Works by Autio and Meloy bring back childhood memories

Rudy Autio, Adrift (1997), woodblock print and watercolor on paper. Courtesy of the Rudy and Lela Autio Estate.

By Lucy Beighle/for Missoula CURRENT

When I was a kid, my brothers and I had a jigsaw puzzle of the Signs of the Zodiac. It was circular, so there was no right way up or down – a factor my mother may have taken into consideration as her three offspring were very cognizant of fairness. And depending on which way you looked at it, you saw a different perspective and a different protagonist, if you will.

The Montana Museum of Art & Culture’s current exhibition in the Paxson Gallery celebrates two artists, one of them nationally renowned and locally beloved – Rudy Autio.

It is Autio’s glazed stoneware plates that bring me back to my childhood memory. They’re fantastic. And I would be surprised if there were any way to tell which way was up besides the artist’s signature, which is placed in the imperative right hand “corner” of the large circular piece.

Otherwise, you could rotate the plate and see a different story and view from every angle. Horses, figures and outstretched limbs. The flowing circular movement within his pieces blend together, but they also seem to stand alone, depending on your physical point of view.

My brothers and I could look at it together without arguing.

But Autio’s stoneware plates are just a handful of the pieces on display. Surprise, a quintessential Autio stoneware vessel has the same fluid quality as his plates, as do his brightly colored acrylic paintings and woodcut prints.

meloy 01_1
Henry Meloy, Untitled (Portrait of Katharine Cornell), ca. 1943-1944, graphite on paper. Permanent loan from the Henry Meloy Educational Trust.

In the 1990s, Autio strayed from his typical medium of ceramics and stoneware, and ventured into woodcut printmaking, which required carving away material from blocks of wood. These rarely-seen woodcut prints and blocks are part of the MMAC exhibit.

The exhibit also includes pieces by Henry Meloy, another major Montana artist and for whom the Meloy Gallery is named. A quote from his notebook on display on the wall of the exhibit says that “a work of art is the crystallization of thought, which once it has been given form and shape in the present, will always stay ‘alive.’”

The works on display are portraits, all of them untitled, but many of them depicting the famous actress Katharine Cornell whose assistant, Ruth Aine, was Meloy’s long-time love interest. I like the image of these pieces, these people, always staying “alive.”

Interestingly, the Montana Museum of Art & Culture has numerous oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, sketches and sculptures by Meloy on permanent loan from the Henry Meloy Educational Trust. But the pieces selected for this exhibit are “graphite on paper,” or pencil on paper to a neophyte like me. The juxtaposition with the brightly colored and bold Autios is striking. It works. And it works well.

Come and see for yourself.

“Presence: Rudy Autio and Henry Meloy” is on exhibit through April 23, 2016 in the Paxson Gallery in the PARTV Building on UM Campus, and is exhibiting in conjunction with “George Gogas: Odyssey,” which shows in the Meloy Gallery. In addition to the exhibition, MMAC will also be hosting a public docent tour Thursday, April 7 at 5:30 p.m. at the PARTV Center.

MMAC academic-year gallery hours are noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday. The museum is open to the public with a suggested $5 donation. For more information call 406-243-2019.