In January 2015, the Montana State Capitol Building unveiled its first mural in over eighty years, a two-part piece titled Women Build Montana. This project was initiated by Senate Bill 59 in 2011 and funded entirely by private donors. Montana artist Hadley Ferguson painted the mural on two removable panels to be placed in the Capitol for fifty years (with the possibility of renewal in the future). They can be found on the third floor, on the east and west walls of the grand stairway.
On the east wall is Women Build Montana: Culture, which depicts Natives and homesteaders visiting and trading goods. Additional scenes make up the outer corners of the piece—women of varying age and ethnicity digging bitterroot, harvesting sugar beets, beading, and sewing a Montana flag.
On the west wall is a similar piece titled Women Build Montana: Community. This panel is centered around a small town with five vignettes portraying women’s roles as homemakers, educators, laborers, and activists. One scene depicts a couple of telephone operators, which is significant due to the fact that Montana was the first state in which telephone workers unionized. Unlike Culture, which is set in the late Nineteenth Century, Community takes place in 1924, the first year that all Montana women were able to vote. (Non-Native women won this right in 1914.)
“Hopefully, any woman can look at these images and see a piece of herself in them,” reads part of Ferguson’s artist statement. It begins: “The generations of women in my family have set examples and carved paths for my mom, my daughter, and me to have the life and experiences we live today. That is what this project is about.”