Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Road Trip, Part 6

Sit back, get comfy, and allow me to tell you a remarkable tale.  There is something in the tiny town of Martinsdale, MT that one would never expect.  Just down the road from Kari's house is an enormous museum.  It literally sits in the middle of nowhere, yet it still gets quite a few visitors per day.

The main draw is twofold: first, a guided tour of the Bair Mansion.  The Bair family was the best known, most influential, richest, most politically connected, and most philanthropically generous family in Montana from the mid 1930's until the last living relative passed away in the early 1990's.  Their family story is phenomenal.  The patriarch Charles Bair reportedly came to Montana as a young man with only 14 cents and 7 green apples to his name.  But everything he touched turned to gold, and he amassed an incredible fortune.  He had two daughters.  The daughters loved to travel to Europe and buy art and antiques with their father's money.  They stocked their home with the most rare, expensive furniture and decor possible.  One daughter married but never had kids and passed away in 1976.  The other daughter never married and lived in the Bair house until her death in 1993.  It was her desire that the house become a museum so the people of rural Montana could see the priceless American and European art and furniture.

One area of the house is packed with signed, framed well wishes from the most famous people imaginable.  The Bair family knew everyone.  They entertained dignitaries in this fancy home in the middle of nowhere, Montana.

The formal dining room alone has millions of dollars worth of antique furniture.  A George III dining table, 12 Chippendale side chairs, countless silver serving sets and a painting from the official portrait artist of Louis XV.

This bedroom is full of Louis XVI furniture.  The guide told us Marie Antoinette had slept on that daybed against the wall.  Who knows if it's true, but it makes a nice story.  This room also contains a painting by Edouard Cortes, one of several in the house.

They have a Grecian style bathroom done completely in gold.  It's not necessarily priceless, but it speaks to the over-the-top decor of the house.

This bedroom has all kinds of valuables, but the Louis XV desk may be the most expensive.  However, some of the most expensive items throughout the house are the smallest.  They have several ancient Chinese  urns, antique clocks, chandeliers, etc throughout the house.  It's literally jam-packed with priceless things.

The second draw for visitors is the famous artwork which used to be hung in the house until it was determined the 10 million dollar collection should have its own climate controlled exhibit.  So next to the house was built a 7000 square foot art gallery.  The originals were removed from the house (replicas were hung in their place.)  While at it, they also removed the large amount of antique Native American memorabilia which had been given to the family over the years by their Indian friends.  The Native American pieces and artwork are displayed in a pristine gallery now.  One of the famous artists featured there is Charlie Russell.  He is Montana's most famous artist and was a close friend of the Bairs.

Imagine my surprise when my visit to tiny Martinsdale led me to a world-class collection of art and furnishings.  The Bair family was larger than life.  Just reading about them, especially Alberta Bair who was the last to pass away in the 90's was fascinating.  Her huge white Cadillac is parked there in the garage of the Bair House, as a part of the tour.  They say she drove that Cadillac like mad all over town.  She sometimes loaded lambs in the backseat to carry them somewhere (part of the Bair family fortune was made as sheep ranchers.)  She personally gave away 8 full college scholarships per year (I am talking full room, board, tuition, expenses) to local graduating seniors.

I might get a book like this one:  The House of Bair: Sheep, Cadillacs, and Chippendale by Lee Rostad in order to find out more about this interesting family.  I enjoyed touring their home so much.  It was surreal to see that fortune in the least likely place.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

So cool...this is totally up my alley. What a gem to find in the middle of Montana!