Resounds: Donna Forbes, Gordon McConnell

May 28, 2019

Donna Forbes (left) and Gordon McConnell at the YPR studios
Credit Anna Paige

Donna Forbes and Gordon McConnell have an artful friendship. The two worked together at the Yellowstone Art Museum in the 1980s (then known as the Yellowstone Art Center) and played a major role in growing the facility into Montana’s largest contemporary art museum. Both played a major role in acquisitions of contemporary and modern art from Montana and identifying significant artists working at the time.


At age 90, Donna has an immense background in contemporary art. She hung with Montana's first modernist painters including Isabelle Johnson and Bill Stockton. The museum pioneer was part of the organization from its humble beginnings as the Yellowstone Art Center, founded in 1950. In 1974, she became the Yellowstone Art Center's fourth executive director.

McConnell, who came on-board as senior curator of the Yellowstone Art Center in 1982, was originally from Colorado who now lives in Billings. He would become another incredibly important person in Forbes' life, someone she considers one of her closest friends.

During the 1980s, many of the museum’s acquisitions were supported by Joseph and Miriam Sample, who purchased art and donated it back to the museum. The museum also grew with the support of grant funding and serving Montana’s rural populations with education and community outreach.

As the collection continued to balloon, the museum eventually needed to expand. In 1998, after a 10-year, $6.2 million-dollar capital campaign to renovate and expand the facility, the name was officially changed to the Yellowstone Art Museum. That was Forbes' final year as executive director. After cutting the ribbon on the new facility, she retired the next day.