After operating an art gallery in Red Lodge for three years, Tyler Murphy was ready for a change.
One option was to expand into the second floor of the building that housed his Montana Gallery, at 22 N. Broadway. But most of his friends lived in Billings, so a move there was also a possibility.
In February, after he’d made a few tentative inquiries about available space in downtown Billings, he got a call from a friend of his, Lenny Howe. Howe and his wife, Jaxi, were getting ready to open a coffee shop at 2712 Second Ave. N., and Howe wasn’t even aware that Murphy had been thinking of moving to Billings.
But he told Murphy about his shop, Ebon Coffee Collective, then added, “There’s a space right next door with a sliding door in between.”
Murphy met the next day with the owner of the building, Bill Honaker, and he wasn’t long in making up his mind. He liked the space, at 2710 Second Ave. N., and once he found out there were maple floors under the carpeting, he was sold on it.
Now, after more than a month of sanding those floors, painting the walls and doing other renovations, Murphy is planning a soft opening for tonight (Saturday, April 16) from 6 to 9, and then will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Murphy, 26, grew up in Joliet and graduated from high school there. His father, Mike Murphy, used to be an outfitter in the Bull Mountains and later went into landscaping, mainly transplanting trees. His mother, Gail Luhman, is a jewelry maker who has run a shop in Joliet, Cool Water Jewelry of Montana, for more than 20 years.
Murphy’s main inspiration has been his grandmother, Margaret Murphy, an oil painter and former head of the Carbon County Arts Guild. Tyler Murphy started painting as a boy and sold his first painting, through the arts guild, in high school.
“That made it suddenly a lot more real,” he said.
The arts guild also helped him develop his skills by bringing in guest artists—including Ben Steele, Kevin Red Star and Elliott Eaton—for workshops. Murphy later taught art classes in Carbon County schools under the aegis of the arts guild.
When Murphy opened his Montana Gallery in Red Lodge in 2013 he mostly showed his own oil paintings and drawings, plus works by Kira Fercho, a Montana artist whose work includes a series of 12 tepees, one for each federally recognized Indian tribe in Montana, painted for the Billings Clinic.
Murphy expanded to include other artists, including a group of painters about his age from all over the country who would gather two or three times a year to teach workshops in Scottsdale, Ariz., and elsewhere. Some of them also came to Montana to work on their plein air painting with Murphy.
Those artists included Daniel Keys and Josh Clare, and Murphy said his gallery and website soon became a showcase for all their work. Those associations also figured into his thoughts about moving to Billings.
“For me, it was a hard decision to say good-bye to that,” he said.
But he does like his new space, which is a bit smaller than his Red Lodge gallery but has one big room, as opposed to three smaller rooms at the old gallery. Upstairs, overlooking the gallery, is a small mezzanine space that Murphy is turning into his studio and library.
Below the mezzanine is another small room he plans to use for assembling frames and storing materials—his own supplies and easels and other materials for workshops he wants to put on in the gallery.
He also plans to partner with the Howes, leaving the door between the coffee shop and gallery open so that “everything will kind of spill back and forth” between the two businesses. He envisions having “sip and paint” events, but with coffee rather than wine, and he’s thinking of having live music in the gallery from time to time.
One thing he won’t be doing quite yet is putting up a sign on his new gallery. He was going to carry the Montana Gallery name over from his Red Lodge venture, but now he’s having second thoughts. The name might stick, but he’s not sure.
Meanwhile, he has more work to do on the gallery.
“I’ll still be continuing to turn it into the place I want it to be, only with the door open,” he said.