Art show opens Father’s Day weekend at Myrna Loy Center ‘Joe Freeman Gans: Paintings, Prints, & Pots’

Step into Joe Gans' house and it takes but a few seconds to know you're in the presence of an art lover.

"My interest in art goes way back to the time I was in grade school at Hawthorne School," said the energetic 95-year-old, who lives in his ancestral home on Dearborn Street.

"I just started sketching," he said of his earliest efforts.

And that's something that still gives him great joy.

A wide array of his works, "Paintings, Prints & Pots," goes on exhibit at the Myrna Loy Center, with an opening reception 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 17.

In his kitchen studio, one of his works in progress is a vase decorated with a stunning, brilliantly colored woman's portrait.

Another vase depicts several large, rainbow-hued nudes.

Yet another shows a Van Gogh-esque landscape with swirling clouds and a curving stream running through.

In another room, a sculpture he made of a female nude sits on the mantel.

"Most of my work is the figure," Gans said. "A lot of African and Asian figures."

Although he's created art off and on much of his life, he was pretty much self-taught until his retirement. Gans was a successful businessman in retail merchandising with Macy's in San Francisco, Fligelman's in Helena, and then with the J.M. McDonald Co.

He took art classes periodically in the 1950s and 1960s, but pursued art wholeheartedly at age 62, taking classes in ceramic sculpture, life drawing and printmaking at City College of San Francisco.

His wife, Margaret "Marg" Regan Gans, an esteemed microbiologist, also took up art, becoming a talented weaver.

It turns out that art fascination has deep roots in Gans' family.

"My grandmother was a great painter," he said. Allie May Ricker Freeman, was born in Unionville in 1869 and was considered an accomplished oil painter.

And it was Gans' great uncle, rancher Louis Kaufman, that one reads about in history books. He wrote to his ranch foreman to find out how bad the winter of 1886-'87 had been for his herd. The response was a small watercolor "Waiting for a Chinook" from his ranch hand --the fledgling painter Charlie Russell -- depicting a starving steer surrounded by wolves.

That was the winter that Montana lost an estimated 60 percent of its cattle herds, with some cattle companies losing up to 90 percent.

Many a morning, Gans can be found in a studio at the Archie Bray Foundation, where he's taken many classes and has served on its board.

In 2010, the Bray awarded him the Meloy Stevenson Award of Distinction for his longtime commitment to and support of the Bray for 50 years.

"A talented artist ... Gans can often be found in the Bray Pottery or at a workshop making work and cultivating his creative spirit," the Bray wrote at the time.

And the creative spirit is still sparkling.

"I'm still doing art," he said happily, adding that he likes printmaking best of all.

"I've done some oils and some watercolors," he said.

"I had a wonderful watercolor teacher," he said. "I still get great enjoyment sitting down with watercolors."

He talks about painting faces and splashing his watercolors about.

He's not interested in it looking like an exact copy of a face, he said. "I want it to look like I feel."

These are not tame or pastel, but striking portraits inspired by Austrian painter Egon Schiele.

"I would say that art has been the binding force," he concluded. "I just completely relax when I do it. It's complete enjoyment.

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