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Walter Hook (1919-1989): Scholar, Teacher, Artist

by Lucy Smith


"Humor and whimsy are absolutely essential for an adequately balanced outlook on life and the production of art." [1]

Walter Hook's work is a whimsical, intentional blend of art, design, humor and surrealism. Hens' eggs, Herefords and an Easter buffalo; neat rows of peppers and tangerines, "fat cats and flat cats" peering from train tracks, through cracked windows, below a striped tablecloth. A billboard at the outskirts of Milltown and a railway car announce the Walter Hook Company. Images seen through an arch and another arch and again another arch. Hook captured color true to winter and color belonging only to summer; wisdom and judgment in the countenances of cattle and cats. A host of Hook impressions, Hook inventions, Hook reminding us to take a good long look, recall our sense of humor and then look still deeper.

Born in Milltown 1919 of Finnish immigrant parents, Hook spoke Finnish until 2nd grade. Eunice Brown, his 8th grade teacher was first to encourage Walt in art. He attended Bonner High School and years later created a 30-ft mural for the school, depicting loggers and mill workers in 1957.

Hook graduated from the University of Montana with degrees in math, art, and physics. He served in the Navy during WWII, and then worked for the Atomic Energy Commission in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he pursued a Master's Degree in Art. He and his wife Margaret raised chickens, inspiring scores of egg paintings. Hook painted eggs until 1986 and received awards for almost every piece.

They returned to Missoula when a teaching position opened in U of M's Art Department. Hook taught painting, drawing and calligraphy from 1955-1977 and was a guest artist at several northwestern and Canadian universities and galleries. As Chairman of the UM Art Department, he proved an excellent administrator and beloved colleague.

He "was interested in different phases of the art world, from pottery to collages to wood sculpture, oil painting, watercolor, acrylics tried everything and enjoyed it,"[2] including liturgical art, sculptured walls, stained glass, murals, large paintings, prints and lithographs. Hook was commissioned by churches, schools, the city of Missoula, and private collectors. His work is held in public collections at universities, galleries, banks, industrial facilities and business offices from California to Delaware.

Hook attributed his art business success to earlier work and study in mathematics, design and physics. He diligently entered juried shows and competitions, recognizing that "people look at art differently after it has received an award or other form of public recognition." He held more than 100 one-man shows nationwide and received more than 100 national awards during his lifetime, including Associate of the National Academy of Design, 1972; Western States Arts Foundation Grant, 1976; Montana Governor's Award in Visual Arts, 1985; Juror for Las Vegas Roundup, Northwest Annual in Seattle, Watercolor USA, and Watercolor Society of Alabama.

Hook's daughter remembers his sense of humor, love of art, delight in children and broad range of interests and talents. Their household was in painted in turquoise, green, yellow and orange. Paintings went up and came down from walls in the style of a busy art gallery. A huckleberry picker fashioned from bits of welded metal, old baby buggy wheels, bicycle pump handles and yards of electrical cording plugged into a "currant" bush mystified and impressed neighbor children and delighted his own.

Viewers who "now go to his paintings and search for meaning or symbolism in each piece" are advised to "know that Dad is behind you, chuckling as he listens to your views as to why he put this here or that there So, go enjoy his work." [3]


1. Walter Hook - from a 1979 Cheney Cowles Gallery publication

2. Hook's wife, Margaret, 1979

3. Walter Hook's daughter, Jan, 2007.


About the author:

Lucy Smith is Director of Development at the Hockaday Museum of Art


Editor's note: The Hockaday Museum of Art presents from April 1 through June 3, 2007 a retrospective of the works of beloved Missoula County educator Walter Hook, and his distinguished career as a vividly-imaginative, often-humorous artist in New Mexico, the University of Montana, Central Washington State, and The University of Oregon.


Also on exhibit May 5 through July 5, 2007 is Jeff Walker: An Etching Retrospective, a major cross-gallery display to celebrate the poetry of the Montana Landscape via Simms, Montana artist Jeff Walker's inspired creation of more than 30 years worth of one-of-a-kind hand-pulled and painted etchings.

On May 10, 2007 there will be an opening reception 5 to 7:30 p.m. Enjoy a Gallery walk and discussion led by artist Jeff Walker at 5:00 as well as multi-media presentations throughout the evening and music by Steve Eckles at 6 p.m. Catered reception is free to museum membership, fee for non-members. (right: Jeff Walker in his studio. Photo courtesy Hockaday Museum of Art)


Jeff Walker Biography

Jeff Walker was born and bred in the wild beauty of Montana's landscapes, spending his youth exploring and recording the prairies, ridges and birds near his home in Great Falls. It was this glorious Montana "stuff of his youth" that inspired the artist's life's work.

Walker attended Montana State University in Bozeman and graduated with a degree in Art. In an era of abstract expressionism characterized by some as "do your own thing regardless of art fundamentals," Walker studied etching technique under Robert DeWeese. Long hours in the etching lab engraved the method in his heart and for years etching was his medium of choice. The water colored Elephant Folio prints and engravings of Audubon inspired Walker to develop his own style, uniting etching and watercolor in small edition etching prints pulled by hand and water colored individually.

After serving his turn in the Army, Jeff attended graduate school at Eastern Montana College, and then taught art at Great Falls High. He left teaching after several years to pursue a full-time career creating art. Etchings spanning the artist's career from the early 1970's to the present are represented in this show.

Although Jeff still does "an etching or two" a year, a passion for oil painting has gradually overtaken etching and since 1990, Montana landscape oil paintings dominate his easel. Walker and his wife, Julie, live near Fort Shaw where the Sun River Valley offers endless vistas for painting, season after season. When the artist isn't at his easel, look for him in the garlic patch, the garden, or the berry vineyard anticipating his next batch of wine. (left: Jeff Walker, Chief's Reign, etching)

Walker is longtime participant in the C.M. Russell Auction -- both as an artist juried into the auction and as an exhibitor. He has exhibited his work at the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, and in museums and shows statewide: Artists for Open Spaces, Treasure State Invitational, C.M. Russell Museum Masters in Miniature, and the 2005 C.M. Russell Museum art exhibition of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Jeff is a founding member of the Montana Painter's Alliance, a group of Montana artists who value camaraderie and on-location painting.

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