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  Comments (0) Total Wednesday Apr. 23, 2014
An Orphaned Mural Finds a Home
Robert Huck painting hung in First National Bank building for five decades, now at FVCC
Raised above the ground in a cherry picker, Flathead Valley Community College art director John Rawlings uses a paste to heal together a seam between two canvases while installing a new mural near the Arts and Technology Building entryway. The mural, painted by artist Robert Huck in 1960, depicts life and scenes in the Flathead Valley, from Flathead Lake and peaks in Glacier National Park to camping and cows roaming farmland. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
To house an orphan that’s 6 feet tall and 32 feet wide, it takes something akin to a village, or at least a sufficiently sizeable group of people committed to cooperation. And when that orphan is a treasured mural by a renowned painter, it takes quite a bit of delicate care too.

A mural of the Flathead Valley by Robert Huck has found a new home at Flathead Valley Community College, following a period of uncertainty when it was temporarily housed at Kalispell’s KM Building. The mural had previously hung for five decades in the First National Bank building that is today Kalispell City Hall.

The fact that it now has a safe home is a testament to people coming together, with officials from both the college and city working hand in hand with private residents to save a community landmark. Last week, the mural was fastened to a wall in FVCC’s Arts and Technology building, where it looks comfortably at home.

“There’s good light and it’s in a place where it commands attention,” Rand Robbin, a Creston resident who helped spearhead the mural’s rescue, said. “Thousands of people will see it there.”

First National Bank commissioned the painting in 1959 and Huck completed it a year later. Huck was a Fulbright scholar and respected Oregon State University art professor who showed his work in exhibitions spanning the globe, including urban art bastions like New York City, Paris, Athens, London and Rome. He was born in Kalispell in 1923 and died in a car accident a year after he completed the First National Bank mural.

As the building switched hands from First National Bank to Norwest Bank and then Wells Fargo, the mural remained hanging above the tellers, a sturdy presence in the face of persistent change. But when the city of Kalispell purchased the building and renovated it a few years ago, the mural was relocated to the KM Building across the street. And when the renovation was completed, there was no wall big enough to accommodate the behemoth painting.

With the mural’s welfare in limbo, in a KM Building hallway with no buffer between passersby, Rand and Linda Robbin stepped in, each claiming stake to the painting’s wellbeing for separate, personally meaningful reasons. Rand, a former college art instructor, fondly remembers taking drawing classes from Huck in Glacier National Park as a kid. Linda’s father was Robert Leslie, the vice president of First National Bank who was the mural’s original proponent.

“Linda had a natural interest in the safety of that mural,” Rand said, adding that Huck was one of the first people to spark his interest in the arts.

Finding a home for the hefty mural was no easy task.

“We went around and tried to find a place where it would be seen by the public and cared for and kept safe,” Linda said.

John Rawlings, Flathead Valley Community College art director, heals the seam between two canvases of a mural installed in the school's Arts and Technology Building in Kalispell. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

The community college met the criteria, but there were certain logistics to navigate first, including the city’s blessing. Theresa White, Kalispell’s city clerk, emerged as a proponent for the mural and carried her message to city officials. The city ultimately worked out a contract to relocate the mural at FVCC. At the college, Karen Leigh, John Rawlings and Steve Larson played key roles in bringing the mural to its new residence.

The Robbins also thanked the KM Building owners, Bill and Jana Goodman, for taking in the orphaned mural.

“I thought they were very good-hearted in letting it stay there,” Rand said.

An Oregon art critic said the mural may be the “most significant single work by Robert Huck that exists,” but even without that official certification the Robbins knew they were on to something special.

They’re happy it’s found a good home.
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