BONNER - Bonner School was bursting at the seams with art on Saturday - and with memories of one of its more famous graduates.

Walter Hook grew up in Milltown and became a well-known artist and teacher of art. Thanks to the Missoula Art Museum, Bonner School and the Friends of Two Rivers, Hook's art hangs on two walls of the school library this month, for students to study and enjoy. It was part of "Hooked on Art," a Saturday event that brought local artists to the school gym for a sale and a crowd of people to the library to listen to people who knew Hook.

Hook was very dedicated to teaching, said his former colleague at the University of Montana, Rudy Autio. But he didn't lecture.

"He was quiet," remembered Lela Autio, also a colleague.

"Kids would watch while he painted," Autio said. "They could see the problems he solved as he worked."

Vic Hangas, who took high school art from Hook in 1954, remembered Hook's wry sense of humor and his versatility as an artist. He gave Hangas a life-long love of painting.

"Walter was my hero and still is," Hangas said to the group through a video taped on Friday.

Missoula artist George Gogas was a student, too. He worked hard and reaped wisdom from Hook.

"To this day, I am indebted to Walter for the things he gave me," Gogas said.

Hook's close childhood friend Dick Bush knew Hook since they were third- and fourth-grade classmates. They went to high school together at Missoula County High School, where Hook was already painting. But that doesn't mean Bush's art collection goes way back.

"Every time he'd get one finished, someone would offer him $5 for it," Bush said. "He needed the money. So, consequently, I don't have any of those early works."

Janet Hook Julin realized her dad was unusual when she asked as a young girl at a friend's house, "Where's the studio?" Not everybody's dad had one, she found out.

A day to celebrate Walter Hook began as an idea among some neighbors last September at Community Day at the Confluence, which the Friends of Two Rivers put on to honor the Clark Fork and Bitterroot rivers and the communities on their banks. The event just grew, until Hooked on Art included artists selling their work, eighth-graders raising money for their Close Up group's trip to Washington, D.C., and the panel.

The Friends of Two Rivers called the Missoula Art Museum to borrow a single Hook painting for the day, and they got a roomful for the month.

"People have just wanted to help with this," said Judy Matson, an organizer of the event. "Everybody just gets a smile on their face. It's been wonderful."

The paintings are in the museum's permanent collection, many from the collections of the late Gilbert Millikan and Lee Morrison.

The permanent collection is to be shared, said Jennifer Reifsneider, the museum's registrar. The museum does so much teaching with young students at the museum, it was natural to take art out to kids.

"It's such a treasure," she said. "But we don't want it to be rarified."

Students at Bonner School are used to seeing Hook's mural in the library, commissioned in 1957 when the new school was built, said librarian Beth DeYoung. Since Wednesday when the paintings arrived, they've been coming in to look.

"A lot of kids know Walter Hook or have heard the name," she said. "But a lot haven't connected that he was a student here."

Eighth-grader Sandy Brown knows about Hook from the display about his life outside the library. But she didn't know he made so many different kinds of paintings.

"It's kind of cool to see such a wide range of art," she said.

At the University of Montana, Hook majored in art, math and physics. He earned a master's degree in painting and design, and he worked five years as a scientist for the Atomic Energy Commission. He taught in the University of Montana art department from 1955 to 1977, and he painted many commissions that are still on view around town.

Hook was the perfect subject to bring art and community together in a school that values art, said superintendent Doug Ardiana, a former art teacher.

"It's very exciting to have art and community involvement," he said. "And to watch people renew friendships."

Outbrain