GREAT FALLS — Although Jay Contway died in November 2019, his artistic legacy lives on — especially during Western Art Week in Great Falls.
Contway was born in 1935 in Malta, and his obituary states, "he was divinely blessed with a God-given talent for western art. He painted in watercolor and oil, but as we all know, his greatest gift was his ability to sculpt in clay and cast in bronze. No one made a better cow horse than Jay Contway. His attention to detail and action made him one of the best cowboy sculptors ever known."
He later earned a teaching certificate from Northern Montana College, and took his first teaching position in Loring in 1955. He taught in Lodge Pole, Dupuyer, New Miami Hutterite Colony, Cut Bank, and Great Falls. He won the North Central Montana Rodeo Association calf roping championship in 1964, ’65, and ’66, and filled his Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association permit.
When his art began to sell, Jay retired from teaching. He bought his property west of Great Falls in the spring of 1967 by selling a rope horse to J.O. Anderson to make the down payment. Eventually, Jay was able to build his own foundry, thus controlling the entire process of his work from clay to casting.
Over the years, Jay won numerous awards, but the most important recognitions of his career were the inductions into the Calgary Stampede Western Art Show Hall of Fame in 2009, the C.M. Russell Museum Skull Society of Artists 2014 and 2015, the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center in 2015, and the Montana Pro-Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame in 2016. His final salute came in September of 2019, when he received the Saddle of Honor Award from the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame and the C.M. Russell Museum.
Western Art Week features 14 shows and more than 600 artists. The event kicked off on Wednesday, March 16, and will run through March 20 at several hotels and event centers across Great Falls. Most Western Art Week events are free to the public and feature pieces for many budgets and tastes; click here for a complete schedule.