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Art as story: A young couple’s passion: Nici Holt and husband Andy Cline trade and buy to build memories, not just a collection
The home of Nici Holt and Andy Cline is brimful with art, most of it reflecting the couple’s personal connection to Missoula’s community of artists.

Story by JOE NICKELL / Photos by KURT WILSON of the Missoulian

29-year-old Nici Holt carefully picks up a small statue of a panther from the table beside her couch. Coated tooth to tail in tiny beads, the sculpture is less animalistic than pointillistic, a Technicolor explosion of contrasting hues.

To Holt, it's as much a story as an object.

"This we bought on our honeymoon down in Mexico," she begins, gazing at the form in her hands. "We were down in Baja, and we bought it from this artist right in the street, this young guy n he was like 14 n who was making these amazing pieces of work. It's all beads pressed into warm wax on a wooden structure. I just love it."

Walk into the home of Holt and her husband, artist and carpenter Andy Cline, and you walk into a realm of memories and mirrors, relationships and signposts. Here, on a side-table near the couch, is a silvery swan made by Holt's aunt out of the rolled-up liners from kids' cereal boxes. Over there, on a narrow section of wall by the window, is a little print by former Missoula artist Sheila Miles, which Holt received in trade for some jewelry she made.

On a shelf nearby sits a tiny, colorful clay pot n a memento from a road-trip to Santa Fe several years ago. "It's a small thing maybe, but it's much better to me than a hooded sweatshirt that says 'Santa Fe' on it," says Holt with a laugh. "It's a connection to that trip, that experience."

If each piece represents a connection, then it's obvious that the lives of Holt and Cline are bound up in a dizzying web of relationships. Though their house is practically overflowing with art, little of it was purchased outright. Holt and Cline, artists in their own right (both studied at the University of Montana), have largely built their art collection the old-fashioned way: by trading directly with other artists.

"We don't have a lot of money so we do rely a lot on trades," explains Holt. "It's a really wonderful way to get stuff that we otherwise wouldn't be able to afford."

The couple's home office houses a bounty of bartered art. On one wall hangs a pair of photographs by Marcy James that Cline received in trade for some of his work. Nearby, a whimsical "Montana Flying Jackalope" by Steve Glueckert n another trade for Cline's work, and a Christmas gift to Holt.

There's a politically charged print by former fellow UM student Dan Swehla, and a bunch of small ceramic pieces that the couple received as gifts over the years.

Not surprisingly, the majority of the art in Holt and Cline's house was made by local artists n many of them former art students and professors that the pair met while they themselves were studying art. There's work by Dustin Hoon, Jennifer Reifsneider, Ted Hughes, Stephanie Frostad, Jason Clark, Beth Lo and many others.

Holt realizes that she's not your typical 20-something Missoulian, when it comes to her art collecting habits.

"My generation is really transient, and likes that flexibility of being able to pack up and move," says Holt. "When you purchase art, the permanence isn't just in that monetary investment; it's this investment of, wow, I can't just shove everything in the back of my Subaru and take off and move. You have to be a little more careful with it; and you kind of have to be settled down where you live, which we are now. It's like buying nice furniture in that respect."

Holt, who spends her days as outreach and membership director at the Missoula Art Museum, worries that some in her generation are also simply intimidated by the process of buying art.

"I think people need to trust their instincts about what good art is and what resonates with them," she says. "I think people get way too caught up in wanting to be certain that what they spent is what it's worth and that their purchase will appreciate."

Ultimately, appreciation is in the eye of the beholder. For Holt, that appreciation comes not only from finding beautiful art, but also by supporting emerging artists, thereby creating new connections in her life.

"I'm not so interested in art that matches my throw or my couch," she says. "It's just as much about the story and how we know the person, how we got to know the art."

Art at Home is a weekly series of profiles of western Montana residents and the art that they own and love. Join us every Thursday in the pages of the Entertainer, and online at Missoulian.com, as we present these stories via text, pictures and audio.

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