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The Wildling Museum of Art & Nature in Solvang is all about educating artists and the community about their natural surroundings. As the Wildling balances the works of local artists and photographers with exhibits from national artists, it’s fitting the museum is hosting works by modernist Western painter Theodore Waddell with those of his former teacher, Isabelle Johnson.

“The Student & The Teacher: Theodore Waddell and Isabelle Johnson” will be on view at the museum on Mission Drive from Oct. 27 through Feb. 5, 2018. An opening reception with refreshments and readings of poetry created in response to the show takes place Friday, Oct. 27 at 5:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

The exhibit shows Waddell’s and Johnson’s paintings share many of the same subjects, including Montana landscapes, livestock on the range, trees and plant life. The teacher’s influence is evident; but the works also offer a view of how Waddell has shaped his own vision over the years.

The Wildling previously exhibited a painting by Waddell as part of its 2015 “Wild Horses” exhibit.

“It was a very different piece for us to hang, given how modern it was,” said Stacey Otte-Demangate, the Wildling’s executive director and curator of that show. “But the texture, colors, and spirit of it really captured people’s imaginations. Given that, I started dreaming about a bigger showing of Waddell’s works here. Once we learned how much he respected his early teacher and what an influence she was we knew that would make for a very special exhibition.”

About Waddell and Johnson  

“The Student & The Teacher” exhibit is co-curated by the Wildling Museum and the Yellowstone Art Museum (YAM) in Billings, Montana, which holds Johnson’s studio collection. On loan from the Yellowstone museum, 17 of Johnson’s paintings are included, as are 26 works by Waddell.

Waddell is celebrated for his Western landscapes, often of range animals roaming the plains of his native eastern Montana. He utilizes different approaches, styles, and techniques; and his works can be brushed, knifed, dripped, jotted down, thickly textured, or abstract. He’s been honored at the White House; received the Governor’s Arts Award from the Montana Arts Council; and is included in permanent collections of the Denver Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and National Museum of Wildlife Art, among others.

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A wide range of Waddell’s work will be in the exhibition, from large-scale, thickly-painted canvases to a small lithograph of a horse expressed in just a few lines. Several of his iconic Montana landscapes are represented, as are lesser-seen works such as those from Yosemite National Park.

“I tell people that I’m a Western artist in that the subject matter that I do has tied me to Western art,” said Waddell. “I’m painting a contemporary slice of the West. I’m living what I paint.”

Johnson (1901-1992) introduced Modernism to Waddell at Eastern Montana College while he was her student in the late 1950s. Considered a maverick at the time for breaking away from the prevailing realism in Western art, Johnson influenced a generation of painters. Waddell has said she provided “an important framework for the rest of us to follow… I don’t think there is any way to overestimate the influence of Isabelle on all of us, including artists like Edith Freeman and Jim Reineking.”

Bob Durden, senior curator for YAM and this exhibit’s co-curator, said the works by two of Montana’s shining stars come together at Solvang’s Wildling Museum.

“We are so pleased to make Isabelle Johnson’s work available to this exhibition,” said Durden. “We hope the people of California will be as inspired as we are by the work of these two Montana treasures.”