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Podcast and Interview by Kay Potter

Let your pigs fly

Liz Chappie Zoller talks a lot about the “quality of light and intense colors” here in Montana, which inspires her and her art.  As a contemporary western artist, she creates oil paintings of the “beautiful landscapes, animals and people I see all around me in my everyday Montana life.”

Liz’s journey began in Ohio, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art from the University of Cincinnati. Originally studying to become a medical illustrator, Liz finished her Fine Arts degree and moved to Dallas after graduation. There she worked as a technical illustrator and graphic designer in the telecommunications industry “for the security of the paycheck and the benefits,” she explains. After several years, she left the workforce to raise her family. “I looked at others who worked at their art, but had to keep several part-time jobs to do so, and I wondered how they made that work”. Today, with the support of her husband John Zoller, Liz does just that, and feels very fortunate with the balance and flexibility this arrangement provides.

In 2002, Chappie Zoller left Texas to work on several ranches in Wyoming, but she and her husband decided that life did not provide the stability and growth they desired, so they made their way to the Bozeman area. While working an administration job at Montana State University, Liz used her tuition credits to take Interior Design studio classes. When the Program Director saw her talent, she asked Liz to teach. Today Chappie Zoller is an adjunct professor for Interior Design at MSU’s Gallatin College.

Tapping back into her creative self for these classes helped push Liz back into painting. In 2013, she enrolled as a student in the Montana Arts Council-sponsored Montana Artrepreneur Program (MAP). “Throughout the years, I have always painted for friends”, she explains. Her husband has been a huge source of encouragement: “We would visit galleries and he would say, ‘This is what you need to be doing’”. After realizing the amount of money she spent on fuel driving from her home north of Clarkston into Bozeman for her full-time job, she and John concluded that her time could be better spent. For the last four years, Chappie Zoller has continued her teaching at MSU, become a certified MAP artist and certified MAP coach, established her Pearl Snap Studio art business, taught two Three Forks-based MAP cohorts, and worked part-time at the Sacajawea Hotel.

Liz believes MAP is an integral part of her organization and studio goals, and is currently recruiting for the 2016 MAP Three Forks area cohort. The mission of MAP is to help artists build a sustainable life in the arts. MAP is an art-centered business development program taught by working artists and open to all visual artists. “At the program’s heart is the philosophy that a sustainable career in the arts is attainable by earnestly developing one’s skill and expertise in a chosen medium, understanding and proactively engaging in the arts community, confidently articulating one’s story and purpose as an artist and strategically seeking patrons for one’s work.” If you’re interested in joining MAP in 2016, please find more information at

Pearl Snap Studio LLC is the official name of Liz’s business. When asked how she came up with the name, she explained that “It references pearl snap shirts, which I love because they’re so iconically western. They embody both the feminine and the masculine of our lifestyle here in the American West: beautiful pearly snaps embellishing rugged work shirts, like our fantastic Montana landscapes right alongside our can-do, get-it-done, no-excuses work ethic. So, Pearl Snap Studio fits on those two levels: I create my art because I love the beauty of my Montana life, and I’m fiercely passionate and dedicated to show up and do this ‘work’”.

Liz is constantly honing her skills as an artist, and enjoyed workshops this past year with Frank Serrano and Kevin Red Star, but she has already found wonderful success and recognition. Her paintings are shown at the Toucan Gallery in Billings, and she is featured in the Mondial Art Academie in France. One of her award-winning wildlife paintings,  “Southbound/Sandhill Cranes”, chosen as part of Miles City’s Waterworks Museum “Tour of Excellence”, is wrapping up a year-long showing in various Montana art museums. This painting is a detail from a photo she took of a line of Sandhill cranes taking flight over a row of round hay bales. “The original photograph has ten to twelve cranes in it”, she explains. When working from photos, Liz only uses her own photographs. When she speaks of Montana and her home, it’s evident just how much peace and inspiration it gives her. She describes driving home to their property past Clarkston as a meditation in light, and the canyon north of their home as “a painting in motion; I never tire of watching the light dancing on its walls”, she says.

The busy railroad traffic through the Clarkston valley has been another source of inspiration to Liz, who is developing an “Iron Horse” series, to be shown in 2016. “My grandfather was a railroad engineer; these paintings explore the connections between our regional railroad history and our contemporary culture, and marries beautiful, athletic horses to high-energy, colorful railroad graffiti.”

On break from MSU now, Chappie Zoller is spending a lot of time in her studio preparing pieces for her upcoming show at the Bank of Bozeman, opening January 1st. A typical day in the studio has her working on different paintings simultaneously, “I work on several paintings, so that when I need to stop on one for that day, I can move on to another.”

Liz loves what she does, but not every day is easy. “Making art is hard work, because it’s so personal and is driven by such passion. But for those same reasons, it’s also very joyful. It takes both courage and vulnerability to show one’s work as well. But most importantly, this creative journey forces me to grow and see in new ways. By following my heart and painting all the beauty that sings to me here in my Montana life, I’m fortunate and grateful to create my “Montana Life Paintings”, Liz says.

the lewis and clark journal

PAINTING THE WAY, January 2016

Story by Trisha Jones

Liz Zoller is an artist who has named her studio Pearl Snap Studio with the tagline "More Grit, More Pearl", which means the struggles produce the beauty.  She lets us in on the importance of authenticity, being true to yourself, and of creating a community.


IRON HORSES, July 2017

Story by Samantha Hill