Every part of Amber Jean's studio, at the end of the road on Wineglass Mountain south of Livingston, has a story. The huge logs she's working on were victims of Montana's raging forest fires, but she's making something beautiful out of them. The goat skulls sitting on a work bench were given to her by a friend, flesh still attached, in a big bag. The giant Freeman Butts painting on the wall of the staircase was a gift from the artist himself, a close friend of Jean's. One of the models in the portrait is her, she told me. She modeled for him for 14 years and was with him when he died. Another one of the models is Chrysti the Wordsmith. 

"Adventure would be putting it mildly," Jean said with a smile as she sat in an overstuffed leather chair in her studio. She was talking about how she came to be the first woman to carve for the King of Bhutan, but she may as well have been talking about her life. 

Bhutan is a country of less than a million people, sandwiched between China and India and neighbored by Nepal and Bangladesh. Jean was the first-ever woman to carve in the country, visiting it three times throughout 2016 and 2017 to carve a huge interior section of a castle for the Prime Minister of Bhutan to give as a gift to the king. 

"The king and the prime minister are both steeped in tradition and honor, and they're both forward-thinking and progressive," she said. "I didn't know until I got there that I was the first woman to carve in the country." 

The first time Jean was invited to Bhutan, it was to show local carvers how to use power tools in their carving. 

"I had to say no, because I was taking care of my mother," Jean said. A tumultuous year followed — including the deaths of her mother and closest friend, her wedding, and a violent dog attack. 

"For the first time ever, I couldn't create," she said. "I just felt broken." She was still doing some art -- but almost exclusively giant, black-and-white charcoal drawings of teeth, a large departure from the intricate carvings and beautiful large-scale projects she had been creating.

And then, Jean was invited to Bhutan again. This time, she said yes. 

"When I said yes, I still hadn't been able to [create]," Jean said. "I kind of put myself under the gun." 

Jean's three visits to Bhutan totaled around five months spent in the country, carving and meeting locals. She shared some images of the process of carving on her social media and her website, but by request of the Bhutanese royalty, none of the finished product. Jean's lecture at the Museum of the Rockies will be one of the only chances for the public to see images of the art she created while in Bhutan. 

"It's not a lecture as much as it is a storytelling," she said. "It's a story of art, and how that prevails."

Jean will be sharing photos and stories of her time in Bhutan (and the long road to getting there) at the Museum of the Rockies on Tuesday, July 18 at 6:30 p.m. The event is sponsored by the Bozeman Art Museum. More information can be found at https://www.bozemanartmuseum.org/