Bill Stockton: Grass Roots Modernist

November 7, 2019 - January 12, 2020

Upcoming Events

First Friday: Felting Demonstrations by Prairie Handspinners & Performance by the Yellowstone Repertory Theater  January 3, 2020, 5:30–8 p.m.
Members of the Yellowstone Repertory Theater will breathe life into Bill Stockton’s writings on  January 3, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Cast members will read excerpts from his semi-autobiographical play, “Goat Woman,” an unpublished memoir, “On McDonald Creek,” and his book about the challenges of dryland ranching, Today I Baled Some Hay to Feed the Sheep the Coyotes Eat. Concurrently that evening,  Alena Larson, Barb Garritson and other Prairie Handspinners members will present a felting demontration in conjunction with the current Bill Stockton Exhibition. 

The YRT’s mission is “ to bring professional theatre to Billings and the surrounding region by creating a committed ensemble that dares the artist, while captivating and inspiring the audience.” For info on their season, visit

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Bill Stockton was many things: artist, sheep rancher, soldier, sign painter, performer, storyteller, husband, father, grandfather, and Modernist.

Despite long hours spent ranching, Stockton profoundly influenced the arts in Montana, along with a handful of his friends such as Isabelle Johnson and Bob and Gennie DeWeese. Like Jackson Pollock, one of his artistic heroes, his early paintings combine nonobjective abstraction with the colors and patterns of the Western landscape. The canvases stress the flatness of the surface and the truth of the edge. They are objects shorn of illusion.

Stockton’s passion for modernism and his need to create extended far beyond painting. He remodeled the Sears Roebuck catalog house on his family homestead, turning it into a flat-roofed modern dwelling and decorating the newly sunken living room with sleek modern furniture built from broken rake teeth and twine. He learned to felt the wool he raised into swirling abstractions. He fashioned excruciatingly expressive sculpture out of broken equipment, drawing with weld as if it were crayon. He was a prolific artist in winter, during the window between haying and lambing. This was his time to draw and paint, using livestock markers to remember briers and drifting snow, and the quality of light on cold mornings.

Stockton’s father died before he was born, and his mother struggled to raise him and his sisters on a meager income, while sustaining the family homestead. World War II introduced a larger world, first taking him to France, and then enabling him to study on the GI Bill. Toward the end of the war he was assigned to a hospital on the outskirts of Paris, where he was assigned to painting signs. There, he met his bride, Elvia and learned how to handle brushes from local painters. After returning to the US, Stockton studied at the Minneapolis School of Art in Minnesota and the École de la Chaumière in Paris, France. Finally, he succumbed to a combination of pressure from his mother and bad luck with galleries and sales. He and Elvia came home to the tiny community of Grass Range, where they raised two boys and countless sheep.

This exhibition draws predominantly from the museum’s collection of 93 objects, most of which were purchased for YAM through the generous contributions of Miriam Sample. Loans from family, collectors, and other Montana institutions bring some of his powerful sculptures to light and add depth to the museum’s holdings. This represents the most extensive exhibition of Stockton’s work, and his first exhibition at YAM since a memorial exhibition in 2003, one year after the artist’s death.

This exhibition is the sixth in Yellowstone Art Museum’s Montana Masters Series, initiated in 2015 to spotlight some of the most influential artists in the region. Bill Stockton’s distinctive and distinguished artworks spanned more than five decades, from World War II until his death in 2002.



Title Sponsors: Theodore Waddell & Lynn Campion
Lead Sponsors: Deborah Anspach & Dr. John Hanson, Charles M. Bair Family Trust, John W. & Carol L.H. Green, Anonymous.
Supporting Sponsors: Donna M. Forbes, Gareld & Barbara Krieg, Gordon McConnell & Betty Loos, Jon Lodge & Jane Deschner
Opening Reception Sponsors: Ted & Bess Lovec, Sharon L. & Garde Peterson

For more information contact:

General Information: or 406-256-6804 x236
Exhibition Sponsorship: or 406-256-6804 x226