A Montana Original an Artist and the Environment

by davideubank on January 28th, 2008

Rancher, Artist and Environmentalist. Bill Ohrmann is all those things, he is a man of vision, knowledge and wisdom. This is a story twice told today. But if you missed it the first time, read on. I first met Bill Ohrmann, a seventy something year old artist who came to the museum where I was the director, back in 1998.

He had in his arms a box of paintings and his wife Phyllis had another one in her arms. Bill had sent me a letter of introduction about a month earlier. In was a newspaper article written about him in his local paper? He lives in Drummond Montana, a small ranching town. There were two photographs, one of Bill sitting at a table in the local café, with a cup of coffee and an etch-a-sketch on the table in front of him.

Bill a tall slender man in a classic cowboy hat had a mischievous grin on his face. The other picture was of one of his paintings, it was absolutely wild, Four Wheelers was the title and in it he depicted several naked women riding rhinoceros through the wilderness tearing up everything in their path. Now that is a juxtaposition, a cowboy painting such a wild and bizarre images.

Now Bill stood in front of me with 40 of the most profound and unique paintings I have ever seen, in two big cardboard boxes.

Now in his seventies he decided to become a painter.

Bill has been a rancher his whole life, and an artist. Before painting he carved wood sculptures and then started sculpting in clay and bronze. That is how he stayed busy during the long Montana winters. He is self taught, no college degree in art, but he was always an artist. He wanted an exhibition; he had important things to say too people about the natural environment and that is why he was calling on me, and the museum.

He had tried to get show at other museums and galleries and was turned away. He was way outside the box for a cowboy artist. But this work was special; it was about the environment and the carelessness of modern society. It was a time before the wide spread awareness of global warming became a trend. The work was made even more profound because it was made by an artist that lived and worked on the land and had decades of experience.

We hung the 40 paintings in our galleries and helped Bill promote the work while he continued to paint, he says time is short and he can’t waste it; and he got a lot of other shows at museums and gallery’s around Montana.

He is now listed as a Montana treasure, and he is still working at the young age of ninety and is still way outside the box.

Bill’s resume was his work and as an Art Curator that is what I looked at. I have reviewed hundreds of requests for exhibitions and I can tell you I looked at the work in front of me. I only referred to the resume materials, the bios, past exhibitions, the artist’s statements when I developed the catalogs and promotional materials for the exhibition. If the work was good and I was interested all I really needed to get started was a name and phone number.

One on one I talked to the artist about the work. And that’s it. I have seen vita’s as long as my leg and that never cut it with me, it was always the work. Your artwork will stand or fall on its own merits and spin will never cut it in the long run. If you want to develop a good resume for the buyer or collector talk about you and why you do your work. The work is about you and your personal vision. I have to say here though that my approach is as an artist, but I know many people in the museum and gallery world who take the same approach. And the collector is interested in your artwork and you as an artist. And most collectors won’t buy something they don’t like at least not more that once.

Bill decided not to sell his paintings, he wanted them to stay together to make a statement of his ideas and feelings. A lot of people and museums wanted them I can tell you. I told Bill he had to decide what he wanted to do. He was retired and had an income and decided he didn’t need the money now. He built his own museum and gallery at his ranch in Drummond Montana and kept his work together. Take a look at the Bill Ohrmann Museum and Gallery http://www.ohrmannmuseum.com and look at his work. I think he is very successful and he has a life well lived, and I am glad he is an artist and my friend.

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