Corvallis is considered the Heart of the Bitterroot Valley; it’s in the center of the fertile valley floor between two mountain ranges. Living less than two miles from town, my husband Allen and I enjoy a home-life filled with gardening, cooking, and sharing our morning coffee by the wood stove while we watch the sky. Together, we raised a blended family of four children who now, each have their own families.
My painting-life has been supported by a working-life in fields of drafting, picture framing, illustration, and event planning. These days, I am giving my painting-life, top priority, and I must say, little compares to the excitement of flowing a beautiful wash of color across a sheet of 100% rag paper!
Janet Bristol - Vice President
Fortunate to now call Whitefish, Montana my home after retiring in 2017, I can finally focus more on painting after hitch starts and gaps of time where creativity was overshadowed by work and moving –always moving. My husband and I served for 68 years between the two of us in the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy respectively and travelled around the globe, affording me many rich experiences and tons of inspiration. I am lucky to now be part of the very talented Karen Leigh’s tribe at FVCC in Kalispell to learn from her and fellow returning students in her popular watercolor class. In an attempt to foster more creative pursuits to balance my military life, I started with a drawing class at Northern Virginia Community College sometime in the early 2000s, moved on to the drawing instructor’s watercolor class and have been hooked ever since. I am still trying to give myself permission to be bold and brave in my painting while trying to reign in my impatience. I love color and I love painting landscapes though aspire to broaden my focus and expand the complexity of my artwork. My life is rich with friends and family. I love to ski, travel, hike, take photos, and am always up for new adventures while embracing the spirit of volunteerism.
Tonja Opperman - Secretary
I'm a full-time wildland fire professional working as a fire analyst on fires throughout the US. I fell backwards into this line of work after earning a degree in Forestry, but haven't looked back because it's a fulfilling career that's allowed me to visit exciting places for fire assignments and meet really wonderful people in the wildland fire community. When I'm not working, I paint, run, knit, garden, and travel. I've painted since high school, but only recently heeded advice to paint what I love--this made all the difference for me. I entered shows, started selling work, and reproduce it on everything from totes to shower curtains. I know that fire can indeed be destructive, but in the natural environment, fire means renewal, regrowth, and a diverse landscape patchwork, and that's what I aim to capture. My artwork is water-based using either pure watercolor, gouache, acrylic, or a combination.
Jo Kopp - Treasurer
Born in Sidney, MT, I have never lost my Montana roots. I graduated from the University of Montana with a major in Business Education and a Minor in Art—an unlikely combination. Marriage and job opportunities took me to Sacramento, California. At an all school reunion in Sidney in the year 2000, I met my current husband who lives in Glendive. We now spend our winters in Sacramento and summers in Glendive.
After a 37-year career in teaching, staff development and college administration, I took up watercolor and discovered my creative side was alive and well. After taking classes through adult education and workshops from a variety of artists, I bloomed in several six-week classes with Jeannie Vodden. From her I developed a love of transparent watercolor, vivid use of color and intricate detail work. I also gained the friendship of seven other women whom I met in her classes. We continue to meet weekly (Zoom during the pandemic) and support each other through critiques and comradery. Currently my work represents a cross section of people and landscape from my travels and my eastern Montana roots.
Melissa MacKenzie - Membership Chair
As a child, my grandmother had a cabin in the woods of northern Michigan on a beautiful lake where she would always provide paints, brushes, and paper for her grandkids to play with at a large dining table that had a fabulous view of the lake. As a young adult at the cabin, I took some lessons from Roland Roycraft, a local watercolorist and retired illustrator from Chicago. Then I was hooked. I have been a MTWS member since moving to Missoula 25 years ago and am just now taking on a contributing role in the organization. I taught Spanish at the University of Montana until my retirement in 2015. Since then, I have dedicated more time to my watercolors, which had only been a sporadic activity when I was working and raising kids. I was honored to become a signature member of MTWS two years ago. Now I look forward to getting to know more of you as I take on the role of Membership Chair and try to communicate as well as Shimi did during her tenure. She is a hard act to follow.
Margaret Zieg Eller - Signature Membership Chair
Having retired from dual careers in forestry and education, I now fill my days with work on Prairie Island, a small ranch nestled into the broad shoulder of Square Butte in central Montana. There, my work ebbs and flows with the seasons, providing a rhythmic pattern that I cherish. No matter the workload or the season, the raw power of my Prairie Island home overwhelms me. It is all-consuming, distracting me from chores and demanding attention. And at day’s end, it lures me to my studio. There I succumb. Within that quiet space, the Chinook-blasted grasslands and storm-swept Front Range, the hard-shadowed buttes and towering skyscapes that backdrop my days dare me to capture their essence—to flood autumn ridges with tawny ochre, to wash winter willows with crimson glow, to immerse myself in the possibilities of paper, pigments, water, and imagination. Later, when I look up, I am shocked by the hours that have vanished. The sun is rising and morning chores are waiting. I’m exhausted and exhilarated, and I wonder how others live without this kind of passion.
Cynthia Dearing - Watermedia Chair
I work full time as a real estate broker in the Flathead Valley but I started taking watercolor classes in the fall of 2017 after watching my sister in law sit on the swing in my front yard and do a watercolor painting of my garden in full bloom in August. I was in awe! I decided right then and there that I wanted to learn how to do that! I have learned so much by taking classes from Karen Leigh at FVCC, reading watercolor books, watching youtube tutorials, going to exhibitions and galleries and just plain practice. I now know that I can never learn it all in a lifetime and so I guess I’ll never get bored. Each painting I create allows me to relive an experience or place and to reimagine it with a new, more personal perspective.
Wyna Woodford - Member's Show Chair
My paintings are just my own unique interpretation of a world brimming with visual stimulation. I was born, raised, and live on a Montana ranch. I grew up drawing all the time and was greatly influenced by my grandfather’s ink drawings. I studied several forms of art in college. I married a rancher and raised our two children, while helping my husband run our ranch. I tried oil painting for a little while, but found I didn’t have time to truly give it my best. 25 years later I felt compelled to paint again. It was 2010 when I ordered brushes and few tubes of watercolor paint along with a “how to” book. I fell in love with watercolor. I enjoy the fluid characteristics of this medium, and strive to control it some, as well as letting go and let is have its own way.
Ilene Paulsen - Members Water-media Art Sale Chair
I was born and raised in Minnesota and ever since I could remember, I had this dream of moving to the wilds of Alaska. Mutual friends knew this single guy that lived up there and after a courtship of marine radio calls and many cards and letters we got married and lived in various areas of Alaska for 20 years. But I missed the barns and cows. Montana has been home for six years and yes, I do have cows! and pigs and chickens! Chores and gardening are my outdoors job/passion but indoors it is painting. I enjoy all mediums but there is something about putting a dab of color on the paper and manipulating it with the bristles of a brush and plain water. From the tiniest eyelash to letting the pigment do its own thing, watercolor is so versatile and fulfilling for me. God has proved to me that He does give us the desires of our hearts and blesses us all with talents and abilities.