The original carvings of Chief Big Face and Fr. DeSmet were carved by Don Rutledge in 1991.
The weathered carving of Chief Big Face being removed from the original platform.
The carving had succombed to age and needed repair.
In 1991 in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of St. Mary’s Mission, historian Lucylle Evans, commissioned Don Rutledge to carve two historic figures. For 13 years the two wooden sculptures stood in DeSmet Park representing the meeting of Chief Big Face and Fr. Pierre DeSmet. Unfortunately, the harsh elements of sun and weather were unkind to the outdoor exhibit.
In the Fall of 2004, Fr. Michael Drury arrived in the Valley. Between assignments, he decided to stay on and began work on many restoration projects at St. Mary’s. Fascinated with the original wooden sculptures and aware of their deterioration, Fr. Drury met and consulted with Don Rutledge and they developed an initial plan for the restoration of each statue.
In his research and studies, Fr. Drury was inspired by the historic significance of Chief Victor in the Bitterroot Valley and suggested a third statue be carved to honor this great man. He searched for drawings and photographs of Chief Victor and made his artistic renderings. He then presented his sketches to the Salish Elders for their comments.
Fr. Mike Drury working on the carving of Chief Victor.
The new statue of Chief Victor in the early stages of being carved.
During the winter months, Fr. Drury connected with two local artists, George and Vonni Gulli of
With their artistic assistance and the generous use of their wood working shop, this dynamic team was able to complete the restoration of Chief Big Face. However, because of the extreme deterioration of the statue of Fr. DeSmet, the need for a new statue was determined. The Gullis donated 2 larch logs for the 8 foot statues and Fr. Drury began sculpting. Vonnie Gulli completed the artistic process by painting each carving.
Randy Schweher, a local contractor, designed and built the display area for the exhibit. After meeting Michelle Mazade, a local artist, Fr. Drury invited her to enhance the display area by painting the mountainous background mural.
Completed for the 2005 summer visitor season, this colorful diorama is a teaching resource, which adds a visual perspective to these three significant figures in Montana history. The exhibit stands in tribute to the labors of the Salish people, their leaders and the Jesuit Missionaries.
The completed statue of Fr. DeSmet. The old statue had to be replaced due to weather and age damage.
The Diorama has proven to be a valuable teaching resource.