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Posted: October 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Into the West

Artist Joe Halko’s work on display at Oxford College

Photo by Mandi Singer/

"Masters of the Peaks" by Joe Halko

After spending 30 years in Montana, Newton County native Monty Willson and his wife, Wendy, decided they wanted to share their love for the soaring mountains, sparkling rivers and abundant wildlife of the state with the community of his youth by lending a portion of their Western art collection to The Arts Association in Newton County and Oxford College.

On display until Oct. 24 at the Candler Student Center, the Images of Western Art exhibit is free to the public and features 20 pieces from the Willsons’ large art collection which includes paintings and sculptures.

Willson, a graduate of Oxford College and a cardiologist who now lives on Jackson Lake, said he felt a little "give back was in order" for the college and the community.

Montana sculptor Joe Halko is a favorite artist of the Willsons and his work is on prominent display in the exhibit. In college Halko studied biology and anatomy which lends his sculptures a realistic heft and feel. He was in attendance at a special party for the exhibit on Thursday evening.

"He’s very true to reality," said Monty Willson of Halko. "You’ll see some artists who try to embellish nature. He’s very true to his subject so that’s the thing that I like best.

Halko said he draws the most inspiration for his sculptures, which include sheep, goats, hares and pelicans, from being out in nature in Montana. He frequently brings a sketchpad with him when he is out hiking, hunting and fishing. Most of his sculptures though are sculpted from memory.

"I like to spend a lot of time memorizing things. It seems to be freer. You’re not locked into a certain pose," he said.

Halko said he prefers sculpting wild animals to domestic ones. He has been sculpting full-time since 1970 and has been the recipient of major art commissions from Regis University in Colorado and the National Gallery in Ireland.

"I always kind of lean towards the sheep and goats. I’ve been doing more barnyard things in the last year — chickens, geese and ducks," he said. "I kind of go in spurts. I just like doing figures and gestures. If you study animals enough, they all have individual looks. You can identify them just by the way they move and the way they’re built."

Willson said he is delighted with the way the art exhibit turned out. Camille Cotrell, a professor of Art History at Oxford, selected each of the pieces from the Willsons 300 plus art collection to be featured in the show, which is set up on two different floors in the student center.

"One of the really neat things about seeing this show is seeing the same art from a different setting," he said. "It’s almost like seeing something brand new. Camille has done a wonderful job."

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