Aunt Dofe’s Hall of Recent Memory

by Keith Martinez  |  Tuesday Oct. 1st, 2019

The Montana art community suffered a gigantic loss in 2016 when Dave Kirk passed away. Dave was an artist, a friend, and the owner and curator of Aunt Dofe’s Hall of Recent Memory, a beloved art gallery in Willow Creek, Montana.

Aunt Dofe’s Hall of Recent Memory was known for its warm, yet raw and unusual feel that set it apart from the usual stuffy and uptight feel of most art galleries. Housed in two storefront properties on Main Street in Willow Creek, Aunt Dofe’s Hall of Recent Memory existed as a space for Kirk to not only work in, but to show both his and other artists’ works who fall outside of the typical aesthetic that is featured in most Montana art spaces.  

It can be said that Dave Kirk achieved his objective as the gallery became an important outlet for art lovers to gather and learn about regional artists while strengthening the community of both artists and lovers of the strange and beautiful. 

The gallery sat dormant for a period, and in 2018, the building went on the market in the form of an auction. Juni Clark, an avid fan of the original gallery, won the auction and set out to revive Aunt Dofe’s Hall of Recent Memory under the new moniker, Aunt Dofe’s Gallery. After an exhaustive renovation, the Aunt Dofe’s Gallery had its grand re-opening in August with an exhibition of the work of artist Sandra Dal Poggetto. 

I asked Ms. Clark some questions about her involvement with the purchase, renovation, and future of Aunt Dofe’s Gallery.

KM: How did you come to be the owner of Aunt Dofe’s Gallery?

JC: Since approximately 2003, I attended many of the shows at Aunt Dofe’s Hall of Recent Memory, became a friend of Dave’s, was an active supporter of the gallery, and purchased many works of art there. I appreciated Dave’s mission and his beautiful old building. 

During the summer of 2018, I heard that Dave Kirk’s heirs wanted to sell the building through an auction company. I bid online and fortunately was the highest bidder. The purchase closed on Oct. 1, 2018.

Dave was a massive collector of stuff…his wood-working studio and the basement were chock full of items, which had to be removed. This took approximately one month of work. Then, an old, non-working bathroom and darkroom/bedroom had to be demolished to open up the north side of the building (now called the Earl Parks Gallery).

KM: You mentioned that you had been a frequent visitor and patron of Aunt Dofe’s Hall of Recent Memory. What are some of your memories of the gallery?

JC: I had been to Aunt Dofe’s many, many times when Dave was the owner. Through Dave, I became acquainted with wonderful regional artists such as Gabriel Kulka, Jennifer Pulchinski, and Tom Ferris. When Dave realized he needed some outside support, I helped fund and organize the 2008 Auction. A close family friend was studying at Rhode Island School of Design at that time. When Dave heard about Lane, he proposed that she show at the gallery and suggested our daughter, Lucy, be the curator since she was majoring in art history. My husband, Ray, and I hired Dave to build things for us. He liked to take his time but you could always count on quality. He built the most beautiful benches for our yard.

KM: Why did you want to own an art gallery in the middle of rural Montana?

JC: Dave’s vision of buying a building in Willow Creek to be used as his residence, wood working studio, and art gallery was pure genius. There is something so special, unique, and, transformative about the tiny town of Willow Creek. First, the contemplative, gorgeous drive to get there. The 1903 building with its plaster walls, vintage wood floors, high, tin ceilings and large open spaces works beautifully for this purpose, and the incredible individuals of WC and Saloon across the street certainly contribute to the rich experience.  

KM: What type of installations/exhibitions do you envision Aunt Dofe’s Gallery hosting?

JC: I would like to provide this space mainly for solo shows for both established and emerging artists. I want to encourage the artists to use this space to stretch their ideas, to show what they have always wanted to show but have perhaps been constrained from doing by the mainstreams galleries. And -- without the pressure of selling their art.  I’m not in this for a profit. I would love to see artists sell their work and will work hard to try to present opportunities, but this is for their vision and their experimentation. Further, I am planning an artist residency program at Aunt Dofe’s. The space behind the Earl S. Parks Gallery will be used as studio space with the residence used as a home for the artist.

KM: Tell me about the renovation process and striking a balance between the personality of the original space and the current environment.

JC: My goal was to be mindful of striking a balance between the quirky, beautiful personality of the old space and providing a contemporary space to properly show work, with lots of lighting and a new gallery hanging system.As Chris Davis, one of Dave’s oldest friends and neighbor has said, “You have managed to give the building the right amount of TLC without over improving.” I hope I really have accomplished this. 

KM: What are some of the upcoming events and exhibitions?  

JC: So far we have scheduled 9 shows with superb leading regional artists (see the website, www.auntdofesgallery.com), and I’m always looking for emerging talent. I must mention how grateful I am to those artists for saying “yes” to showing at Aunt Dofe’s without seeing the finished product or knowing much about me. I can attribute that to Dave paving with way with his vision of being all about the artist, which I am continuing. In addition, on Sept. 27 we held a “Conversation with the Artist,” Sandra Dal Poggetto, conducted by Melissa Ragain, an art history professor at MSU, which was open to the public as part of Aunt Dofe’s dissemination of artistic values. Hopefully, this will continue with each new artist’s Show.

KM: Do you have any galleries or gallery owners that have influenced you as the gallery owner?

JC: Dave’s vison was what drove me with this project. I want to move away from the typical idea of a dealer/artist relationship. Since there will be little or no commission, I would like to see the artist negotiate on their own with a potential buyer unless they are uncomfortable with this.

KM: Is there anything you want fans of Dave or the original gallery to know?

JC: I am a huge fan of contemporary art in the region. I cannot express the joy and satisfaction I received from the excellent art in the region and I want to say thank you to the artists by providing Aunt Dofe’s as a resource/outlet. I am not Dave, but I have huge respect for what he established. I may expand or tweak his vision but it was a damned good vision.   

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