I realise I have not posted anything of our trip up to Polson, Montana to stay with friends on Flathead Lake. We did this trip in the last weekend of February, and as it was a mild winter we managed a few walks as well as a trip to the nearby Miracle of America Museum.
The museum is run by Gil Mangels whose views on women’s rights, religion and gun control are pretty obvious through his choice of exhibits. As a visitor to his museum I found myself with that strange sensation I so often get here in the US: a sense of respect towards someone who is at the absolute opposite end of the political spectrum from me. In the UK, I rarely meet Hoorah Henrys, City bankers or people with fundamentally different views on basic issues like taxation, welfare, healthcare and education. But here in the US, I so often meet people who I like very much, or who I find fascinating, but who have opposing views on issues such as a woman’s right to determine the result of an unwanted pregnancy, about belief in God, about whether Barack Obama is a Muslim, and about whether we need to be armed in case the government wants to invade our town and take away our freedom (i.e. our gun license).
The Miracle of America Museum is no exception to this strange and peculiar American-style vertigo I sometimes get. The director of the museum, Mr Mangels was kind and open and helpful, and yet showed a particular fondness for military hardware, guns and a vision of America last seen in John Wayne movies. He had entire displays consisting of images of foetuses and pages from magazines and pamphlets on the sacredness of the unborn child. Another display centred on the ills of drunk driving. Lots of political memorabilia that make it clear he is not a Democrat.
Yet, what struck me most in his museum were the delicate and very beautiful sculptures he makes in his spare time and which he weaves throughout his collection of military hardware, war memorabilia, motorbikes, vehicles of every type and from every era, farm equipment, UFOs and the likes. When I asked him about his ‘work’ he was bashful and seemed reticent to talk about it. A true outsider artist who perhaps doesn’t see the value in his own work.
We probably don’t see eye to eye on anything except that his art is an expression of the one thing that unites us all: our humanity and the invisible and indisputable need for humans to make art. That is the real miracle in this museum.