I tried to write this piece several times over the last few weeks, and I think I have finally calmed my emotions enough to say goodbye to my friend Jean Price. Our friend Jean Price, Montana’s friend Jean Price. American hero Jean Price.
(I hope it is ok that I used the Great Falls Tribune photo, just comment if not and I can take it down. I was unable to find this photo online, it was available a few weeks ago, but is now missing from the Urban Art Project website.)
Jean Price is known by some for her time in the Montana House of Representatives serving the heart of Great Falls from 2010 to 2018. Some folks know Jean Price from her 35 years as an art teacher in Great Falls at the high school and college level and some folks know Jean because she made national news with an awe-inspiring memorial art project to the fallen soldiers in the Iraq War.
I know Jean as a friend. Jean was Montana’s friend. Jean was an American Hero.
I don’t use the term American hero lightly, but Jean Price was a great advocate for those who needed a voice. She was one of the strongest advocates for the disabled in the Montana Legislature. Many of you may not be aware of Jean’s work prior to the legislature though. She was an art teacher, but she was also an art curator and developed a nationally recognized art piece and memorial to the fallen U.S. soldiers in the Iraq War. It was a stunning statement on the cost of war that was done in a very respectful manner and was accepted as an important reminder of war, even by conservatives in the Great Falls, where Malmstrom Air Force Base is located.
Jean Price: Three Thousand and Counting
To commemorate the sacrifices made by U.S. troops in Iraq, Great Falls artist Jean L. Price has created an ongoing memorial installation at Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. Each American soldier who has lost his or her life in the war is represented by a dog tag created out of aluminum tooling foil that includes name, rank and age. Montana soldiers who have fallen are represented with copper and brass. As more casualties occur, the sculpture grows. In this heartbreakingly beautiful tribute, Price provides the viewer with a visual display of the human cost of war.
The Square re-dedicated the installation (originally entitled Two Thousand and Counting) on Memorial Day, May 28, 2007; at which time, Jean expanded and enlarged the installation to reflect the growing toll of war on our nation’s servicemen and women.
Beginning with the first casualty on March 21, 2003 and continuing with an update weekly, each soldier who has given his or her life in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom is represented by a plate or “dog tag” which includes his/her name, rank and age as well as textures and marks which are embossed in aluminum tooling foil. Soldiers who were killed together are grouped together in one large plate. Montanans who have fallen are pointed out through the artist’s extended use of copper and brass on the dog tags. In this way, the viewer becomes cognizant not only of these sacrifices, but of also of the sheer reality of the number.
At the bottom of the installation, lies the “chaff” of Jean’s work: the bits and pieces of embossing aluminum, brass and copper foils she employed. To the artist, this chaff also represents the other casualties of war: the wounded, the displaced, the homeless, the parents who have lost their children, the orphans and widows for whom life will never be the same and who are, indeed, the fallout of war. In this graphic display, the artist provides the viewer with a visual display of the sheer cost of war – in misery, heartache, and sorrow.
via Urban Art Project
She held vigil for the fallen soldiers continually. Adding each name meticulously. The art piece sadly grew for a very long time.
It’s important to remember this as the drumbeat to war is again being hammered by the architect of the Iraq War, John Bolton. Bolton would have us at war all over the globe, with North Korea/China, with Iran, Venezuela and elsewhere.
I remember spending a lot of time between 2003 and 2008 checking a website that updated the number of fallen soldiers daily as a personal motivator to fight for those fighting for us, so that we never send troops in to a place without a clear plan, exit strategy and path to victory. The Iraq war need not be debated though, as history has taken care of that. It was sad, most of all for many American families.
I met Jean in 2009 when I was hired to organize Montanans to help pass the Affordable Care Act. Jean was ready to help and willing to do the hard work. She was not only an important part of the volunteer effort here in Montana, but she took me in and we had a little circle of friends that I made in Great Falls. They would take me out to dinner and make sure I took a break from the work that often meant 16 or 18 hour days, with all my time on the road.
I was so proud of Jean when she decided to run for the legislature in 2010 and I was so happy when she won. I really missed Jean in the halls of the Capitol this session as I usually make it to Helena a few times during the legislature.
Thanks to Phil Drake at the Great Falls Tribune for this information a celebration of Jean’s life has been set for June 8th in Great Falls for Jean at 1 pm at the Great Falls High School Auditorium which is at 1900 Second Ave South. A reception will follow from 2-4pm at the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art located at 1400 First Avenue North.
The Urban Art Project which Jean helped found posted:
Join us in celebrating the matriarch of the Urban Art Project, Jean Price, on June 8th at 1:00 PMJean Price, the founder of the Urban Art Project, passed on March 25, 2019 after a valiant fight with cancer. On June 8th at 1:00 PM there will be a celebration of life at Great Falls High auditorium followed by a reception at the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art from 2:00 to 4:00 PM were an exhibtion of her work as well as her collection will be on display. Jean held Master’s Degrees in both Sculpture and Fiber Arts; was a thirty-five veteran of art education; served four terms on the state legislature; served on the PGSMoA’s board and mutiple committees; and was a founder of the GFH Dahl Gallery and Urban Art Project. To read more about Jean please click here. She was an amazing woman.
It’s nice to hear Jean’s voice again. I’ve really missed her. Barbara Bessette has done a great job carrying on Jean’s legacy in the legislature.
Governor Bullock and Senator Tester both had very kind things to say about Jean:
Throughout her years, Jean Price was an inspiration to her students, the community of Great Falls, and in the legislature. Jean was a good friend and a great servant. Her passion for service and indomitable spirit will be deeply missed. pic.twitter.com/1DUzJs7lvV
— Steve Bullock (@GovernorBullock) March 25, 2019
“Jean Price dedicated her entire adult life to public service, both as an enthusiastic educator and an effective legislator. She is someone that the state of Montana, especially folks in Great Falls, will sorely miss.”
I remember about a week before Jean was diagnosed she was visiting her daughter in Alaska, having the time of her life, we spoke on the phone and had planned on meeting up for dinner when she came back from Alaska, then when she returned home she couldn’t sleep one night and went into the ER. She called me from the hospital that afternoon and said the doctors were worried it was cancer. I was working in Helena that day and I drove up to the hospital and sat with her through dinner until she fell asleep.
I remember the last time I saw Jean I had been working in a Great Falls for a few weeks and I wanted to come visit and chat with her before I had to leave town. She had me fix her Fitbit so it connected properly to her email and we sat and laughed about the goofiness of wearing a device to tell you how many steps you took every day.
It’s truly hard to measure how much Jean accomplished, I guarantee the Fitbit had a hard time keeping track of her.
Former State Senator, Great Falls City Commission Member Mary Moe said it very well about our friend Jean here:
In lieu of flowers, please send memorials to the Urban Art Project.
Memorials can be made in honor of Jean Price to the Urban Art Project, Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art, 1400 1st Ave. N. Great Falls, MT 59401.