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 Bill Ohrmann  (1919 - )

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Lived/Active: Montana      Known for: painting and woodcarving

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Ad Code: 4
Bill Ohrmann
from Auction House Records.
Pine Trees
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Bill Ohrmann (b. January 2, 1919-)

Born on a ranch just outside of the Western Montana town of Philipsburg, on January 2, 1919, Bill  was the third of four children, and the only son, of August and Flora Ohrmann, who had moved to Montana from Owatona, Minnesota in 1912 or 13.  The Ohrmanns raised registered Angus cattle in Philipsburg, but shortly after Bill's birth, the family was forced to sell out, and they moved to the Billings, Montana area, where August was a land classifier for the Federal Land Bank.  By 1922, though, they were back in western Montana, again raising registered Angus.  They first returned to Philipsburg, then to the Ovando area where Bill spent most of his early years.  In 1934 they moved to a ranch south of Drummond, Montana, at which time Bill started high school in Drummond.

In 1938, Bill lost both his parents.  His mother died of cancer in May (Bill missed his high school graduation to attend the funeral) and his father died of emphysema in the fall.  His two older sisters (Geraldine and Anita) had married by then, and Bill took over the operation of the ranch, assisted by his younger sister Marje. 

Bill was drafted in 1942, and served part of WW II in New Guinea.  He achieved the rank of master tech sergeant, and worked on C-47 planes.  While in the service, he began corresponding with Phyllis Sliter, a teacher in Wadena, Minnesota, who had come to Spokane to work for the summer, and had met Bill's younger sister Marje.  In June of 1948, they were married.  They waited a few years before starting a family, which grew to two daughters and a son (Susan, Jane and John).  Bill and Phyll continued the family tradition of raising registered Angus cattle, building a reputation for good cattle throughout Montana, and always keeping an eye toward being good stewards of the land. 

As the children got old enough, they took part in the operation, driving tractors (at first with supervision) at the age of 5, learning how to handle cattle and horses, and learning how to conduct an agricultural operation in harmony with Mother Nature.  Jane married first, in 1977, to Sandy Hultman, and had two children.  Susan followed, marrying Randy Peterson in 1980.  In 1985, Jane was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and died in 1990.  The rest of the family stepped in to help raise Jane's children (Callie and Ty), especially Susan and Phyllis.  John worked with Bill on the ranch until 1996, at which time Susan and Randy leased the ranch from Bill and Phyll.  They eventually bought the ranch in 2003.  Bill and Phyll still live in the house Bill moved to at the age of 15, Susan and Randy live up the road a couple miles, John and his partner Myrlin Rasmussen live down the road a half mile, and Ty works on a ranch about 15 miles away.

At an early age Bill started dabbling in art.  The margins of his school work were full of doodles.  His mother had an artistic bent, and encouraged all the children.  Bill began doing simple wood carvings while in high school.  Shortly after his parents died, he enrolled in a correspondence class, which was the only schooling Bill ever received in art.  He did some water color and oil painting also.  His wood carving techniques slowly matured, and by the late 60's he was exhibiting in some shows.  In the early 70's he began pushing his artwork more seriously, entering shows in Great Falls, Spokane, Billings, etc.  His work started getting noticed, and he began selling pieces.  In 1973, Bill and Phyll added on to the house, and added a studio room.  Although a very good representational painter, he always said there are a lot of good painters, and very few good wood carvers.  Cottonwood was his preferred medium.  He did common wildlife sculptures (bears, elk, buffalo, etc.), but his best pieces are what he calls allegorical.  Depictions of the four winds or the four seasons, the twelve moons, or whimsical fantasies, are not what most people expect from a Montana rancher/artist. 

By the age of 77, the physical work of handling two hundred pound blocks of green cottonwood got to be a bit much, and Bill started doing more painting.  This is also about the time Bill retired from ranching, and he had more time on his hands.  Again, his paintings turned out to be different from what one would expect of a rancher.  In his paintings, Bill decries all the environmental ills that humans have put upon the planet and wildlife.  He started painting in earnest, and was soon putting out a couple dozen paintings a year.  A group of forty of them toured the state for two years, appearing in the major art museums of the state.  Since 1976, he has produced about 200 or so.  In 2002, he and John built a museum on the family property to display the collection.

Also at the age of 77, Bill started working with an entirely new medium, welded steel.  He started with a standing, life sized grizzly bear, enjoyed the process and especially the result, and since then has made life sized representational elk, moose, mountain goat, bison, polar bear, wooly rhinocerous and a wooly mammoth, among others.  They are on display at the museum which is 2 miles south of Drummond on Highway 1.
Bill also has done many sculptures in poly form, and has had many of his pieces cast in bronze.

Information provided by John Ohrmann, the artist's son.

Biography from Missoula Art Museum:
Bill Orhmann was born in the Flint Creek Valley, and except for a three year tour in the South Pacific during WWII, has lived there as a rancher most of his life. Ohrmann learned that raising cattle was more fun than living under coconut palms, “those things might drop something hard on one’s head!”

During his ranching years, his artistic urges were directed towards woodcarvings, of which he did many. A stick of wood wasn’t safe around him. Nowadays, Ohrmann tries to paint.

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