It didn’t start out to be a classic Central Montana road trip but it sure ended up that way!
Two of us were on our way to a meeting in Red Lodge, MT and decided to take a route that we hadn’t done in awhile. About 25 miles east of Great Falls we turned south on to US Hwy 89 and started a stunningly beautiful drive on the Kings Hill Scenic Byway (more about the scenic byway in a future blog).
At the junction of US Hwys 89 and 12 we turned east. As we drove past Lake Sutherlin and the Bair Reservoir I saw no one fishing or camping. It was Sunday afternoon so perhaps everyone had gone home after a weekend of enjoying the outdoors but…someone could have had a private camping and fishing experience with your own lake, filled with a future dinner!
We turned off Hwy 12 at the sign for Martinsdale and in just one mile the Bair Museum appeared. This huge complex includes the 26-room ranch home of the Bair Family – expanded multiple times over by Charlie Bair’s daughters Alberta and Marguerite. Oh, to have been able to go shopping with those gals! After they spent several months a year traveling (in the US and Europe) exploring and shopping, they would return home, ship their items back and then have to add on to the house.
My favorite photo op when I drive up to the Bair Museum is the sheepherder’s wagon shown above. On a docent-led tour of the family’s home you learn the ranching and sheep raising history of Charlie Bair.
After we parked the car our first stop was the new (a couple of years old) museum and visitor center. What a showpiece – 7,300 square feet, completely climate controlled, museum quality design, and it fits right in with the other structures on the ranch.
We paid a nominal admission fee (yes, I qualified for the senior discount) and began slowly absorbing the stunning displays.
From Charles M. Russell paintings and illustrated letters to Joseph Henry Sharp oils, Native American artifacts and rugs, Edouard Cortes oils and Edward S. Curtis photogravures, it was a feast for the senses.
An interactive kiosk is placed in the gallery with Native American artifacts and it gave information about each piece in the display. We had planned a fairly quick overview/visit to the Bair Museum but it soon became a major stop on our drive.
An exhibit on loan from the Yellowstone Art Museum is displayed in the special projects gallery and features wood block prints by Montana native Edith Freeman. More on this to come! I can do an entire blog about this display and what I learned about printmaking.
Another long-term loan is a display titled The Big Elk Creek Cache. Artifacts found years ago and preserved by a local resident are a testament to Native American heritage in this area.
Volunteers at the museum were so helpful – both knowledgeable and friendly. There was just one other couple in the museum while we were there but the volunteers said it had been a busy day for them with a steady stream of visitors.
The Bair Museum is such a treasure. Visitors can learn an amazing amount of history, view eclectic displays in the home, and learn to appreciate the vast variety of art and art techniques once used.
There is also a gift shop with local and Montana made items and some additional displays about Charlie Bair and his ranching life.
The museum is open seasonally from May to October and it is just one mile from the little community of Martinsdale. Full disclosure here – a scrumptious piece of homemade rhubarb pie was consumed at the Crazy Mountain Inn in Martinsdale after our visit to the Bair Museum. All that touring makes me hungry!
Start planning your Central Montana road trip and I highly recommend allowing plenty of time at the Bair Museum!