Sitting among the trees along Highway 200 on the west side of Lincoln, Montana, the Delaney Sawmill TeePee Burner at the Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild has become a familiar piece of the landscape. It has also become the symbol of the future of a community that once relied on the logging and mining industries.
In summer 2019, the TeePee Burner received the Lewis and Clark County Heritage Tourism Council’s Historic Preservation Award, which recognizes historic preservation contributions in the City of Helena and Lewis and Clark County.
Originally used to burn scrap wood at the old Delaney & Sons Sawmill on the Landers Fork, it burned day and night, lighting up the sky. When the sawmill closed in 1971, the Teepee Burner was left on the landscape. Framed with iron and steel and skinned with sheet metal, it weighs in at 20,000 pounds, stands 90 feet tall and is 45 feet across.
While the fate of the Teepee Burner may have been to languish in place, that changed with a vision from Ireland’s Kevin O’Dwyer when he visited Lincoln in 2011. Having directed two sculpture symposia in his home country, his sculptures involve re-imagining industrial structures as artwork, with a strong emphasis on memory. He considers his installations to be memory pieces that function not only as works of art, but conduits, transferring memory and knowledge to future generations.
Following O’Dwyer’s vision and the creation of the sculpture park, the Teepee Burner was taken apart and moved to the site in September 2014. O’Dwyer proposed re-creating the orange glow of the Teepee Burner locals recounted to him using photovoltaic cells, sensors and LED lighting.
Interior features include black and white archival photographs of the area’s historic logging industry printed on steel plates.
Several members of the community donated time and labor, while others donated funds. The Teepee Burner serves as a community-gathering place and performance space, as well as an art installation among others in BPSW.
O’Dwyer said of the award, “It’s wonderful to receive an award for this iconic piece of Montana’s industrial heritage! I’m especially delighted that Lewis and Clark Co. Heritage Tourism Council has acknowledged “re-purposing” of the TeePee Burner into an art installation, education facility and acoustic music venue, and a place for storytelling and sharing the history of the Delaney Saw Mill and the logging history of the Blackfoot Valley.”