Ornament Artisans at National Folk Festival

Local Montana artists displayed an extensive array of handcrafted ornaments.


Our search for unusual ornaments lead us to the National Folk Festival in mile high Butte, Montana last week. We were pleased to see so many local artists with one-of-a-kind ornaments made from a variety of materials ranging from art glass to buffalo horns.  It was a delightful assortment of designer ornaments, and the artisans were so willing to share their techniques and ideas with the folks who crowded around their booths.

Many of the artists spend the cold winter months coming up with fresh ornament designs and producing ornaments in preparation for the various fairs and festivals in the summer months.  The National Folk Festival is a real favorite for the ornament artists partly because the Butte community is so supportive and attendance at the festival was around 200,000 people over a three day period.

Our first stop was at the Folk Art of Norway booth where we had a nice chat with ornament artist Patti Jo Meshnik.  Patti Jo uses the traditional Norwegian art of Rosemaling to hand paint her colorful glass ornaments.  Rosemaling began in the 1600’s when Norwegians began painting their walls and furniture  with summer flowers to brighten their homes during the cold winter.   Another favorite from Norway are ornaments depicting birds and the Kornband.  A Kornband or sheaf of wheat is saved from the harvest to be set out for a Christmas Feast.   A native of Montana, Meshnik says that her Norwegian heritage influenced her style of painting and that it took several years to learn the art of Rosemaling.  Every ornament at Folk Art of Norway is signed and recorded in a log and some of her art has the logged number secretly embedded in the painting.

There were also wonderful wearable ornaments created by Kevin and Valerie Pourier using buffalo horns.  Oglala Lakota, the Pouriers were the recipients of the 2006 Archibald Bush Foundation Artist Fellowship and the 2005 Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian Visiting Artists Fellowship as well as many other awards for their buffalo artforms.   Recognized world wide by collectors, their wearable ornaments are displayed in several museums, including the Smithsonian National Museum and the Royal Museum of Scotland.   Using traditional techniques of the buffalo people, the artists work together to shape and carve their jewelry and wearable ornaments into the predetermined design.  The intricate process is lengthy and comes only with years of practice.  The artform is completed when they inlay the buffalo horn with semi-precious minerals.


Our third visit was with Leonda of Browning, Montana who uses colored glass to create vibrant ornaments.  She says that her favorite ornament is the red buffalo which has real buffalo fir for the tail.  She cuts the colored glass into the shape that she wants, and then she uses copper to enclose that shape for a finished look.  She often uses copper for the tails and manes of the animal ornaments.  Leonda has a great assortment of ornaments mostly depicting Montana life and animals.  The pretty blue horse above is so nice that we brought it home to display in our office.  An experienced artist who has worked with art  glass for many years, she will create custom ornaments for you if you call her at 406-338-3158.

Thanks to the citizens of Butte, Montana for supporting the arts.

Article and images used with permission from the artists

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