Fra Dana was one of the leading artists of the Northern Rocky Mountains at the turn of the 20th century. She was born in Indiana, and studied art at the Cincinnati Art Academy, the Art Institute of Chicago and the New York School of Art. In 1893, Dana moved with her family to Parkman, Wyoming where she met her future husband, Edwin L. Dana. The two married in 1896 and together developed what became America’s largest purebred Hereford cattle operation on the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana. Later the Danas moved the base of their operations north to Montana.
"Portrait of T.R. Dana" is a portrait of Dana’s father-in-law — the "T" in “T.R.” stands for Theophilus, and this distinguished-looking gentleman was probably in his late 60s at the time. The Montana Museum of Art and Culture also has in its archives an old black-and-white photograph of this piece on which Fra inscribed on the reverse, “Edwin’s father, painted long ago — 3 hour sketch as I could not get him to pose any more.”
Dana’s desire to study and create art was often in conflict with her obligations as a ranch wife. One can imagine that the daily duties and responsibilities of running a large ranch would not be conducive to what may have been considered an idle pastime. She traveled annually to New York City, London and Paris to pursue her artistic studies. Dana’s art making became sporadic in the early 1910s and 1920s. She stated, “I couldn’t be a ranch woman and paint. You can’t live two lives.”
Luckily for us, she did begin painting again in 1937, which coincided with her move to Great Falls next door to her mother and sister and after the death of Edwin. Dana passed away Dec. 1, 1948 after extensive communications with the University of Montana regarding her legacy. Her bequest of her own artworks as well as those by others is central to the richness of the MMAC Permanent Collection. Her donation included Japanese prints, prints by Honoré Daumier and Jean Louis Forain and paintings by Joseph Henry Sharp, Alfred Maurer, William Merritt Chase and Douglas Connah to name a few. Four of Dana’s donated pieces are in the 120th anniversary exhibit.
Sources: “Fra Dana: American Impressionist in the Rockies” by Valerie Hedquist and Sue Hart, published in 2011 by Montana Museum of Art and Culture
"Portrait of T.R. Dana" is part of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture’s permanent collection and can be viewed, along with 119 equally interesting pieces, at the Paxson and Meloy galleries on the University of Montana campus in the PAR/TV Center. MMAC’s exhibit “Art of the State: Celebrating 120 Years of the MMAC Permanent Collection” runs through May 23.