Bigfork painter Dana Berardinis spent years painting Montana landscapes scorched by wildfires.

Her latest work, on display this month at the Dana, tracks the other side of that cycle: rebirth.

The Dana exhibition, "Passage of Renewal," will include oil paintings, some quite large, that show landscapes from Berardinis' excursions guiding in the North and Middle Fork Flathead rivers, or backpacking in the Swan Valley, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Mission Mountains and more.

Some paintings depict fully healed landscapes with expressive strokes of green, while others capture periods of transition.

"Sorrow Will Soon Be Over," bridges the themes with a scene on the North Fork Flathead River that was burned in 2003 during the Robert fire. Green vegetation sprouts up at the base of a blackened landscape wrapped in fog and topped by a gray skyline.

"It still has this feeling of sadness and regrowth is all around it," she said.

"Cyclone Lookout," a monoprint, depicts the Flathead National Forest post, also in a blackened area, in near abstract black and white.

She said the burned areas have the feeling of a war zone, but are simply part of the natural cycle.

"At the same time, it's what brings new life," she said.

Burn zones provide "views you weren't able to see before the fires that are just spectacular," she said.

Berardinis has experience as a guide in Tennessee, and took a solo road trip while an undergraduate at the Cleveland Institute of Art. She camped, painted, explored and decided she wanted to make Montana her home.

After she finished her degree, she moved here in 2005 to work as a river guide. She described it as "basically living in West Glacier in a tent and guiding on the river."

The effects of the 2003 Robert fire was still clearly visible on Glacier's landscape.

"It was really fresh. The trees were scorched," she said.

She spent a lot of time painting and drawing the burned landscapes on site, and developed a years-long body of work she called "True Remains."

They show the post-burn landscape in expressive oils that sometimes border on abstraction. She saw fires in the St. Mary area in person, and rendered the blazes themselves.

"That was my first close view of the fires and that had a pretty big effect on me," she said.

Those paintings also had moss, lichen and pine needles from the sites worked into their surfaces.

After her first season guiding in Glacier, she found "a real old cabin" on an orchard in the Yellow Bay area that she's called home since.

"I have a rickety old shed I work in that's almost working outside," she said.

However, she prefers to work outdoors and on site, even with large canvases when she can.

She still guides some multiday float trips in the North and Middle Fork Flathead rivers.

She sees a tie between the guiding work and her art.

"It's the importance of helping people to see and experience the power of nature and the wilderness," she said.

The trips sometimes allow her to sneak in some plein air time.

She uses small drawings and paintings as references in the studio, and often works from memory.

That's a method she began to employ in art school, and helped push her away from straight realism.

"Through painting from memory, I was able to free myself from painting this certain way that I had always kind of done. I got to be more experimental with my artwork through that," she said.

She didn't want to make a "detailed portrait," and instead created some more spiritual paintings that caught the experience of places rather than re-create their appearance.

Works from her "Passage of Renewal" series were exhibited last year the Holter Museum of Art in Helena and the Rare Bird Studio Gallery in Whitefish.

Her work has also been shown at Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in Great Falls, and has been accepted in group exhibitions at the museums across the state.

For more information, go to danaberardinis.com.

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