Tippet Rise in Montana is Art and Architecture, Coulees and Canyons, Music and Magnificence … and More

Pablo Picasso has said that the purpose of art is to wash the daily dust of life off our souls. And Tippet Rise Art Center does all that and more.

“Set on a 10,260 acre working sheep and cattle ranch, Tippet Rise hosts classical chamber music and recitals and exhibits large-scale, outdoor sculptures.”

From the Tippet Rise website.

That doesn’t begin to describe the soul-satisfying blend of music, nature, art, architecture—and community—inhabiting this magnificent, magical place.

A Little Background

Founded by poets, painters, musicians, and philanthropists Peter and Cathy Halstead, Tippet Rise has been open for only two seasons. The Halsteads developed this unique vision for such a venue, but spent years searching out the perfect location. They’d looked in Colorado, Washington, and throughout Montana, before finding this locale outside tiny (population 500+) Fishtail. The perfect spot was settled on, several ranches were stitched together to create the acreage. Finishing took another six years of development.

The Art Center is named for the rising slopes of land, as well as a nickname—Tippet—for Cathy’s mom. On the website, Cathy says that, “The people we love never really die. They rise again out of memory, out of dreams.”

Pioneer at Tippet Rise

Taking a Tour

We’ve been to Tippet Rise three times, fortunately taking the first tour on opening day, June 17, 2016. We rode in solar-powered electric vans, and took off into the lush spring landscape of rolling valleys and rugged canyons. High-altitude circling and chortling sandhill cranes, a jagged skyline, and verdant grasses made a slow-motion poetry of dance in the gentle breezes. 

It’s difficult to describe the immense scale of Tippet Rise. The 10,000 acres are painterly. Dramatic views float off into the horizon where spires of the Beartooth Mountains seem to puncture the sky. But even more difficult to describe is the enormity of the sculptures. Schedule an art van tour. In three hours, you’ll be shepherded to all eight of these massive works of art. They’re set on hilltops and in valleys, far enough apart that they each have space in which to shine. Some are concrete pieces, created on-site from thousands of cubic yards of concrete. Others are made from steel, stainless steel, cedar, paint, and willows.

The van stops close to the sculptures. A short walk—through swaying grasses dotted by sunny sego lilies and lavender lupine—takes you up close and personal. Stopping at Beethoven’s Quartet, you’ll hear the trill of a meadowlark, notice ominous, popcorn clouds one direction, a bluebird sky in another. Step inside the parabola of this huge sculpture and make music with a rubber hammer you pound on the metal. At Proverb, you’ll see gentle canyons surrounding the site full of flowing ribbons of sheep. Maybe they’ll be followed by a cowboy on horseback. At Daydreams, you’ll want to lose yourself in the cave-like pockets created by tendrils of willow. They’re woven in and through an old schoolhouse (newly built, but constructed to look old – down to the peeling shingles).

Experiencing a Concert

Tippet Rise brings in world class musicians for chamber concerts on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the summer months. Performances take place in the Olivier Music Barn—a beautiful building that seats 150. The space is stunning with its soaring wooden walls, gently-tiered risers with canvas captain’s chairs, and a full-length window that looks out into the rolling hills and mountains. Musicians perform on a stage in front of this window, and the feeling is that nature has been invited to the performance, too. On every other seat is the gift of the program, a pound and a half book that outlines the background of Tippet Rise, along with notes, interviews, poetry, photography, and wonderment.

Beethoven’s Quartet sculpture at Tippet Rise

When the performance begins, you catch your breath in amazement at the beauty of the music and astounding acoustics in the intimate space. The in-the-moment passion of the musicians has you following along with their movements, and by the end of a piece, you feel as if you, too, have participated in the incredibly athletic performance you’ve witnessed. The musicians gradually, and individually, lower their bows to end the movement. The setting sun reflects off the strings, as if they were long and luminous antennae from some other-worldly creatures, and you sigh in peace.

A Gift to the Universe. Really.

On our first tour, we overheard someone say, “I can’t fathom this kind of generosity. They spend millions and millions and give it all back to us.” I think of what the Halsteads have done in creating this space to share the things they love—music, sculpture, poetry, and nature—with the rest of us, and I am flabbergasted. But gratefully so. Because, here’s the thing—you come away from every visit at Tippet Rise … changed. You feel enlarged—a bigger part of the universe. And you want to embrace your own creativity, and be a better person because of this experience.

In one chapter of the program book, owner Peter Halstead says this, “There is nothing finer than a day spent in hard work on the land, chopping wood, shoveling snow, driving a tractor, or tending cattle, to return to the delights of family and hearth. Throw in a few good books, and a poem before bedtime, and you have the essence of a life well spent.”


When You Go

In other places, you’d pay hundreds of dollars for a few tickets to see world-class performances similar to what’s available at Tippet Rise.

Here? Ten dollars!

Tours? They’re free!

So, if you plan to be anywhere near this magical region, go to the artful Tippet Rise website first, and reserve a tour.

Will's Shed at Tippet Rise

Tippet is closed in the winter. You can hike and bike through the road and trails (be advised there are some steep hills there), and need to make reservations.

Once you’re there, plan to stay for the amazing lunch or dinner barbecue, prepared by Wildflower Kitchen, and served in the Douglas fir barn known as, “Will’s Shed.”

Getting there:

From Red Lodge, follow Route 78 west/north toward Columbus. Watch for the signs for Fishtail and Tippet Rise on your left. Or, from Interstate 90 out of Billings head toward Bozeman, exit at Columbus and follow Route 78 south/east into the small town of Absarokee. Look for signs for Tippet Rise and hang a right. You’ll think you’re in the middle of nowhere and guess what? You are! Enjoy the big wide empty as you discover an oasis of artwork.