We had the good fortune of connecting with Liz Chappie-Zoller and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Liz, Let’s talk about principles and values – what matters to you most?
Authenticity is my most important core value; engaging in any lesser fashion is simply fear-based.

When we show up as ourselves, with no fear of judgement or exclusion, communication flows most freely. Then we can explore and embrace our diversity as strength, because we have more in common than that which separates us.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
What sets you apart from others? My art is a unique combination of urban graffiti and rural working horses of the American West, both of which I’m madly in love with, and both of which are authentic representations of my landscape. They’re two subjects that have more in common than anyone expects, and I love bringing together the overlapping edges of their diverse cultures.

This is the core of my work, and its purpose is to surprise viewers with something entirely unexpected, in order to get them talking about the Why behind such a unique combination. We always learn from each other, and the resulting conversations are lively, fun, and full of good energy.

A little back story: I live in rural southwest Montana and the working horse is still a big part of this agricultural landscape. I most love the ranch horses, rodeo horses, and Indian Relay (a Pacific Northwest sport honoring the Native American’s warrior culture) racehorses. I also live along the Missouri River, where the railroad cuts through the remote Missouri River valley I call home; that’s where I’ve fallen in love with the urban art of graffiti, and also how I “bench” (collect) graffiti for my art. Each graffiti tag has a story, too – just because the “words” aren’t real words doesn’t mean they don’t stand for something. Graf culture has real history and community, too. Yes, it’s misdemeanor vandalism, but you have to admit, there are some killer writers (they’re not called artists) out there!

Both cultures have a real hierarchy in their crews with some surprising similarities of rank and tradition, so those are the overlapping edges of two very diverse, but fascinating (okay, to me, anyway) cultures. I believe there’s a lot more crossovers like this all around us, if we’d stop arguing about everything and pushing ourselves apart long enough to open our eyes and appreciate each other more! 😉

What you are most proud of or excited about?
I’m excited about how good – and authentic – this art feels. It has a real, timely purpose – that is, to get people talking with each other about how much we have in common, instead of what separates us. The current and pervading divisiveness in our society is so problematic, and this is a great example of How. Art. Works. Anyone who connects with my art first does so from a visceral level – which is genuine by its nature: they either love the horses OR the graffiti – and then the exchange of learning and appreciation occurs. That message truly energizes and excites me.

I’m proud of giving back by donating 10% of sales to NoKidHungry.org, an organization working to end child hunger in America today, by ensuring that all children get the healthy food they need every day to thrive.

How did you get to where you are today professionally?

My fine art has always taken a backseat to my job-jobs, because I like to eat and pay the mortgage; you know – just covering the cost of living. When I first moved to Dallas after college, I worked as a technical illustrator, graphic designer, sign maker, freelance commercial artist, and then, after moving to Bozeman in 2005, while working full-time in corporate administration (to pay the bills!), I also taught for the Interior Design program at MT State University, for just shy of ten years.

But, thanks to an inheritance and the always-present encouragement of my really wonderful hubs, John Zoller, I had the opportunity in 2017 to become a full-time working artist, so I took the leap. Prior to that, I learned to structure my small business through a business development course I completed in 2013, sponsored by the MT Arts Council, recognized by the NEA and written specifically for artists. One of its key teachings is to do the work you love, and find the market for it, instead of trying to figure out what art will sell, and just making that.

Since 2014, I’ve coached over 60 artists for this program, and along with all the working knowledge and marketing tools I never received during my undergraduate work for my BFA, with it came with a huge community of working artists from around the state. We artists create in isolation – MT is truly a huge place! – and to find so many other creatives who “speak the same language” of art has been incredibly inspiring. Both coaching the art business development program and being a part of the local art community have been instrumental in my success as a professional artist.

Was it easy?
Um, pleasurable, yes – in that the creation of the art itself comes easily and naturally, because I’m doing what I love all day.

But easy?
Not so much. Having my own art practice and career has been a steep learning curve with a lot of moving targets. I hadn’t arrived at my current style when I first came back to painting in 2013, so there was a lot of evolving taking place for the first 2-3 years – finding my voice, finding my pace, refining my medium.

Now, finding the best fit / market for my art has been the biggest challenge. There’s no “one size fits all” path to follow in art, so it’s a lot of forging your own way. Networking is hugely important, as is getting out of the studio and showing my art in person. I really believe there’s no substitution for telling your story and making face-to-face connections with potential clients. Story is everything. That part really fills me up, a great contrast to being in the studio by myself most of the time. 🙂

If not, how did you overcome the challenges?
I wouldn’t say it’s the school of hard knocks, but “you better have a great work ethic and a very thick skin”- those words of wisdom come from my favorite MT wildlife artist, Lyn St. Clair, an entirely generous soul who has always been most encouraging and accessible. Managing one’s own art career means being self-aware enough to course-correct in a timely manner, too, and to Be Brave! about accumulating those rejections. No one is going to find you in your studio, so engage, engage, engage.

What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way?
My mantra is to show up, manage your focus, and do the work. I don’t believe there is any substitution for persistence and consistency in that regard. As soon as I walk into my studio each day, I can feel my head and heart open and lean into the day’s work; it’s simultaneously cathartic and thrilling.

And although it might sound a little far-fetched, another lesson I’ve learned is to let the art lead the way:
What is this piece telling me? What does it need from me now? The patience to let a piece sit until it tells you what’s next.

I finally understand that art requires a lot of trial and error, give and take, not unlike an author waiting for the characters in their novel to tell them what happens next. I’m letting the art lead me now, instead of forcing it. I’m also getting more confident and comfortable trusting the creative process.

What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I would like the world to know that my studio tagline, “More Grit, More Pearl’, relates to my story and brand in this way:

I believe we each have a choice to turn our adversity into advantage. When we choose to show up, do the gritty work of managing our fears, and reach out to each other with authentic curiosity, we’ll find the overlapping edges of our diverse cultures help us create belonging and connection. I hope my art brings that strength and beauty home to you.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This is funny, because my best friend IS visiting here next week!

A proposed itinerary:

I consider Montana to be a retreat from the noise and pace of the big city, so the first place we’re going to unwind the morning after you jet into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (since we’ll have an hour’s drive home that night out to the remote Missouri River valley where I live), is Bozeman Hot Springs.

There we’ll have a long, hot soak in their outdoor hot spring pools, after which we’ll enjoy a fresh country breakfast at a little homegrown breakfast and lunch spot, called “Rise and Shine”; it’s run by the women from a local Red Angus cattle ranch. (Get the Spicy Pig!)

The last thing I’d want to do after coming here to visit from the big city is to shop, but we really must take a leisurely stroll up and down Bozeman’s historic Main Street, to take in the numerous fine art galleries and boutiques.

Although there are the traditional western art galleries and sporting goods stores that sell the ‘de rigueur’ Montana western “costume” of high-end jeans, boots, and fancy shirts, we’ll spend our time at local small businesses: Altitude and Visions West Galleries, Vargo’s Jazz City, Country Bookshelf, Cactus Records, Joe’s Parkway, and possibly a stop at a one-of-a-kind cider house, tea house, distillery, brewery, or coffee house for an afternoon pick-me-up.

Dinner can be at Ted Turner’s Montana Grill, if you favor a slab of homegrown bison harvested from his historic Flying D Ranch located just down the road at the base of the beautiful Spanish Peaks, or lighter fare – one of my favorites is the iconic Naked Noodle. Maybe we take out our food and eat while watching this season’s “Shakespeare in the Park” production on the lawn of the historic Story Mansion, built by the son of cattle baron Nelson Story in 1910.

Next day in town, your choice: we can hike the “M” trail up the side of one of the Bridger Mountains for a view of the Gallatin valley, or walk through the tree-lined streets of historic Craftsman-style homes to the expansive MT State University campus, where we can visit their fabulous candy – I mean, art! – store. 😉

If it’s not too hot, we can head west to Three Forks and hit the trails at the Missouri Headwaters State Park, where Lewis and Clark came through in 1906, and where the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin rivers convene to form the Missouri River. Or maybe snag a bike from Three Forks’ Sacajawea Hotel for a ride. Dinner tonight will be at Pompei’s Grill at the Sac, after drinks on their wrap-around porch, then downstairs to the Sac Bar for live music by our favorite local musicians.

Another day will find us on a scenic drive up to the adorable little town of Wilsall (William and Sally, named after the son and daughter of a prominent citizen and local landowner in the early 1900’s), overlooking the gorgeous Crazy Mountains, where we’ll visit the weaving studio and home of MT Circle of American Masters (MCAM) Master Weaver and Artist Bev. (and Tom) Polk. You’re sure to find a beautiful handwoven piece of art to take home with you! Lunch afterwards at mom-and-pop run The Vault, located in Wilsall’s old bank building on Main Street.

All during the summer, Montana hosts the most wonderful art and music festivals, often in conjunction with the local rodeo event, so we’ll hit a few of those: Sweet Pea and S.L.A.M. (Support Local Artists and Musicians) in Bozeman; Butte, a copper mining town just a bit west of us, has a huge music festival that is multi-cultural and entirely free; Red Ants Pants in White Sulfur Springs, an hour and a half away, hosts their annual 3-day Americana music festival fundraiser in the middle of a giant cattle pasture, tucked up against the mountains. Of course, you will have to buy a pair of ladies work pants from them – dark chocolate brown with an embroidered red ant!

Our iconic Yellowstone National Park is celebrating its 150th-year anniversary, and that’s not to be missed if you’ve not gone before, but it will be crowded this time of year – lots of bison, and bison-tossed tourists… so maybe another time, like winter, when it’s empty – and even more magical. (We have a lot of great skiing here, too, BTW).

These are just a few of the most fun, interesting, and exciting people, places, and things to check out in my corner of Big Sky Country – the “Last Best Place”. Come join us – it’ll be a great time. 🙂

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
First and foremost, thanks to the endless and generous efforts, support, love, and encouragement of my husband, John Zoller.

Thanks to the encouragement and support of the Montana Council’s MT Arts Artrepreneur Program (MAP) artist community.

Website: https://pearlsnapstudio.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pearlsnap.contemporary.equine/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PearlSnapStudioLLC.LizChappieZoller/

Image Credits
Launi Stocks (only images with me in them)

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