Through Her Lens: The Photographs of Barbara Van Cleve

04.13.2023 – 06.25.2023

exhibition sponsors

Lead Sponsors

Lornel Baker
Sibanye Stillwater

Premium Sponsors

Barb Skelton in honor of Horses Spirits Healing, Inc
Northern Plains Resource Council
Mary and David Dobrowsky
Linda Snider
Margit Thorndal

Supporting Sponsor

Beverly Ross


Nancy Curriden
John Kennedy

Other Support


Montana Gallery

April 13 – June 25, 2023

A selection of fifty photographs from Barbara Van Cleve’s collection will be on view in the Montana Gallery from April 13 – June 25. Van Cleve’s aesthetic and documentary black and white images of ranch life offer a sharp contrast to fictional, romantic portrayals of the west. Subjects of transfixing night scenes, the Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive, the Spanish Mission Trail in Baja, California, and Mexico, and tough, working ranch women have captured her attention over the past forty years.

Van Cleve’s lifelong commitment to photography ignited when her parents gifted her first “Brownie” camera and home-developing kit as an eleven-year-old girl. Growing up on the Lazy K Bar Ranch in the eastern shadows of the Crazy Mountains (Awaxaawippíia), she turned the camera lens on what she knew best, cattle ranching, horses, and the surrounding landscape. Her photos were often taken from the vantage point of horseback, with deft timing and selection.

As a champion of women in ranching, Van Cleve balances the existing mythic cowboy with feminist realism. In her photograph titled Double Duty, a woman adorned in a cowboy hat, chaps, and oven mitt pulls a casserole from the oven. Throughout the exhibit, women show prominently among images of horseback riders nearly lost in the dusty atmosphere of moving cattle, the timed release of a well-slung rope, quiet conversations among ranch hands, and an imposing and sacred mountain range generating strong and shifting weather patterns — significant moments in ranch life.

Barbara Van Cleve was among six creative Montanans to receive a 2022 Governor’s Arts Award, the state’s highest honor for those working in the visual, performing, literary, and traditional arts.