Photographers, Art Museum remember folk art collector
"Wolftown: By Appointment Only: A Portrait of Marcus Wolf" running through Sept. 8 in the Art Museum of Missoula, 335 N. Pattee St., features photos from the collections of Sherry Lee, Lucy Capehart, Leslie Van Stavern Millar, Patrick Clark, Carmen Hoover, Greg Karlson and Kurt Wilson. A public reception is 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, August 3.
Museum summer hours are noon to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is free. Call 728-0447.
Wolf City: Population 1" read the sign, and that's how Marcus Wolf liked it.
Wolf, who died last April at 78, made a significant impact on the cultural community in Missoula with his second-hand store and self-made folk-art museum also known as Wolftown.
When Wolf opened his shop off West Broadway in 1962, it was one of two second-hand stores in Missoula. Boredom drove him to retire 21 years later, and it was then that he began devoting all his time to collecting stuff. Lots of stuff. He collected lighters, pens, salt and pepper shakers, tools, mannequins, blow torches, razors, tape measures, railroad locks, knives, license plates, belt buckles, perfume bottles, antique gas cans, toys and hubcaps - 5,800 hubcaps to be exact - along with thousands of other novelties.
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Wolf, a self-proclaimed pack rat, had to buy vans, trailers, buses and storage sheds to house his collection. He rarely agreed to sell any of his treasure. His was a museum, not a second-hand store - he'd retired from that business, remember. He gave tours of his collection and often took great pride in scaring visitors with fake spiders and baby rattles disguised as rattlesnakes.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Wolf's collection, though, was that he arranged it himself. All new items were recorded in a ledger by date and purchase price then cleaned and put on display, though no one remembers ever seeing him do it.
Wolf's daughter Dee Krieger used to buy him books about displaying exhibits, but he never looked at them, she says.
"He would say he was working on a project, then show us later. When he was sick, it just killed him that he couldn't arrange things anymore," she says.
After Wolf died, collectors from all over the country inquired about bidding for items from his museum. An estate auction held last August by Ray Hawk, whom Wolf had chosen for the task, featured a collection so large that Hawk had to move everything to his auction house in Stevensville. The two-day sale offered items in some 1,600 lots. The remaining items went for sale in Wolf's store for two more months, but Wolf's daughters saved his most prized possessions.
Daughter Darlene Daniels remembers Wolf's going to rummage sales and buying everything, but he most often chose his purchases with a discriminating eye, she says.
"I don't know of too many people who enjoyed their retirement as much as he did," Daniels says. "He took pride in taking care of the things he bought. He would lay awake in bed at night thinking of things to do with new items. He saved everything and used it. He was not willing to waste."
By late last year local artists and photographers began to come forth with their renderings of Wolftown, which spurred the notion of an Art Museum of Missoula exhibit in his honor.
"We wanted to do a tribute to him," museum curator Stephen Glueckert says. "He was important to the culture here. He brought the community together. Wolftown was a magical place."
Wolf used to let Missoula artist Leslie Van Stavern Millar shoot pictures of him in his museum when she was first getting started in photography.
"Marcus put his energy into the environment," she says. "At first he was a little brusque, but later on I was talking to him as another artist."
He didn't quite see himself that way, Krieger says. "Dad never considered himself an artist. He was just doing what he loved."