New downtown art gallery plans open house Thursday

Tucked into a corner just inside the front door of the Western Art Forum, a new gallery in downtown Billings, is an elegant blue easy chair.

Gallery owner Kira Fercho, an artist known for her vibrant oil paintings, designed the chair and said it represents the kind of art—slightly Western but also mid-century modern—she wants to display and sell at the gallery.

“I didn’t want it to be so modern, so austere, that people wouldn’t come in,” she said, and she didn’t want it to be so heavily Western that people looking for something new would be disinclined to give the gallery a look.

In fact, just a few short months ago, she wasn’t even thinking of opening a new gallery. She already had a successful gallery in Big Sky, where she will spend most of the summer, and expanding wasn’t on her list of things to do. But then several things happened in quick succession.

One was that her longtime friend and fellow artist, Kevin Rose, who had been selling her works part-time, asked her if he could start marketing her works full-time. And then Fercho decided she just had to ask about the vacant storefront at Second Avenue North and North 27th Street, formerly home to Gallery Interiors and before that to Gene Rockman Interiors.

Fercho, a native of Billings, had thought since she was a little girl that the space, with its floor-to-ceiling windows facing both streets, would be perfect for an art gallery. That’s what she told Bill Honaker, who owns the building and who already had an offer from someone wanting to put offices in the space.

Honaker was receptive to her idea of making it into a gallery, but when she told him she’d like to move in next fall, he said she had to move quickly if she wanted the space. What clinched it was when Rose offered to run the new gallery for her. So, a little less than a month ago, Rose and Fercho started converting the space into a gallery.

“If you don’t know Kira, Kira gets things done,” Rose said.

“I don’t have much time,” she explained.

The gallery has already been open for two weeks as they continued to work on it, and on Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. they will officially launch the new venue with an open house. Beer and wine will be served, as will small plates made by Harper and Madison owner Joanie Swords.

Western Art Forum will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and will be selling a variety of works by regional artists, including Rose’s abstract acrylic paintings. Fercho said her paintings will make up only about a quarter of what is displayed at the gallery.

A few doors east on Second Avenue, Tyler Murphy recently opened his Montana Gallery, which he relocated from Red Lodge. Fercho has collaborated with him in the past and used to help him run the gallery in Red Lodge.

Fercho and Rose are both looking forward to joining forces with Murphy and other downtown gallery owners and artists to create events that bring people downtown and get people excited about the arts.

Chair

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

An easy chair designed by Fercho, flanked by a couple of her paintings, sits just inside the front door.

Downtown was the only place they wanted to be, Rose and Fercho said, and it’s getting better all the time.

“If you get bored in Billings, you’ll get bored anywhere,” Rose said.

Rose left another downtown job to run the Western Art Forum. He had worked for years as the front-of-the-house manager for the Lilac restaurant on Montana Avenue and says the owner-chef, Jeremy Engebretson, is as much a creative and inspiring artist as Fercho.

For her part, Fercho said Rose “has good mojo. He keeps me excited in things.”

Both artists grew up in Billings and have known each other for 20 years. But they really started working together six years ago, after Fercho encouraged Rose to turn his art from a pastime into a profession.

Fercho might be best known for the 40-by-50-inch paintings of tepees—one for each of Montana’s 12 federally recognized Indian tribes—on display in the Commons at Billings Clinic. She has been painting tepees since she was a little girl, and seeing those 12 large paintings on exhibit there was a big moment.

She said she realized, “Oh, my God, this is going to be on display for the rest of my life.”

Visitors to Fercho and Rose’s gallery will notice one more thing: it is a dog-friendly place. Welcome mats decorated with doggie treats sit in front of both doors and a jar of real treats sits on a table inside.

And on a window facing 27th Street, there is a large dog’s face and under it the words: “Dogs love art too.” Fercho said she was inspired by her dog Pilot, “the love of my life.”

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