Maggy Rozycki Hiltner doesn't make "cowboy art," and she likes it that way.
Images courtesy of the artist.
This article originally appeared on Creators.
Red Lodge, MT is a tiny, tourist-driven ski town in the southern part of the state. For most, it's a pit stop on the way to Yellowstone National Park. But with a population of about 2,000, Red Lodge is a surprisingly progressive community supportive of the arts in the middle of a very red state.
Like her town, contemporary embroidery and textile artist Maggy Rozycki Hiltner is something of a maverick. She says many Montana artists predictably focus on "bear/moose/horse/landscape/cowboy" art, but Hiltner's hand stitched and found textile works address socio-political issues through surreal, meticulously crafted imagery. Bone white skeletons cavort on an inky background. Children canoodle with a giant Honey Bear beneath a sky filled with floating, sprinkling breasts.
Hiltner says she loves to create work that might appear whimsical at first glance, but reveals a much more sinister side upon closer inspection. Early in her career, Hiltner employed a "Dick and Jane" style of embroidery to tell stories and craft metaphors about the human experience. As she progressed as an artist, Hiltner began to focus more on depicting scenes of environmental abuse, drawing on her experiences growing up in Pennsylvania amidst coal, steel, and nuclear power plants. Hiltner continues to make art about environmentalism and uses her work as a vehicle to explore what the Missoula Art Museum describes as society's "outmoded, destructive, and unfortunately recurrent ways of thinking." Hitlner often employs the symbolic references like skeletons to suggest the destructive impact of careless humanity.
Hiltner steers her practice by what she describes a set of loose "studio rules" that she lays out for Creators in clear succession: "I use and respond to found materials, work mainly in cotton, and hand-stitch just about everything." The artist is in her studio almost every day from 10AM to 3PM. When she's not in the studio she's looking at antiques, folk art, ceramics, comics, Japanese prints, Persian miniatures, and digging through junk shops, libraries, and websites for new material. Her current show at the Missoula Art Museum entitled What Lies Beneath features a number of custom-made textile works Hiltner put together from discarded quilts and hand-stitched linens she found in antique and thrift stores.
Hiltner groups her work together with other Montana artists influenced by folk and intuitive artist traditions like Douglas Baldwin, Steve Glueckerts, and Terry Karson. She's also involved in the small yet ardent art community in and around Red Lodge. In 2015, Hiltner did an artist residency at the Yellowstone Art Museum and has been in recent talks with a new gallery going up in her town this year called Heist. On the first Friday of every month, the few galleries in town participate in open studios. Her husband started the Red Lodge Clay Center ten years ago, which now operates a residency program and gallery supporting visiting artists.
Hiltner says Montana gives her the time and space to be herself as an artist. The degree of isolation that Montana provides allows her to explore her creative intuition freely without the distraction of an urban environment.