Tucked away into Montana’s dramatic Blackfoot River Valley, just off the highway but completely out of sight, is a true hidden gem. In a spot where nature and the great outdoors are celebrated, this art oasis seamlessly combines fine sculpture with the rugged landscape of the northeastern portion of the state, making it a magical must-see for any art lover.
Here are the things that drew us into Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild near Lincoln, Montana, and reasons you will want to visit the contemporary art installation, as well!
You’ll Learn About Montana’s Past … And Future
Located just outside the community of Lincoln, off scenic State Highway 200, Blackfoot Pathways celebrates the rich environmental, industrial, and cultural heritage of the Blackfoot Valley. In this picturesque section of Montana, mining, logging, and ranching were sustaining economic industries spanning generations. When the industrial core started to fade during the past quarter-century, areas like Lincoln needed to reimagine their future.
The idea behind Blackfoot Pathways combines the look back with the look ahead, using contemporary sculpture as a creative and economic bridge between the two. The artists whose work is displayed here were invited to create site-specific pieces using natural materials, as well as industrial items associated with the valley’s previous financial focus. The wayfinding and art explainers are both excellent, helping visitors connect the dots between the art and the valley’s previous existence.
When you visit, you’re not just admiring gorgeous works, you’re getting a history lesson at the same time. You’re also seeing a vision of the future where art can be truly an educational and economic driver, and where the local community — as well as visitors — can participate and learn.
The artwork that strikes this balance best is called Re-Imagining the Delaney Sawmill TeePee Burner, pictured above. TeePee burners were large metal structures where wood by-products were burned non-stop at sawmills throughout the area. Artist Kevin O’Dwyer decided to use a rusting long-shut burner as the centerpiece of an art installation which includes solar arrays and LED lights to recreate the glow residents would see coming from the burners in the boom days of the sawmills. Visitors can step inside to see massive archival photographs which further illustrate the story of Montana’s logging industry. It’s a stunning sculpture we’re still thinking about.
Local And Global Artists Are On Display
As you wander the paths throughout the park, you will likely be struck — as we were — that in addition to global artists, there are also many local and regional creators represented. Blackfoot Pathways also sponsors annual artist-in-residence and composer-in-residence programs, giving ample time for creation and installation. They even provide a chance for visitors and the community to help out the artists as they build their works. It’s clear that all involved at Blackfoot Pathways feel a strong connection to the land, its people, its past, and its present, and you’ll feel it first-hand when you visit.
Sculptures Blend Seamlessly With the Natural Landscape
In a way that reminded us of legendary glass artist Dale Chihuly’s installations, the artwork at Blackfoot Pathways combines perfectly with the natural Montana landscape. Native trees, including the area’s famous Ponderosa pines, plus shrubs and flowers, complement the works, and vice-versa. In all, more than a dozen large-scale permanent sculptures are joined by smaller temporary exhibits, all inspired at least partially by — and working in tandem with — nature.
It’s A Great Place To Get Your Steps In
Blackfoot Pathways occupies 26 acres just outside Lincoln, so this is a perfect place to stop, stretch, and get some steps and culture in at the same time. Pamphlets at the entrance include a good map that illustrates the trails and highlighted artworks. The trails are flat and accessible, too. A visit to Blackfoot Pathways makes for a peaceful, meditative stroll where you can reconnect with nature and marvel at the art.
The Special Events Are Truly Special
In a normal calendar year, Blackfoot Pathways offers a whole host of special events to welcome in visitors and the local community. These include the aforementioned artist-in-residence programs as well as special tours, artist talks, concerts, and other fundraisers. Events are listed on the sculpture garden’s website, and if you can coordinate with your visit, it’s a lovely value added to an already enchanting location.
Blackfoot Pathways is open dawn until dusk daily and is free of charge. It’s also near the halfway point between Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, which makes it and Lincoln a good stop-off point.
Plan to take your time to explore the park and its incredible work. Don’t forget to read the placards to better understand the connection between the art and the community, and keep an eye out for wildlife, as well!