Tippet Rise Art Center, Montana

This is a love story.

If you know me, that means the story probably revolves around Dan or art. In this case, it’s both.

The adventure began with a TED Talk about an architecture studio that revels in using and showcasing “raw, imperfect materials.” I was already charmed by the ideas in the video when presenter Deborah Mesa Molina highlighted a recent project. She described the process in which she and her team made concrete casts of the raw earth in order to create a sculpture, “Inverted Portal,” for an art center in Montana.

Dan and I rarely watch TV without our laptops on hand, so within minutes we were both reading up on the arts center, Tippet Rise. It turns out that Tippet Rise is only about four years old and is located in a 15,000 acre working cattle ranch. The visionaries behind Tippet Rise are passionate about classical music and have created state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor venues to host concerts by some of the finest musicians of the day. (Side note: they record every concert that they put on, and produce such stunning films!)

As Dan and I were researching Tippet Rise, I felt a very specific prickle on the back of my neck — the “I want to go to there” prickle. Half-jokingly, I suggest that we make Tippet Rise a birthday trip. (Dan and my birthdays are one week apart, and we often hop in the car on the weekend between.)

Dan was quiet, then said to me: “Did you notice how you get around to the sculptures?” I said no, I hadn’t read that far.

“By mountain bike.”

And that’s all it took. Dan booked the hotels, and within a few weeks of watching a TED Talk, we were on our way to Montana to celebrate our birthdays.

(Another side note: I want so badly to gush about my phenomenal husband right now, but as a birthday gift to him I will refrain. Plus, Dan has the ability to disappear my blog and make it look like an accident.)

So! We made it to Tippet Rise, but the adventure wasn’t over. Because I have more story to tell, I will let the photos of the sculptures speak for themselves. There are three pieces that you can see within walking distance of the main barn:

Patrick Dougherty, Daydreams

Francis Kéré, Xylem (a pavilion)

Peter Halstead (one of Tippet Rise’s founders), The Tiara Acoustic Shell

With a few other exceptions (such as the Olivier Music Barn and a Calder sculpture I never managed to photograph), the rest of the installations are spread around the ranch and require transportation to reach. In other words, it was time to mount our bikes.

The biking went well enough for, oh, say an hour. The trails ended up being incredibly difficult, with massive amounts of climbing. (I should have worried when the woman checking us in for our self-guided tour told us, “It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure… and every adventure is UP!”)

After that hour we had only made it 2.5 miles. We needed to ride 6 miles to reach the back of the campus, not counting the mileage between sculptures (which is substantial and, as we would later learn, even hillier) plus another 6 miles back. I was not up to it.

I admit that I bawled my eyes out. I felt completely stuck. We had spent two days driving out to this art paradise solely for this experience, and I couldn’t hack it. We must have stood on that hill for 15 minutes while I debated what to do.

Ultimately I decided to head back on my own, giving Dan the chance to at least see one additional piece on his own and enjoy a bit more of the ride. I took the photo below just after we parted ways.

But all was not lost. I pleaded my case to the Tippet Rise staff (none of whom seemed surprised that I had turned back); they directed me toward a shuttle for hikers which would take me to one or two of the remote sculptures. When Dan returned, we locked up our bikes and waited for the hiker shuttle. Dan noticed that storms were cropping up on the distant horizon.

We waited and waited, and no hiker shuttle appeared. In the meantime we chatted with friendly folks waiting for a guided tour, a 2.5 hour affair which visits all of the artwork.

The 10-person van ended up with only 3 guests. The driver invited us along. We hopped on the bus. (I might have literally hopped, so thrilled was I.) The storms hovered over our shoulders.

In the end, Dan and I got to see every sculpture on the ranch — and touch zero of them. While the tours usually stop and let guests interact with the artwork, impending lightning meant that we were not allowed to leave the van at any time. At that point I did not care in the least; I was too overjoyed that the universe had conspired to let me see this artwork at all.

I did convince our very kind driver to open the door for us at some of the stopping points for better pictures. What follows are a few of the better shots of some, but not all, of the sculptures we visited that afternoon — as viewed through a van door.

Mark Di Suvero, Proverb

Stephen Talasnik, Satellite #5, Pioneer

Ensamble Studio, Beartooth Portal

Ensamble Studio, Inverted Portal (the piece that began our entire adventure, against the storm that kept me from touching it!)

The biggest omission from this list is Domo, another work by Ensamble Studio, and one used as a performance space for music. Experience Domo in the films of Tippet Rise.

One lesson I re-learn every day or so: I do not get to shape the world to my will. However, if I keep my eyes open and my heart grateful (and trust in Dan, who is with me through every bit of this wild ride), any adventure can be an amazing one. It just might not look the way I originally pictured.

Also I am just. not. a mountain biker!

P.S. Montana is artwork all its own. Our drive to Columbus, MT from Tippet Rise was startling, dramatic, and absolutely gorgeous.

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4 thoughts on “Tippet Rise Art Center, Montana

  1. Erica, I’m totally intrigued! This is at least the 3rd time in the last month that I’ve gotten something about Montana from different friends. But this looks totally unique and it’s now high up on our bucket list!! And I will definitely plan ahead for the guided tour in the van!! Thanks so much for describing your interesting wanderings….. 🙂

    1. Karen, thank you so much! I would recommend getting in on Tippet Rise’s ticket lottery. That is the ONLY way you can buy tickets to their concerts (you’ll notice we didn’t get to see one). The lottery starts in February for that summer’s shows. (https://tippetrise.org/plan-your-visit#ticket-drawing-faq) I’d love to go back and hear music there some time, but I will at least watch these videos over and over!

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