The deceased often leave behind personal effects, an estate to be divided, and loved ones to grieve. Most are survived by their friends and family; Beverly Zoe Tietjen lives on through an art show.
“In 1981, she founded the Western Heritage Artists Association to provide an art show for homegrown aspiring artists,” explains Tietjen’s daughter, Cathy Gagnon. “After a few years, it took off. Artists were coming from all over.”
The Western Heritage Art Show at the Sheraton (now the Holiday Inn) was the first major exhibition of artists in Great Falls outside of the C.M. Russell Show & Auction. Its creation led to the development of Western Art Week as a city-spanning, multi-venue event.
“She felt there needed to be another venue for artists, not to compete with the Russell, just to give more artists a chance to show their work,” explains Tietjen’s longtime friend, Fred Dahlman, whose walls are covered in her artwork. “She was quite the fascinating lady.”
Born in 1926, Tietjen was raised in Poplar and was the granddaughter of James L. Atkinson, the first medical doctor to serve the tribes of Eastern Montana. Hers was the only non-Indian family in the area, providing her a unique cultural perspective. After completing nurses training at Montana State University, Tietjen took a job at Deaconess Hospital in Great Falls. There, she met her husband, Richard, a hospital patient recently returned from service as a squadron leader of B-17 pilots during World War II. They married and operated a cattle ranch at Cascade for nearly a decade.
It was during this time that Tietjen actively pursued her career in art. She had been drawing and painting since her youth. Now she was exploring every style and medium imaginable.
“The thing that struck me most about her art was her versatility,” says Gagnon. “You could hang ten of her pieces on the wall and think they were by ten different artists. She sculpted. She did watercolors and oils. She just had a gift… obviously.”
Dahlman mirrors this sentiment; “She could go all over the spectrum. She had quite the imagination.”
After dreaming up the WHA, Tietjen served in various leadership roles within the nonprofit organization, all the while exhibiting her eclectic artworks.
The 25th Annual WHA Art Show would be Tietjen’s last. She passed away four months later, on July 15, 2007.
“I don’t think she ever expected the WHA to continue as long as it has. It says something about her leadership. People just loved to be around her,” Dahlman remarks. “It’s quite the legacy she left.”
In 2019, the 38th Annual WHA Footprints on the Trail Art Show is the longest, continually running art show during Western Art Week. A selection of Tietjen’s beautiful paintings will be available through a silent auction in the Holiday Inn’s lobby. Bidding starts Thursday, March 21 and ends Sunday, March 24 at 3pm.
“Would she be proud that her show is still going?” asks Dahlman. With a laugh and a nod of the head, he answers his own question. “Absolutely.”