​The last public art project Hadley Ferguson undertook covered 100 square feet in the Montana Capitol.

The Missoula artist's latest is more compact and mobile: a new custom ​Montana ​license plate.

Her painting​ ​depicts the Mission Mountains' white-and-black peaks and green foothills against a crisp blue sky, with a rolling yellow field and rustic barn in the foreground.

​The Montana and Idaho Community Development Corp.​ ​commissioned Ferguson to produce art for its plate.

​"She does stunning work," said Dave Glaser, CEO and president of the MICDC. In particular, he liked the way the painting can conjure the grit of Montanans making a living in a beautiful but difficult landscape. ​

T​he​ nonprofit consults ​with ​and finances small business owners and entrepreneurs in Montana and Idaho, and works on affordable housing projects in Montana.

In Missoula, that's included a federal grant turned toward a below-market loan to the developers of the new Merc hotel to train workers and create permanent jobs; a program to help owners improve their trailer homes; and aiding the Missoula Food Bank finance its new headquarters through the New Markets Tax Credits program.​ ​

​​An upcoming ​Missoula ​project is​​ St. Thomas House, an assisted living facility operated by Senescence Care Inc​.​ Recently, the nonprofit assisted Missoula Bike Source, a shop on Russell Street, through a rough patch; and ​financed​ Mountain Meadows Lodge, a revitalized hotel and campground at Lake Mary Ronan​;​ and the ​​Polson Bay Grocery.

Ferguson ​​​​worked closely with the MICDC on the plate design. She brought them five options, including a few based on older paintings. They used a sample plate layout to determine how the image would read underneath the prominent letters and numbers. Urban scenes that complemented the nonprofit's mission appeared too busy in plate form. The roughly 2-by-4 foot landscape won out, with the barn as a focal point and the strong layers of yellow, green and blue, Ferguson said. Looking at a finished plate for the first time on Thursday, she said she was happy with the strength of the color. 

They turned to graphic designers Amy Farrell and Todd Farrell of times2studio for the rustic lettering on the state's name and the layout design.

​The final product is available for $45, part of which will go toward the nonprofit. To purchase one, go to the Motor Vehicle Division of the Department of Justice.​ ​


Ferguson's largest project was unveiled in 2015: "Women Build Montana," a mural comprising two 5-by-10-foot acrylic paintings that retraced women's role in the state's history, from Native women and homesteaders ​forward. The result​,​ a year's worth of research and painting​, is located on the third floor of the building. ​​Her ​"Heart of Missoula," with historical scenes of the valley, ​enlivens the walls of a building on the ​southwest ​corner of West Broadway and Higgins Avenue​,​ and ​she painted the dome ceiling and map in Liquid Planet.

​The University of Montana Bachelor of Fine Arts graduate also makes personal work that's ​more modestly scaled. In June, she'll show new paintings at the Radius Gallery.