Local artist Martha Cooney and Butte native Alyssa MacDonald have collaborated on a kids book that they hope will benefit the Spirit of Colombia Gardens Carousel at Stodden Park – a project more than 20 years in the making aimed at building a carousel in honor of one that once stood in the city’s Columbia Gardens.
The book, “Goodnight Butte,” is based off the classic children’s book “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd.
Similar to the format of the original children’s book, the narrator of “Goodnight Butte” says goodnight to a series of Mining City icons.
Some of the book’s renderings are of traditional images from the Butte skyline, including Our Lady of the Rockies and the city’s towering headframes, while others are more commonplace, such as Butte eateries Pork Chop John’s, Town Talk Bakery, and Lydia's Supper Club. The book is illustrated with intricate pen-ink drawings and watercolor backdrops by Cooney.
“While it’s geared more intellectually toward children, the artwork itself, because of Martha’s talent, is more sophisticated,” said MacDonald. “It’s…sort of a children’s book-slash-coffee table book.”
The books will sell for $19.95, and one hundred percent of the proceeds will go to the carousel project, Cooney and MacDonald said. They also plan on turning over the rights of the book to the Spirit of Columbia Gardens Carousel Foundation.
Jim Ayres, president of the foundation, said the board has been approached by several people proposing to tie book projects to the carousel, but this is the first time that someone has offered to donate all of the sales and the rights of a book to the carousel project.
“We were really excited that somebody was approaching with the idea of the carousel being the benefactor,” said Ayres.
“(It’s) not only flattering, it’s also a great benefit to us that will live on for a long time,” he said.
MacDonald said she thought up “Goodnight Butte” while visiting airports around the country.
During her travels, she noticed that many large cities had a kids book devoted to local attractions, including her current home city Missoula, which boasts the book “Goodnight Missoula.” There’s even a book called “Good Night Montana,” the Butte native said.
“I just thought somebody should do a fundraiser,” said MacDonald, explaining that she had been following the carousel story and had been impressed by the project’s level of volunteerism.
“I’ve been walking around telling people from Butte for probably three or four or five years (that) someone should do a Butte book,’” said MacDonald. “And finally I thought, ‘Well, wait a minute, I am someone.’”
At first, she said, she tried to also create the illustrations herself using photographs and converting them to drawings using software. But the images she created weren’t working the way she wanted them to, and that’s when she enlisted Cooney’s help.
Cooney has been creating art since she was 5 years old.
A self-described ranch kid, Cooney said she knew she wanted to be an artist from a very early age. She’s been a full-time artist and art instructor for most of her adult life and has created countless commissioned and private works, including life-like paintings and drawings of Butte. Most recently Cooney’s work has been exhibited at Montana State University’s School of Architecture in Bozeman.
For the book’s images, Cooney and MacDonald commissioned a photographer to create digital versions of the existing drawings along with a few new pieces by Cooney. The photographer also took photographs of Cooney’s abstract watercolor paintings, which later served as backdrops to the drawings.
MacDonald, a healthcare professional, said she’s not a writer by training.
Writing “Goodnight Butte” was difficult at first, MacDonald said, because she wanted the book to simultaneously rhyme, be educational, and capture the history of Butte.
“It’s just a little kids' book, but there was a lot of thought about how they can learn different things from it” said MacDonald.
Cooney and Macdonald decided to donate the sales of the book to the carousel because they wanted to the sales benefit the community in some way.
All three said they remember going to the Columbia Gardens as children.
Cooney said she remembered the gardens' ornate flower mosaics and visiting the park on “farm and ranch day,” a day reserved exclusively for ranching families.
“I actually sort of started out my career professionally doing Columbia Gardens paintings,” said Cooney, noting that she still sells prints showing images of the old park.
At the end of “Goodnight Butte,” children walk off to bed with their backs turned toward the viewer.
Cooney and MacDonald said they wanted the children to appear as though they could be any race and from any era.
Ayres said the last image is something that speaks to the spirit of the carousel project.
“We look for ways to help children identify with the project (and) get a sense of ownership, and things like this (book) do that.”
A soft sale for “Goodnight Butte” will take place July 7 during the Butte Artwalk in Cooney’s art gallery on the third floor of the Metals Bank Building, 8 W. Park St. Cooney and Macdonald hope to host a formal unveiling during the September Artwalk.