The Heart of the Matter

Kelsey Dzintars uses art to connect.

Beauty abounds across the American West, but for local artist Kelsey Dzintars, nowhere is more a muse than southwest Montana. From the river valleys to the high peaks, local landscapes spur the creative process, offering inspiration for everything from commercial projects to fine-art commissions. O/B recently caught up with Kelsey for a chat about art, recreation, conservation, and living in paradise.

O/B: You’re from South Dakota but now spend most your time in Bozeman. What brought you and why have you decided to make this town your base?
KD: I moved to Bozeman in 2005 to attend the graphic-design program at MSU, and have pretty much called southwest Montana “home” ever since. I’ve traveled all over the West over the past five years or so, trying out different home bases, and ultimately came to the conclusion that the incredibly supportive community and outdoor-recreation opportunities we have here are pretty tough to beat.

O/B: What quality do you think Bozeman has that other towns lack?
KD: I’ve found the people in Bozeman really want to be here. The gratitude for this land is palpable, even on the insta-snot-freezer days. As the town experiences explosive growth, we all have to fight even harder for our own little piece, but it seems the big-smile-backed courtesies you see on the trails and the classic Montana steering-wheel wave aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Yes, I’m a bit of a Pollyanna.

O/B: What came first, your interest in recreation or your interest in illustration?
KD: Some of my earliest memories from when I was three or four years old involve learning to ski and scribbling to the radio, so I’d say the evolution was pretty simultaneous.

O/B: Your illustrations often feature the overlap between people and the environments they explore. What role do recreationists play in conserving the landscapes they enjoy?
KD: They play an enormous role in conservation. I’ve never been one to be much involved in politics, but my eyes have been very much opened in recent years to how quickly the places we love can disappear if we don’t fight for them. My goal with much of my artwork is to be a reminder of the emotional connection we have to our wild places, to help strengthen the desire to conserve them.

winter, town, art, painting

O/B: What role does art play in conservation?
KD: Art plays an important role in helping us digest and understand our relationship to the environment, for both the artist and the viewer. It has the ability to reach the heart of the public where straight scientific data can unfortunately fall short, ultimately influencing beliefs and decision-making.

O/B: How do you incorporate your personal values into your commercial work? Can you separate yourself from your work for clients?
KD: I’ve always made it a goal to be able to work in different media and styles, so that the resulting product reflects my client’s vision rather than my own personal aesthetic. That being said, the best projects to work on are those in which the client’s mission aligns with my own values or interests.

I have been a guide on the Middle Fork of the Salmon river for the last three summers, which has led to fine-art commissions for those I’ve guided on trips and commercial work for outfitters, such as artwork for apparel and artistic river maps. It’s been cool to see the worlds of guiding and art converge, to be a steward of conservation on and off the river. 

O/B: It seems that rivers and mountains have been major influences on your work. If you had to choose one or the other for all your future recreation, which would you choose?
KD: This is an absolutely unfair question! I plead the fifth.

lone peak, art, painting

Kelsey’s work can be found at