Villas resident Mark Norley is native Montanan, and his life’s journey has taken him far away and back again. He was born and grew up in Conrad. As a child, Mark loved to draw, and he was always trying draw cartoons.
Mark received his Bachelor’s degree in design from Montana State University, where he deliberately chose to pursue a degree in art over agriculture because of his longtime love of drawing. After college, he spent four years in the US Airforce, and then he moved to California, where he lived for most of his career. His first job in California was in a high-end department store where he designed window and interior displays. Eventually, Mark became the display manager. While Mark enjoyed the department store work, he knew he ultimately wanted something different, so he returned to Montana, this time to the University of Montana, where he obtained a lifetime teaching credential.
Once certified, Mark received a job offer from a junior high school in California, and he taught art there for some years. At the same time, he returned to school once again, this time for a Master’s of Design at UCLA. After a few years teaching at the junior high and college levels, the principal of the junior high offered Mark a position teaching at the 3,000-student high school where he (the principal) had just accepted a position. Mark jumped at the chance to help build the largest high school art department in the state of California. At the time he retired, they had eight full-time faculty. Mark has particularly fond memories of his last year teaching there, as he was able to make it an extra-good year by using all the stored-up supplies he had accumulated throughout his career.
In addition to being an art teacher and practicing artist, Mark has always had an interest in architecture. When he lived in California, he met the founder of the California Historic Preservation Society. He admired this man’s historic house so much he eventually ended up buying it!
During the summers, Mark engaged in his other passion: travel. Every summer, he came back to Montana. Often, he stayed with a friend who had a cabin at Lake McDonald. He also traveled around the United States and abroad. Sometimes Christmas breaks, too, were spent at various locations around the globe.
But no matter where he went, Mark always saw Montana as home. “It was inevitable to come back to Montana,” he said during his Passions Project interview. He game back upon his retirement from teaching, and his goal was to find someplace to live and a studio to paint in. Mark never did find that studio, but he did find a lovely house near Woodland Park, where he lived for many years.
Now that he’s retired, Mark invests a lot of time in Flathead Valley civic life, especially in its artistic, design, and historic preservation communities. He is the chairman of the city’s Architectural Review Committee, and he is always trying to convince applicants to buy and plant evergreens around their new buildings. He also is currently or has been involved as a board member and volunteer with the Hockaday Museum of Art, the Conrad Mansion, and the Museum at Central School. In spite of never having found the perfect studio, Mark has continued to paint in his preferred medium of watercolor, though a hand injury prevents him from doing it as much as he might like to. Since moving to Kalispell about 25 years ago, he has exhibited at the Hockaday, among other venues. He continues to enjoy looking at art, whether as a judge in the Waterton/Glacier art show or simply as a viewer. Mark’s favorite painters are the California Impressionists, and he also appreciates the work of his former teacher, the Abstract Expressionist Sam Francis. When asked to sum up his view on painting, Mark says, “It’s sometimes relaxing and sometimes really fun, but it’s hard work.”