Great Falls has long been known for its Western Art Week each March, a multi-day celebration of art and culture that transforms Charlie Russell’s hometown into one of the world’s most lucrative art markets. In 2022, that excitement can be experienced twice, with the Great Western Art Rendezvous. This four-day festival of art, history, and heritage includes multiple shows, exhibitions, and events, all located on the grounds of the Montana ExpoPark.
As a facility that was mostly built during the New Deal Era, the Montana ExpoPark itself is a work of art. Many of the structures were completed between 1934 and 1938 under the Works Progress Administration and reflect the architectural styles of the decade, particularly Art Deco, a style of design associated with geometric shapes, rich colors, extravagant ornamentation, and an embracing of technology. It first appeared in post-WWI France but began to spread internationally throughout the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. Traces of it could be found in everything from automobiles to architecture. In fact, numerous American structures, including New York’s Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, were inspired by the Art Deco movement.
Of the 35 buildings spread across the Montana ExpoPark, several are incontrovertibly Art Deco. The Mercantile and Fine Arts Buildings, in particular, contain quintessential Art Deco features. Both buildings encompass linear and curvilinear elements which were popular in the 1930s. Hard edges, symmetry, and projected elevations work together to create the modern, industrial look that reflected the decade’s embracement of technology. While neither building is flashy, the stark contrast in colors makes these structures more prominent.
Other structures contain subtler Art Deco elements. The Administration Building, for example, is a mix of both Art Deco and Art Moderne (a style popular in the 1940s), with an angular exterior and horizontal banding. The Trades and Industries Building’s paint job emphasizes its curvilinear features.
These buildings (and others at the Montana ExpoPark) stand apart from most architecture in the city. There are few buildings in Great Falls that are so obviously from the 1930s.
These designs make them unique to the area. It’s no surprise that after the Works Progress Administration finished construction, the Montana State Fair was permanently moved to Great Falls in 1939.
Today, the Montana ExpoPark complex serves numerous community organizations and events. And it is the only facility big enough—and bold enough—to support the Great Western Art Rendezvous.