In 1994, when artist Stephanie Frostad’s love for Mount Jumbo was in its infancy, the fate of the mountain seemed uncertain.
Two countywide attempts to pass an open space bond targeting Mount Jumbo failed that year, while Frostad, who had just graduated from the University of Montana with a fine arts degree, was just beginning her career.
It was the first time she was attempting to support herself as an artist, and consequently, the first time she didn’t have a job to run to or class to define her schedule.
So she began a routine centered around two things that were defined: her pressing need to create art and Mount Jumbo.
Every morning, she left her home at the mountain’s base and ran up the peak. Every evening, she would repeat the process. As she traversed her circuit, she noticed the intricate changes the days brought to the mountain.
“Even though every place I have lived I have enjoyed getting out to walk … there was no place that twice daily I could observe as far as flowers blooming or just the changes in the light,” Frostad said. “While I was enjoying those experiences, it was also helping me shape my artistic routine with a new level of independence I had never experienced.”
“I felt like in some ways — since these were still transient years in my life — Mount Jumbo became my home,” she added.
As Frostad’s appreciation grew for the mountain that presides over the Rattlesnake Valley, so was her neighbors’ love for the geographic icon.
In 1995, the Five Valleys Land Trust secured the purchase of all four privately owned properties on Mount Jumbo and Missoulians overwhelmingly approved an
open space bond to ensure the mountain’s preservation for public enjoyment into the future.
Nearly 20 years later, Frostad is paying tribute to her artistic home in a series called “Beloved Mountain.”
Since 2001, she has returned to the mountain to paint each Oct. 18 — the feast day of the patron saint of artists, St. Luke.
Frostad explained that after Sept. 11, 2001, she once again sought solace on the slope of Mount Jumbo. She needed an escape from the continuous news coverage of the terrorist attacks, so instead of imbibing in some little indulgence, Frostad packed her art supplies and headed for her mountain.
At the time, she didn’t realize she would repeat the ritual year after year, but the following year, she repeated her routine.
In her series, every painting of Mount Jumbo is a bit different. Frostad could never find the exact location she painted from the year before, so each painting depicts a different angle.
The paintings — she calls them artifacts — actually show the physical evolution of the mountain. In 2002, for example, Frostad recorded the herbicide spray that scarred the mountain’s face in strips. The stripes remain visible in her paintings of subsequent years. In 2006, a wildfire that sprang up from the far side of the mountain reached the peak’s Missoula face — leaving a burnt patch visible in her painting of that year.
And as anyone can attest, the elements can be quite unpredictable in October. Frostad compares painting a mountain to a competitive sport, like basketball. She tries to paint the mountain in its entirety while braving the heat, wind and cold that the day may bring.
“It’s invigorating and vigorous,” she said. “It was one of those things that tires you out in the most satisfying way.”
“Beloved Mountain” will be on display at the Montana Natural History Center until the end of July. Ten percent of proceeds from exhibition sales will be donated to Five Valleys Land Trust and the Montana Natural History Center.