Colors Above: The Montana Art Installation

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The Lewis and Clark Library in Helena, Montana, recently unveiled an intriguing addition: a captivating art installation that adorns the ceiling, catching the eye of anyone who enters. The brainchild behind this mesmerizing piece is John Waltner, a visionary artist whose inspiration struck during a visit to Helena about a year ago. As he gazed upward into the library’s expansive space, an idea began to form—his art could elevate and fill the airy void above the shelves of books.

John, hailing from Kansas, embarked on a creative journey after discussions with the library staff. His mission: to craft an art installation that would enliven the library’s atmosphere, infusing it with vibrancy and allure. The result of his year-long dedication materialized into a mobile titled “‘Oro y Plata’ — Colors of Montana,” a testament to the captivating hues of Montana’s landscapes.

The genesis of this artwork drew from Montana’s State Seal, where the phrase “Oro y Plata” meaning “Gold and Silver” in Spanish, serves as a prominent inscription. However, beyond mere symbolism, John aimed to craft a piece that transcended representation, focusing instead on evoking joy and wonder. “All I’m about is trying to get color up in the air,” he remarked. His creations aren’t intended to symbolize concrete objects or ideas; they exist purely to embrace the interplay of colors, shapes, and configurations, inviting observers to delve into their abstract beauty.

For John, the choice of the library as the canvas for his creation wasn’t arbitrary. It was a deliberate decision to champion public spaces and the impact of public art on communal well-being. His belief in the inherent value of exposure to art resonates deeply: “I think that exposure, exposure to public art is just plain healthy for us.” He perceives art as more than just visual stimuli; it’s an influence that quietly shapes our sensory experiences, enriching our lives even when we simply pass by without pausing to contemplate its meaning.

In Waltner’s artistic journey, his installation finds companionship in another striking hanging piece created by a local artist, Richard Swanson. Together, these artworks breathe life into the library’s space, transforming it into a sanctuary where art intertwines with literature, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in a realm of creativity and imagination.

Library Director John Finn echoes the sentiment, describing the installation as a conversation starter—an exquisite fusion of beauty and amusement. The art serves as a visual narrative, complementing the literary treasures that line the shelves, creating an immersive environment where stories unfold both in written words and vibrant hues suspended overhead.

As visitors navigate the library in search of their next literary adventure, they are greeted not only by shelves of books but also by an ethereal dance of colors and shapes above, offering a moment of respite and inspiration. John Waltner’s “‘Oro y Plata’ — Colors of Montana” stands as a testament to the transformative power of art in public spaces, a beacon of creativity and a celebration of Montana’s vivid essence.

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