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KÜHL chats with Montana-based artist, sportswoman and go-getter, Kelsey Morris, to get acquainted with her work and inspiration.
Story written by Sam Brown. All photos by Mak Crist.
Kelsey Morris is a Southeast Montana-based artist, sportswoman and go-getter. She uses graphite and oils to capture western landscapes and wildlife. Her heart beats for authenticity. Passion runs through her veins. She is tenacious and unwilling to accept defeat in her pursuit of a life bound by love, adventure, grace and lots of dog cuddles.
This series from KÜHL goes beyond an artist's work and inspiration. We dive deeper into artists' origin stories and struggles to learn how they cope with failure, critics, and success, yet still find time to do the things they love. Born in the mountains, raised in the studio—these are their stories.
If Kelsey Morris could fill her freezer with just three things it would be pronghorn antelope, duck and salmon. This protein sustains her, and the memories from each pursuit inspire her. You can see the gratitude and reverence she has, not just for these animals, but also for the places they call home, in every refined brush stroke and graphite line.
Kelsey was always an artist, but she was discouraged from pursuing art as a full-time occupation. “You can’t make it as a creative,” they said.
She grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and wandered west after college to pursue a corporate job in agricultural sales in Eastern Montana. She was good at it, really good.
As she settled into modern expectations of what people need to be happy—a lucrative career, stability, good health insurance—she began making excuses for spending less time outside and more time behind a screen at her job. The promise of “success” distracted her from the life she always wanted to live. Unfulfilled and uninspired, she sought change.
Meet Seth. A handsome transplant from Pennsylvania living in Helena, Montana. Seth was happy, but should not have been according to everyone else’s yard stick. He worked seasonal jobs, and he let the seasons dictate his path between fire and hunting seasons. As the couple got to know each other, Kelsey could see how happy you can be with so little.
As their relationship grew, so did her curiosity for a different daily cadence—one where she walks to work, chats face-to-face with her customers and work research involves a long stroll through the mountains, maybe with a shotgun over her shoulder.
They fell in love. Seth began a career in TV production and is now a photographer for the popular hunting TV series, MeatEater. As his career took off, he wanted the same professional happiness for Kelsey. Throughout their relationship, Seth always encouraged Kelsey to pursue art full-time.
In the early days, Kelsey was strictly a graphite artist. She drew realistic portraits of gun dogs with stoic looks of determination and loyalty. As word spread and business picked up, the very real possibility of becoming a full-time artist began to materialize, so in 2020 she picked up a paintbrush to expand her repertoire of talents.
What is incredible about Kelsey is her humble attitude given the enormity of her talent. She is the first to admit she has no formal artistic training, which is hard to believe. But she’s willing to put in the time, energy and love to pursue a career that provides joy and a life-giving balance.
She embraces the long nights and tired hands. She chooses to show up at the easel despite fear and doubt. Being a full-time artist is far from easy, and often the artists themselves are their own biggest obstacles. It’s not supposed to be easy. But Kelsey has the grit to stare down these doubts.
When is a good time to leave a stable career? After a few years doing artwork on the side, Kelsey felt confident. In 2021, with the support of her partner Seth, Kelsey left a successful career in sales and hasn’t looked back.
As her business took off, Kelsey’s commitment to the artistic process was quickly becoming her demise. It was hard for her to separate herself from her work since her home was the studio. A very critical inner dialogue made it hard to walk away from a piece until it was perfect. Her easel sat a few feet away from her bed. She breathed the paint and solvent fumes as she slept – intoxicated (literally) with her passion for art. When the piece is at your bedside, it’s impossible to stop critiquing it. It invades your dreams. Fortunately, she had the foresight to recognize that this wasn’t healthy or sustainable, so she began to look for a studio.
In the span of one short year, Kelsey’s vision for a life well-lived materialized. Not out of thin air but the result of intention and dedication. She and Seth got married. They bought a house together. Down the road from that house, she found a dilapidated building that would become her studio.
The Studio Gallery was born. After months of hard work and remodeling, Kelsey now had a place to call her own and didn’t have to inhale paint fumes as she drifted off to sleep.
The Studio Gallery, “…has illuminated a path from which I cannot stray,” writes Kelsey. It’s the best decision she has ever made for her career. Not only to help her create a healthy separation from her work, but to give her a place to interact with clients and hear their stories.
Her works decorate the walls with thoughtful design elements and decor throughout the old building which used to be Three Fork’s telegraph station. It’s a glimpse into her creative process. One that begins just outside her door and beyond – where dusty plains soaked in golden light and jagged ridges folding into the foothills provide her the space to roam, hunt and wander. It is real. It is raw. Two traits her audience craves. The same traits Kelsey needed when she working a sales job.
Kelsey is a well-rounded spirit – not just seeking a life of meaning for herself but looking for ways to give back to those around her. The gallery is an investment in the community that means so much to her. A beautiful way to give back, reviving a treasured old building and filling it with inspiration from the land that surrounds it.
During the process of becoming a full-time artist, Kelsey was distilling her unique artistic style and approach. This style weaves a masculine representation of the west into most pieces she creates. While she can respect and acknowledge the romanticism of the west—the reality is, it’s a harsh landscape that doesn’t care about you or your feelings. It will drench you, freeze you, cut you, spin you ‘round and spit you out.
For Kelsey, good is never good enough. Despite her success, she holds herself to a very high standard and intentionally seeks projects that push her outside her comfort zone so she can grow. She recently started experimenting with plein air painting – or leaving the security of her studio and taking her canvas outside to paint the scene before her. For someone who extracts most of her ideas and inspiration on long hikes, remote campsites, or tranquil canoe floats, it’s a perfect transition.
But it doesn’t end there. She recently painted an old bison skull she found embedded in a riverbank during a canoe float with Seth. On a lazy morning, she’ll sketch on a piece of coffee-stained paper as an art exercise.
It seems “slow and steady” isn’t in Kelsey’s vocabulary. But at times it has to be. She’s a master of observation—seeking quiet moments in the mountains—with a relentless curiosity to see what’s over the next river bend or coulee.
As a small business owner, she is required to think on her feet and adapt to the changing rhythms of the industry and her customers. Her life is a balancing act – planting her spirit in the mountains to paint a scene in the fading blue light but ready and willing to charge to the summit when needed.
As she chases her dream, she’ll continue to show up at the easel, whether it’s nested in tall grass on the banks of the Gallatin River, at the Studio Gallery or propped up on the misty shores of the couple’s recently purchased coastal cabin in southeast Alaska.
Intention guides her actions. She’ll never stop wandering, or beep boppin’ as she calls it, with an open heart and mind—whether it’s hunting grouse with her corgi mix (Wiley) or filling an antelope tag with her husband. She’ll practice patience – for checks to clear, techniques to evolve, veggies to grow, coveys to flush and ducks to decoy.
She wants to marry her hobby of collecting old artifacts, bones, stones and treasures—mementos from the prairie—with her art, just like she did with the bison skull.
As she connects the complex web of her passions with these landscapes and animals, she’ll embrace every opportunity to learn and adapt. She takes full ownership of the hardships her career choice demands. Kelsey writes, “Live with intention, take no prisoners in the fight for your freedom”. It’s obvious she’s taking her own advice.
Keep up with Kelsey on Instagram @k_raeartworks or swing by the Studio Gallery during open hours; she’d love to chat.