Van Buren's 113 ft. mural paints Montana's deep history

Photo courtesy of Lillian Nelson

MISSOULA- A massive new mural at the Van Buren exit on I-90 will pay tribute to the Salish tribes who first called Missoula home.

The Rattlesnake neighborhood council leadership team partnered with the City of Missoula’s Public Art Committee to bring in a local artist to paint a mural honoring the Missoula Valley's history.

The city of Missoula’s master plan includes incorporating more art into more public places, and the lower Rattlesnake neighborhood leadership council and the city accepted a grant to do just that.

The Van Buren roundabout may seem like home to cars and traffic, but over 200 years ago, the Salish Tribes camped and hunted in almost the exact same spot that the 113 foot mural will be.

Local artist Lillian Nelson says it's been a dream to complete a mural that paints a picture of Montana’s deep roots.

"I personally have been looking to find a large mural project specifically to have something that commemorates and talks about how the Salish tribes used to be where we are now. Since it ended up being their camping and hunting grounds pretty much right where the mural was going to be, I pretty much jumped on it,” Nelson said.

Incorporating bright colors, symbolism of Mother Nature, mother hood, new beginnings, and old beginnings, Nelson says she named the mural "We are but One" after Chief Joseph, who also believes in unity through our past.

"There is no separate culture or tribe or county or people, we are all connected, and we are all connected to nature as well," she said. "So that's kind of the message I want to get out there."

The City of Missoula’s Art Coordinator, Kirsten Paisley says Nelson is a familiar artist around town.

"She's done several works in the city," Paisley said. "She's done traffic signal boxes, a couple different murals, she's just an amazing artist to work with. Lillian's piece was selected as one of six design proposals. We just really loved her piece, loved what it was about, and we were just really excited to partner with her on this."

The mural will be finished by the end of the first week of July, and once the Department of Transportation seals the mural, it will be completed.

The city says they plan on holding a ceremony or celebration for the mural once completed.

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