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 Nancy Powell McLaughlin  (1932 - 1985)

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Lived/Active: Montana      Known for: Indian figure and animal painting, sculpture

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Nancy McLaughlin
An example of work by Nancy Powell McLaughlin
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information was submitted by Allison Gunderson, daughter of the artist.

Born in Kalispell, Montana, Nancy McLaughlin became noted for her depictions of Indian faces from babies to men and in her later years, the portrayal of Indian legends. Her passion in her later years was portraying Indian legends. She worked mostly with pencil and pastels in the early days but moved on to watercolor, oil, and sculpture. During her career, McLaughlin lived in Washington, Arizona, and Texas.

She drew mostly horses and animals during her early age. She graduated from Flathead High School, which has several works by her in their library. She attended the University of Montana to get a teaching degree and study art. There she met Ace Powell, twenty years older than she. They married and started a family in Hungry Horse, Montana.

In 1964, the house and studio and art gallery in Hungry Horse burned to the ground. The cause was never determined for sure, but their personal and private art collection and Indian artifacts were all destroyed. The pressure of this calamity was too much and the couple divorced, leaving four children, David, Christa, Allison, and Ann, all who have remained in the northwest.

McLaughlin had had a life-long struggle with asthma and respiratory illnesses, and this was the cause of her death, which occurred in Newport, Washington.

Biography from Flathead Gallery:
Nancy McLaughlin, born in Kalispell in 1932, was totally horse crazy, riding and drawing them every chance she had.  When her stepfather, a tie bucker, found work on the spur line being built from Birch Creek down towards Valier, the family moved out to the Blackfeet Reservation.  Here, she heard the legends told by the last of the Blackfeet Tribal Members who knew firsthand of “The Old Days and Ways.”

She made friendships on the Reservation that lasted until her death in1985.  An effort to provide an honest portrayal of what she saw around her inspired her to work with clay, paint brushes, or a pastel stick to record these memories.  Holy Medicine people of the Blackfeet Nation spoke to her as a daughter and adopted her into their world.

David Powell, now a member of the Cowboy Artists of America, said of this time: “Once when an offering was needed for a medicine bundle, my mother cut off part of her beloved braid which she wore almost to her dying day.”

Ace Powell, whom she met while working during a summer college vacation in Glacier National Park, sparked her to say to a sorority sister, “I am going to marry that cowboy.”  "Ace, a Park horse packer, could diamond hitch almost anything--even a water heater-- to a horse,” remembered Kalispell artist Robert Cavanaugh.  Ace and fellow cowboys were the keepers of Nancy's first love: mountain ponies. Hence, this attraction to Ace was not a surprise to her friends.

Hitching up in 1955, they built a home which also served as a gallery over on the west side of Highway 2.  Until 1964, when a fire destroyed the gallery and the marriage, this home served both as a way-station for those traveling down and back off the reservation and as a stopover place for traveling artists.  "Life here in Hungry Horse, Montana, was an unsure proposition.  Many small pieces in pencil and pastel were produced to “keep the pot boiling.”

In the collection of David Powell is a catalog from this era wherein one could purchase his mother’s work for “one dollar for a baby’s head and five dollars for a full-sheet Indian Portrait."  Memories of pot boilers often come first to mind to some collectors, but recently the value of her works has much increased.

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