Sketches keep Montana hometown close to heart

03_markArticle by Kristi O’Harran, Seattle Daily Herald

Folks don’t need to tote a wallet or purse to Curry’s Market in Valier.

Everyone in town has a charge account. Customers put money down on deposit and purchases are deducted from the tab.

That sort of country life appeals to Mark Hinricksen, 59, of Marysville, Wash., who is Montana to his toenails. He aims to skedaddle back to his hometown of Conrad in the next few years.

Meanwhile, he creates art that captured the essence of a place where he attended a two-room schoolhouse, skated on frozen ponds and built forts over clotheslines.

Conrad is located north of nowhere and east of the Rocky Mountains, on the great, empty plains that dominate central Montana.

“You are never alone at the local restaurants,” said Hinricksen’s childhood friend, Sheron Curry. “There’s always someone you know or someone who will talk to you.”

Both their fathers worked in the oil fields, Curry said. It was a slow, quiet, simple lifestyle of honesty, good work ethics, living with nature, and learning to respect parents, teachers and each other.

Town kids hooked playing cards on bicycle spokes. Most people didn’t lock doors at night.

“After college I lived in Hawaii for 10 years, Santa Barbara for eight years and other places for short periods of time, but I aways came home for visits and finally I moved back home 20 years ago,” Curry said.

“Several of those we grew up with have also moved back home. We’ve lived the big city life, we’ve traveled, but there is nothing like coming home to Montana.”

When oil fields dried up, his parents, Marvin and Jane Hinricksen, moved the family to Marysville, where Marvin Hinricksen was an insurance agent. Mark attended Everett Community College on an art scholarship, got a real job, he said, and returned to Montana several times a year.

He has introduced friends and coworkers at Whitfields Insurance to the beauty of Conrad through his drawings. He illustrates rodeo scenes, landmark Montana buildings, a grain silo, soda fountain, horses and barns.

Workers at Seattle Specialty Insurance Services in Everett enjoy his work and his sense of humor, which includes individualized fax cover sheets for underwriters. He notes each person’s hobby or interest. Coworkers said he should get serious about his talent.

He’s drawn a logo for me,” said Kristin Minich. “He has a really great style and one of the things I love about his work is that it’s a casual, freelance style.”

She said his humor makes it easy to connect with the artist.

“I speak highly of him,” she said. “Through Mark’s stories and art, you take a little piece of Montana with you.”

Hinricksen creates his black and white drawings from photographs he snaps in Montana. He owns a shuttered saloon in town and a rental he bought for $10,000.

After he moves back to Conrad, he’ll amuse friends with tales of Whitfields Insurance. He’ll mention his art work was auctioned to help support the Snohomish County Center for Battered Women.

“Whitfields has always encouraged their employees by indulging their ‘quirks,’” he said. “It’s amazing how many employees have crafts that they do. Anything from jewelry makers, photographers, artists and spectacular bakers make up our employee list.”

Theresa Webber, flood insurance specialist with Seattle Specialty Insurance Services, said she likes to see Hinricksen’s name pop up on her caller ID.

“Mark is a blast to work with,” Webber said. “You know he’s going to make you laugh and be a nice break in your day. It’s hard for me to believe that the goof I work with has an eye for art and is really good at it.”

At their Marysville home, Mark and Christine Hinricksen have a greenhouse and sell baskets. He’s ordered plants that bloom in Siberia to stock the garden center he hopes to open in Conrad.

His artwork has earned interest in Montana shops.

“Mark likes to come to Montana to relive his youth, to visit his old stomping grounds, to shoot gophers, visit life-long friends, take breathtaking photos of views and things those of us who live here take for granted,” Curry said. “Montana is almost an obsession.”

Friends of Hinricksen know his passion about going home.

“There is a feeling of relief when you can see for 100 miles, Hinricksen said. “If you are born on the prairie, you can’t shake it out of your system.”

Editor’s note: Hinricksen will have a display, about 30 pieces, of his artwork at Stockman Bank starting the last week of May.