Young artists beautify the community, gain life experience

by Moira Blazi
Todd Berget gets frustrated when he hears people say “What’s wrong with kids now-a-days”? He usually replies simply, “nothing.”
He should know, as a teacher at the Libby Alternative High School for over ten years, he has helped many so-called troubled teens uncover talents and skills sometimes overlooked by the somewhat more conventional standards of society.
Often these talents run towards the arts, and, our area has no shortage of talented students.
Their work is all around the community, and, as with most things in Libby, most of it has been in collaboration with local business owners and community leaders.
The Montanian recently visited the “Alt” school campus, where teacher Dean Herreid and students Tristin Howendobler, Quin Bauer, Clay Benefield, and Keigan Ball had some things to say. They are proud of their work, including the murals that grace so many buildings in town, and the ubiquitous big foot figures that bring smiles of civic pride to passing motorists.
Herreid says that there are over 80 sasquatches, some lurking in residential neighborhoods, but, most of them placed in and around downtown. This project is being done in collaboration with Kootenai Country Montana, producers of last summer’s chainsaw sculpture festival and publishers of the high end “Kootenai Country” magazine, to promote tourism in the area.
The students tell me that they were originally the brainchild of Todd Berget. “Before we cut them out we found different pictures on the internet” said Howendobler who helped paint the statues.
He, Bauer and Alt student Ben Webber, along with Benefield who cut them out, helped paint and install most of the plywood figures, including one holding a bike tire, made for the STOKR bike ride, an electrical worker high up on a pole, a bank robber, and one on top of the school building, which was blown down by the wind. “There’s a lot of math involved in making these sasquatches”, said Herreid, “they have to calculating the length and height, etc.”

All of them have been sold,” he said, “people from all over have bought them, some have gone to Arizona or California. One is on order from Elko, Nevada.”
The young artists of Libby and Troy have also had a hand in most of the beautiful murals which grace our town, and of course, the vibrant school of fish swimming along Highway 2 and Louisiana Ave., which were painted “…mostly by the seniors from last year, I helped paint one of them” said Howendobler.
The giant American Flag, which fairly defines the downtown VFW building, the Nordicfest Viking ship adorning the Dome theater, and the big, big rainbow trout jumping off the side of Empire foods are just some of the murals students have painted.
“We are planning to do a lot more when the weather gets warmer,” said Bauer.
It’s not just the alternative school students who are beautifying the town. Libby High School students Aisha Brooks and Mikalyn Zeiler also worked on the fish mural at Empire Foods. They are two of Patty Rambo’s art students at Libby High School.

Rambo emphasizes the basics in her classes, teaching students the fundamental principals of art and design.
Rambo says her classes are intense, “I try to teach a deep appreciation of art, that the students can take with them to college or wherever they want to go with it.”
Middle school art instructor Heather Connolly, who teaches grades 4-8, is also enabling her students to share their talents with our community.
Kootenai Country Montana contacted Connolly about showing student work in their gallery and she says, “The kids thought it was a great idea.”
About 130 students participated by picking the art project they were most proud of, she said.
Then they were juried by the school principals, then by the folks at Kootenai Country who narrowed the final selection down to nine.
Those nine student masterpieces are proudly displayed on the gallery wall at the Kootenai Country Montana’s office which is located on Hwy. 2 and is open to the public.
Berget believes in these kids. “Every single student I had was willing to make banners, posters, or pitch in to help clean up the park”, he said. They made the Ace Hardware truck.
“These projects help them develop civic pride and provide a chance for them to give something back to the community” he added.
Many of them have come back to share their art as well, like former students David Larimar and Aaron Webber.
Larimar, who now resides in Seattle, came back a few years ago to paint the gorgeous mural on the side of Libby sports and the eagle on Rosauers. Webber, who Berget says is a “phenomenal” artist, is here in town doing tattoos.
“They make mistakes, they evolve” he said, but “…If you give them a little direction, they can move mountains for you”.
In the words of theologian Thomas Merton, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”