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Birthday party

Dudley Dana looks back on the road he traveled



For his 70th birthday, and for the 20th anniversary of his art gallery, Dudley Dana is hanging a collage. The piece includes 140 8-by-8 inch pictures he has snapped over the last two decades: seven pictures for each year that create a visual representation of his life, his art and his job. A Montana road winding into the mountains. His wife and dog next to a cairn on a grassy hill. One of the gallery's artists, smiling with a painting. His laughing grandchild.

One photograph, "Harmony," is a landscape Dana took in Yellowstone in March 1996. It shows spring light filtering through a still-bare forest, tree trunks casting slants of shadows along drifts of snow.

"I was driving back to Missoula and I thought, great, here's another photograph to go under my bed," he says. "But then I talked to my wife, Candace, about a gallery and she was really supportive. I had this image that I was on a cliff and there was another cliff across the canyon, and I had the idea of jumping. So we did."

Twenty years later, things look pretty good on the other side of the cliff. The Dana Gallery, which "basically stayed in business only because of denial" for its first years, is now an integral part of the arts community, known for bringing national and international art to town, for helping fledgling local artists find an audience and for its eager participation in community events.

True to form, Dana and his staff are preparing for the gallery's anniversary with a laundry list of events, including a celebration of the gallery's long-time artists, an exhibition of Montana photographers (the gallery was originally only for photographers), the 14th annual Paint Out and the annual Young Guns show, which features artists under the age of 30. In addition, Dana will be unveiling a new annual juried show called Our Town, which features local artists creating pieces associated with their town or city.

Over the past two decades, Dudley Dana’s gallery has become an integral part of the Missoula arts community. - PHOTO BY AMY DONOVAN
  • photo by Amy Donovan
  • Over the past two decades, Dudley Dana’s gallery has become an integral part of the Missoula arts community.

Tandem to the gallery's celebrations—in both spirit and scope—are Dana's birthday celebrations. He is planning seven events for his 70th birthday, including running the Big Horn 50k Trail Run, taking a trip to Burning Man, taking a family backpacking trip and completing the Teton Crest Trail. He is also planning to drive cross-country with his dog, Chloe, so that she can swim in the ocean.

It all begins, though, with a joint birthday celebration of Dana and his gallery, his photo collage and a roast of the owner.

"They roast me all the time, anyway," he says about his friends, family and the local art community.

Many of the biggest events in Dana's life have affected the gallery (and vice versa), from the time the gallery landed the Oil Painters of America exhibition for the first time to the Meridian International Out West show, which toured the major galleries across China.

The biggest moment on Dana's timeline, though, was when he entered graduate school for clinical psychology in his late 30s. It was then he decided to change career paths, quit smoking, take up running and develop his interest in photography. Since that point, he hasn't been interested in changing his trajectory.

"In the next 10 years, I don't want to retire. I am too busy," he says. "I can see my role changing just in terms of time commitment so that I have more time with my grandchildren. But I want to continue to develop events and further the careers of our artists. The best thing about the gallery, honestly, is that we have clients who are fabulous people. They are incredibly kind, fun and generous. And many of them turn into friends."

Celebrate Dudley Dana's birthday with an art reception and roast Thu., Feb. 18., from 5:30 to 8:30 PM at Dana Gallery.


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