Sunlight streaming through the spacious windows emanates from the exquisite handblown glasswork of Jon Offutt, a Fargo artist who captures the hues of North Dakota’s landscape in his vases. Against a raw brick wall, Walter Piehl’s brilliantly colored expressionistic brushstrokes reflect the Old West traditions. Across the gallery, the realism of the late Gary Miller’s steady-handed details quietly memorialize their creator.
Each piece of art is celebrated in the soaring space of The Capital Gallery, a downtown Bismarck art gallery. The gallery is owned by the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation as a new chapter in its 20-year journey of celebrating history, art and culture.
The gallery opened in November 2016, as a retail art gallery offering art for sale and amassing permanent collections that will be used as traveling exhibits across the state and country.
“The reaction from the collecting community has been wonderful, and the reaction from the community, from Bismarck-Mandan, has been just incredible,” says Foundation President David Borlaug.
“We want to be the catalyst for revealing wonderful art and culture to the world. We would love to see downtown Bismarck be known throughout the country as a great place to see great art. We’re part of the movement. Collectively, we’re offering a lot,” he says.
The Capital Gallery joins four other art galleries in downtown Bismarck, but this gallery has a unique mission: to continue support of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan in Washburn.
It’s a vision that began in 1997, when the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center opened in Washburn as a public/private partnership between the state of North Dakota and the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation. The Foundation also assumed responsibility for the nearby Fort Mandan replica, which had been constructed by the McLean County Historical Society in the early 1970s.
Through the partnership, the Foundation operated the state-owned facilities. During the 18-year partnership, the Foundation also raised more than $30 million to support the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan. Capital campaigns funded two major expansions, adding value to the state-owned assets by growing the center from 5,500 square feet to 20,000 square feet and opening a Fort Mandan Visitor Center in 2002.
“It’s a world-class museum and we’re immensely proud of what we did over an 18-year period,” Borlaug says.
But Borlaug describes the process as “mission accomplished.” With legislative approval, the N.D. Parks and Recreation Department took over daily operations of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan on May 1, 2015.
“We’re still connected, in that it’s still within our mission to support the facilities,” Borlaug says. “We have an institutional memory that they value.” But the Foundation moved its operations to Bismarck and stepped away from daily operations of the facilities.
With the move to new office space in Bismarck, the 11-member Foundation board of directors decided to also bring value to the community and focus on the Foundation’s strengths.
“One of the things that I’m the most proud of that our Foundation has accomplished over those 18 years is that we amassed a $1 million-plus art collection,” Borlaug says. That collection, which remains with the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, includes the historical art of Karl Bodmer and George Catlin, along with contemporary art from Plentywood, Mont., bronze sculptor Michael Westergard, Colorado western artist Michael Haynes and Minot artist Walter Piehl.
“We understand art. It’s been part of our mission all along, so it just seems like a natural transition to open an art gallery,” Borlaug says.
The new gallery, located in the historic F.W. Woolworth Co. building at 109 N. Fourth St., features expansive front windows, soaring ceilings and exposed brick that all enhance the art on display.
The Foundation will use proceeds from art sales to continue to support the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan, as well as the Foundation itself. Already, $100,000 has been dedicated to the Washburn museums in 2017.
The Foundation also intends to create a traveling art exhibit.
“With our mission statement, we are creating other art collections that will be made available to galleries across North Dakota and across the country,” Borlaug says.
Piehl, who recently retired from teaching art at Minot State University, has been commissioned to create eight paintings for the traveling exhibit.
“All of them will be focused on telling the story, through art, of the Northern Plains National Heritage Area, which is along the Missouri River corridor,” Borlaug describes. The exhibit will be complemented by other artists and is scheduled to open March 25 and continue through Oct. 31 at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn.
Meanwhile, The Capital Gallery will rotate featured artists through the seasons.
“It’s just going to be great art. It doesn’t matter where it’s from. It could be modern art, expressive art, it could be abstract,” Borlaug says.
This spring, the art of Piehl and Miller will be removed from the featured spaces and replaced with two other contrasting artists, although their art will remain for sale in the gallery.
In March, The Capital Gallery will feature Deane Colin Fay, a Gackle artist with expressive prairie landscapes and abstract sculptures of steel and granite who describes himself as “developing a vocabulary of images and forms that stimulate a universal aesthetic consciousness that considers the evolution of man’s fight for survival, his need to belong, and his compulsion for individual expression.” Fay’s art will be contrasted with Bismarck painter Vern Erickson, who puts history on canvas with his traditional western art.
From late summer through the end of the year, Bismarck native Jessica Wachter’s contemporary mixed media work sharing personal celebrations will be showcased.
“We’ll continue offering something for everybody,” Borlaug says.
The gallery also showcases furniture handcrafted from exotic wood by Fargo native Steve Revland, handmade jewelry and detailed handcrafted pens, among other art.
Also available at The Capital Gallery are approximately 100 bronze sculptures from the late Robert Scriver, a Montana sculptor known for his bronze bison and western themes from as early as the 1950s.
Pieces sold from the internationally known artist are from the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame’s collection and will benefit both the Hall of Fame and the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation.
The Capital Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and by appointment on Sundays or after hours. The gallery will be hosting art talks and programs for the public also.
As Borlaug contemplates an ethereal “The Journey” painted by Gary Miller when he was diagnosed with leukemia or Michael Westergard’s historic sculpture of Sakakawea, he sweeps an arm through the gallery space, restating the gallery’s mission of celebrating history, art and culture.
“We still have work to do,” Borlaug says.
To learn more: Visit The Capital Gallery’s website at www.TheCapitalGallery.com(link is external) or contact the gallery at 701-751-1698.