Artistic, historical roots lead couple to northwest Nebraska


HARRISON, Neb. – Wood block prints hang from a line, a painted saw blade rests on a table and paintings in various states of completion are on display at Saddlebum Studio on Main Street in Harrison. 

In the middle of it all, artist Di Filing works on her next piece. 

“There’s so little time in life to do this stuff, and there’s so many ideas,” she said. “I find joy in it every day. There is no defining it. It’s just such a freedom to have.” 

Growing up in Venango, Colorado, Filing knew she wanted to pursue art after graduation, but her dream was delayed when her father insisted she find a career that would provide a steady paycheck. Instead, she went into business and became the first woman to work at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Later, she entered the banking field, working in Denver and in Wyoming, and, with her husband Phil, opened Glenrock Blue, a firearm restoration company. 

Her passion for art was relegated to attending cartooning school at night and sketching in her free time. All of that changed when she retired in 2012. 

“I decided to teach myself to paint,” she said. 

High school art classes didn’t exist when she was growing up, but she always surrounded herself with other artists and said they’ve likely influenced her to some degree. 

“I was a groupie,” she laughed. She didn’t let the lack of formal training deter her. 

“I felt like I always had this inside and I had to get it out,” she said. “I just bought some paints and started trying. It’s repetition. If you don’t know the rules, you’re not breaking them. It’s kind of a clean slate that I’m working with. I’m still teaching (myself). Every day is a new day.” 

Many of her paintings reflect the western and Native American lifestyle, and horses wildlife are featured frequently. 

“I have a love of horses, all wildlife really, but especially horses,” she said. 

While living in Glenrock, Filing enjoyed traveling to Custer, South Dakota, to sketch bison. After numerous trips, she told her husband it would be nice to find a place in Harrison to use as a weekend home as it would put her closer to the Black Hills. Harrison is also her ancestral home, as her mother was raised in the village, her father once owned Rocky Top Dance Hall (it was a roller-skating rink) and her great-grandfather homesteaded at the now-defunct town of Montrose. “So, I came here for some history, too,” she said. 

She and Phil might have gotten more history than they bargained for when they began searching for a home. In 2014, they purchased the former First National Bank Building, which had already been converted to a residence, as their weekend home. Eventually, they purchased the building next door – the original home of the Harrison Sun, which allowed Filing to set up her studio and let the couple move to Harrison full time. 

An armorer in Vietnam, Phil worked as a gunsmith in Denver before the couple opened Glenrock Blue. When they retired, he sold the company to an employee and now is happy to give tours of their historic home. The brick and stone building was constructed in 1911 to replace an old frame building on the lot that was also a bank. The clock currently on Security First Bank just up the street was installed on the First National Bank building in 1915. 

The First National Bank occupied the building that is now the Filings’ home until 1924, when it changed hands and became the Sioux National Bank, which was in operation until 1983. The bank was robbed in 1934, and a group of men from the community engaged in a car chase and gun battle with the perpetrator. 

After the bank closed, the building was converted into an apartment and nightclub for Windy Acres Angus. The cherrywood bar and the red and gold wallpaper installed by the cattlemen remain intact, and Phil noted that the original marble baseboards are a holdover from the bank. The bank’s original vault, check writing station and teller signs denoting “Paying,” “Receiving” and “Bookkeeper” windows remain as well. The Filings hired a locksmith to take apart the vault door and reset the combination and have converted the area to function as their pantry. 

“We found money in here, too,” Phil said. After moving a cabinet weighing approximately 400 pounds, they discovered an uncirculated 1942 nickel. 

“It is a fun place to live. I forget that it’s different from most people’s homes,” Di said. 

After she ended up owning two businesses at which she was employed, her father always joked about whether or not she owned the banks where she worked.  

“Twenty-seven years of banking, and now I own the bank. That’s probably why it felt like home,” she said while in her art studio next door. “And this used to be a newspaper office, and I used to work for a newspaper.” 

The Saddlebum Studio building was the original home of the community newspaper, the Harrison Sun. Constructed in 1899, it served as the newspaper’s office until 1924 when the Sun moved to a new building on the other side of Main Street, which is now part of the Sioux County Historical Museum’s complex. Filing’s studio then became home to a creamery and a grocery store. In the 2000s, it was converted from a grocery store to a residence. 

Opening the studio led Filing to another piece of her family history, one that indicates she comes by her artistic desires naturally. After homesteading at Montrose, her great-grandfather, Solomon Borky, hand-carved the alters for three area Catholic Churches in Ardmore, South Dakota, Montrose and Harrison. After opening, a visitor to Filing’s studio inquired about a portrait of her great-grandfather on display. When she explained that her great-grandfather carved alters for the local churches, he asked if she wanted a piece of the alter from the original Harrison church. 

“He’d had it in storage for 40 years,” Filing said. Carved in 1897, the top of the alter now sits in her studio, a reminder of her historical and artistic roots in the region. Today, she continues that artistic legacy. 

Since teaching herself to paint, she’s begun exploring other mediums as well, including charcoal, pen and ink and alcohol ink. She’s started repurposing saws and Altoids boxes as art and two weeks ago dived into wood block printing. 

“I’m having a ball with it. I love what I’m doing. I have to create something every day.” 

Saddlebum Studio is located at 221 Main Street in Harrison. While she is in the studio every day, she doesn’t have set hours since she and Phil are both retired. If the studio is closed but there are lights on next door at home, visitors are welcome to knock and door. She’ll be happy to open the studio, and Phil might even give them a tour of the First National Bank building. Filing’s art can be viewed at Facebook.com/saddlebumstudio.

© 2022-Lusk Herald

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