filming last summer in New Mexico, stunt man Judge Hall said. A common stunt was falling off a horse after getting blasted by aliens.

"Pretty much everybody died on this show," Hall quipped. Each stunt man "died" in the movie multiple times.

Joining Hall in stunt and wrangling duties during filming were Dutch Lunak; Scotty, J.C. and Nelson Augare; Dan Edmo, Chris Carlson, Johnny Crazy Bull, Dawson Roundine, Wes Edwards and Shawn Jenkins, Hall said.

Hall said there might be more work coming from the same source.

"They already have the sequel written," he said.

Richard Ecke writes a weekly column on city life. Reach him at, or at 406-791-1467 or 800-438-6600.

Read More >>>>>>