Half of state's arts fellowship awards go to Missoula artists

Half of state's arts fellowship awards go to Missoula artists

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A saxophonist with an avant-garde tango group. A sculptor who fashions graceful dancers from concrete. A poet who gains inspiration from the spirit of a deceased mentor. Missoulians all - and winners, too, of $2,000 awards from the Montana Arts Council.

Musician Brooke Ferris, artist Jonathan Qualben and poet Sheryl Noethe, along with writers Caroline Patterson and Andrew Smith, brought home to the Missoula area five of the 10 arts council Individual Artist Fellowship Awards for 1998, the council announced late last week.

Awards go to Montana artists deemed outstanding in their field, and their purpose is to recognize, reward and encourage them, according to an arts council release.

It works for Qualben, whose concrete wall sculptures of dancing women, running horses and other figures in motion have been attracting attention from galleries and art lovers alike. The award is the second Qualben's ever received for his art, he said - he won a Missoula Cultural Council Trust for Artists Grant in 1996 - and it's the biggest, in terms of money and clout.

"It's about recognition and justification and legitimizing the work," Qualben said of the fellowship. "The money is very nice, and I can certainly apply it to continuing my work. But it's the recognition by a jury of your peers that your work is worthwhile."

Qualben, whose work is on view through November in Missoula's Mammyth Bakery, hasn't decided how to use the money yet, he said. He might apply it toward research, to learn how to work with concrete better. Or he might donate the funds to First Night Missoula, the annual New Year's Eve arts celebration, for setting up a visual arts exhibit.

Money to dream on. So it is for Ferris, who wants to lavish the funds on her sax, or to spruce up her teaching studio, or, perhaps, to record a CD. She got the money, she suspects, as a reward for setting up an annual summertime saxophone festival in the Flathead Valley. But she keeps busy in other ways, too, with the avant-garde tango group Tango Nouveau - playing at First Night this year.

"Baby-sitting!" Patterson said when the caller told her she'd won. With a 6-month-old and a 2-year-old at home, time to write is dear these days, she said - and she has a novel, "The Egg Room," set in Alaska, she's trying to re-write before year's end.

Sheryl Noethe wants to use her money to publish a book - whose heart comprises poems to Arlene, an older woman who, years ago, told the 5-year-old Noethe that she was a "free spirit," thus unlocking the girl's creativity, she said.

When Arlene died recently, at 95, Noethe took a pen to her grief.

"Poetry," said Noethe, "is the way to handle those things that there seems to be no other way to feel better about."

That her Arlene poems won the fellowship is especially gratifying to Noethe, she said: "It's a testimonial to the power of love. They were written out of sheer love, without hesitation or thought for form."

The sentiment apparently is mutual: After Arlene died, she appeared to Noethe in a dream, the poet says, with a map "to show me where she is and where I am." Separating them, she said, was a body of water. Because the human body is made mostly of water, "She's telling me my body is all that's left between us now.

"She's having as much influence on me now," Noethe said, "as she did when I was 5."

Smith, son of writer and filmmaker Annick Smith ("Heartland"), has written several screenplays on his own and with his twin brother, Alex. The pair, in fact, recently were lauded in an issue of Variety, a film trade magazine.

But it's his poetry, he said, that landed him the prize.

"It's hard to make a living as a poet," he said. "Most people teach, or have other jobs. Screenwriting is kind of how I get a paycheck - although, I haven't gotten any paycheck from it, to be completely honest.

"Poetry is kind of my heart thing, so I was really delighted to get some living money."

Smith is polishing his first manuscript of poems, "Blood Love," which he hopes to publish soon, and he's writing another collection, "Countr

y Western Motion Picture Songs."

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