Ask a Montanan about Willow Creek, and there's a good chance they'll tell you about the barbecue ribs in the saloon. Years ago, that's exactly what someone told Juni Clark, who decided to make the trip from her home in Ennis to try out those ribs. As Clark was sitting at the saloon, a sculpture in a window across the street caught her eye. 

The sculpture was part of an instillation in Dave Kirk's art gallery, Aunt Dofe's Hall of Recent Memory. 

"I just loved his concept," Clark said of Kirk. "I loved the contemporary artists he brought in." 

Clark visited the gallery often after finding it, and got to know Kirk, as well. She said he bought the building with some of his inheritance money from his Aunt Dofe, hence the name. In 2015, Dave Kirk died, and Aunt Dofe's closed. 

"When I heard that he passed, I wondered what his heirs were going to be doing with this building," Clark said. She found out the family's plan was to auction the building off — so last August, she bought it at auction. And now, after a year of work, the gallery will be opening for the first time under Clark's watch on Aug. 16. She changed the name slightly — it's now just "Aunt Dofe's" — but is working hard to ensure the original mission and feeling of the gallery lives on. 

"I want to keep Dave's vision and the beauty of the building," Clark said. The gallery opening will feature art from Sandra Dal Poggetto from Helena. 

"Her work is marvelous," Clark said. "And we'll have beer and wine and appetizers." 

Dal Poggetto's art is big, wild and sparse. The few paintings up when the Chronicle visited Aunt Dofe's were floor-to ceiling canvases, with shocks of minty green and deep grey. Poggetto lives in Helena but is from California, and has shown her art all over the American west. 

The building that holds Aunt Dofe's feels straight out of a country Western movie — just like the rest of Willow Creek. To get to the town, one drives on a straight, flat road out of Three Forks for 20 or so minutes. Suddenly, the road takes a sharp left, and Willow Creek appears. On a hot, dry August day, a few young kids rode bikes up and down the main street, sparsely lined with the saloon, a post office, several houses, and Aunt Dofe's.

The red-brown brick building sits underneath a streetlight, on your left as soon as you turn into the tiny town. Above one door, the words "Earl S. Parks" are painted in black and white. That used to be where Kirk did his woodworking, Clark said. It's now been converted into another room for the gallery. Above the other door, emblazoned on a glass window, reads "Aunt Dofe's Hall of Recent Memory." The ceilings in both gallery rooms are tin pressed with designs, like was popular for architecture at the time. One of them is painted robins egg blue. 

Clark herself has been painting the interior of the building, leaving several inches of exposed brick where the ceiling meets the floor, as a unique baseboard of sorts. The brick in the back room has some blue and white paint on it in some areas, a pretty quirk in a beautiful building. In the small, shady backyard sits a few benches, close enough to the small overgrown herb garden one can smell garlic and basil from them. Strawberries grow right next to the back door, close enough to pick without even leaving the building. The kitchen, bathroom and bedroom and are still being worked on, and Clark says she hopes to have them finished by the end of winter. 

A small cleaning crew, along with Clark and her husband, have been prepping the building in recent months, getting it ready for its grand re-opening. 

"It has been just exhilarating. I'm just so excited," Clark said.  

The 2010 census reported Willow Creek was home to 210 people, but it somehow feels like less. That rural quietness could make it a great place for a short-term artist residency, Clark said. Beautiful Montana skies, delicious Montana ribs, and no other distractions. 

"It would be lovely at the end of [the artist's] term, if they produced enough work to have a show here," Clark said. Artists in residence will be given the space to work and live in, for anywhere from a few weeks to six months. Clark said one of her biggest initiatives for the gallery is to provide the space for "emerging artists," students from MSU or UM who have art to show and nowhere to show it. 

"I prefer to have solo shows here and allow the artist to pursue their dreams here, to do things they wouldn't normally do in a standard gallery," Clark said. "I don't want this to be like going into any other gallery." 

And, if Aunt Dofe's history says anything about its future, it won't be. 

Aunt Dofe's grand re-opening is on Friday, Aug. 16 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.