Resounds: Kevin Kooistra, Lauren Hunley

Mar 26, 2019

Lauren Hunley (left) and Kevin Kooistra of the Western Heritage Center at the YPR studios
Credit Anna Paige

The mission of the Western Heritage Center is telling the stories of the peoples of the Yellowstone River Valley and the Northern Plains. Kevin Kooistra, Executive Director, and Lauren Hunley, Community Historian, join us to discuss current exhibitions at the Center.

Incorporated in 1971, the Western Heritage Center began as a community center displaying a private collection of western artifacts in the historic library building. The Center has added outreach programs and walking tours, changing interactive exhibits, a collection of 35,000 historic artifacts and photographs, nine traveling exhibits, and over 400 oral histories.  


Aspaalooke, or Crow Indian, artistic choices reveal the incorporation of new materials and methods into tribal life.  Art & Adaptation: Transforming Art Among the Apsaalooke explores these artistic changes, and their inspirations, through the eyes of contemporary Apsaalooke artists. The exhibit includes objects from the Chief Plenty Coups State Park, MSU Billings Special Collections, Montana Audubon Center, and Western Heritage Center collections. 

Crow and Gros Ventre Indians at Crow Agency, Montana created a number of ledger drawings between 1879 and 1897. The Charles H. Barstow Collection of Crow and Gros Ventre Indian Ledger Art was collected by Charles H. Barstow, a clerk for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Crow Agency during the 1880s. Twenty-two of these original drawings are on display at the Western Heritage Center. The collection comes to the museum courtesy Montana State University Billings Library Special Collections.

The relationship between Yellowstone Park visitors and resident wildlife is a complicated one. At one time, visitors could pet and feed park animals including marmots, elk, and of course, the bear. Please Don’t Feed the Bears: Close Encounters with Yellowstone Wildlife tracks the parks’ transition from a visitor playground where these interactions were encouraged to today’s wildlife preserve where visitor behavior is closely monitored.

The permanent American Indian Tribal Histories Project Exhibit provides visitors with an overview of Montana’s Native American tribes through maps, tribal flags and an explanation of their symbols, Crow and Northern Cheyenne tribal member oral histories and a chronology of the American Indian Tribal Histories Project, whose mission is to preserve and maintain American Indian tribal histories and culture.  The museum houses over 170 video-taped interviews of Crow and Northern Cheyenne community members – the interviews and project were organized by a staff of Crow and Northern Cheyenne.

JK Ralston Studio: James Kenneth Ralston (1896-1987) was a noted western artist who lived in Billings for many years.  In 1946, Ralston and his son built a log cabin to serve as the artist’s studio.  In 2005, the cabin was moved to the Western Heritage Center and the cabin’s interior was restored to reflect his working environment.