Driven by Awe and Respect for Nature

Artist Kirsten Kainz falls in love with Montana
Artist Buff

A Montana transplant, artist Kirsten Kainz finds inspiration in Western wildlife, layering cast-off parts to transform industrial dietrus into personality-rich animal sculptures. | Photos by Dan Armstrong

In 2003, when artist Kirsten Kainz fell in love with her future husband and relocated from her then home outside Stowe, Vermont, to his in Bozeman, Montana, she had no idea she’d discover an art scene as dynamic as the one she’d left behind.

“There’s a lot of support for the arts in what the locals call the ‘Northeast Kingdom,’” she says. “I was worried about moving west but surprised by the acceptance of my work right off the bat here in Montana. I didn’t know there was such an amazing contemporary Western art movement.”

Artist Sit Buff

With the garage door open on a sunny day, Kainz painstakingly adds tiny details to the bison head, enhancing depth and texture.

Long captivated by the natural world, Kainz draws inspiration from Montana’s spacious skies, sweeping landscapes and prevalent wildlife. “Drawing, painting, creating animals has always been the best thing in the world for me,” she says. “Whether I’m making lighting, mirrors, sculpture or painting, it’s driven by awe and respect for nature.”

Kainz creates sculpture as elemental and imposing as the animals depicted, constructed from welded scrap metal she finds at junkyards, “from the industrial, agrarian world,” she says.

“I take all these beautiful parts and create a monument to these hilarious animals,” she says. “I find them funny and I want to make them playful and approachable. I mean, look at a moose. When I make a moose head, I try to get that goofy, friendly element.”

Artist Moose

Her moose-head sculptures nod to the animal’s humor as well as beauty.

The result is both whimsical and elemental, enabling viewers to experience the earthy heft and power of a bison, for example. “They command your attention because they’re huge and made of iron and kind of last forever as a monument to these creatures.”

Artist Polka Dot

Kainz uses skills first learned in Vermont to weld her intricate constructions, scouring area junkyards for materials. From lighting fixtures to animal sculptures, her pieces are monumental and powerfully dimensional.

Although Kainz practiced welding while working in a blacksmith shop in Vermont, she taught herself how to construct these pieces. “I learned to build a skeleton and armature for strength,” she says. “I tell myself I have to build this so an elephant could stand on it. Then I build out to the fun, decorative part, adding ridiculously tiny, delicate things on it for the visual effect and dimension.”

Artist Light

The artist’s chandeliers hang in venues like Bozeman’s Lark Hotel.

The artist devotes summers to building her sculptures, with the garage door open for ventilation. In winter she settles down to paint in her studio, sometimes joined by one or more of her four children. The pastel winter light and snowscapes infuse her abstract oil and acrylic paintings, along with ghostly forms emerging from ethereal backgrounds.

“Every day where I live is like a postcard,” Kainz says. “I have this imaginary pair of horses that get into almost all my landscapes. I put those in there so we can feel like we’re in there, too, in relationship. I love this idea of a little micro community in this vast, beautiful space.”

Kirsten Ansd Reese Painting

Kainz and daughter Reese (then age 6) a few years ago at an outdoor art show. Her paintings mimic Montana’s naturally pastel winter palette with occasional animal silhouettes giving context to the iconic big skies.

She’s currently working on more animal sculptures and some commissioned lighting projects for hotels, and looking forward to using her new studio as a showroom sometime later this year. Kainz recently delighted her children by making a gnome for a local show of pop-up imaginary friends by local artists, displayed in a park setting where kids can walk through.

Artist Turtle

Kainz’ “Tortoise” sculpture sits on Bozeman’s Main Street.

“I didn’t want to leave Vermont and the career that I’d started there, but I rolled the die on love and Montana and I just love it,” Kainz says. “I feel I have full freedom to create what I wish, and the work is in demand. There is a Western sophistication fueling the current art scene that is very exciting. There is still so much room here for organic growth.”

Categories: Artists & Artisans