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Following Fanny (3): The Vault at Montana’s Museum of History and some concluding reflections

On Monday Julian and I rose early. I took a “spit bath” since our campsite didn’t have showers; Julian held the outdoor spicket on so I could splash myself and laughed at my contortions trying to get clean. I wanted to freshen up because we had a meeting set at the Montana Museum of History in Helena, known as Montana’s Museum. We ate breakfast, packed our tents, and headed to Helena.

Montana’s Museum is impressive. It sits next to the state capital.


We were early so I stopped by the bookstore while Julian took photos and video footage outside. I chatted with Rodric, the Museum Store Manager. When he heard that we were shooting a documentary on Fanny Y. Cory, and that a biography on her life is going to be released in October, he said that they would be interested in having her biography at the Musueum bookstore. He also said that there might be an opportunity in the future to do an event where we show the film and make the book available at the Museum. That was, of course, encouraging.

We had time to take a quick peak in and see the western art of Charles Russell, who was an artist and illustrator based in Montana around the same time Fanny Y. Cory lived here.

Montana's Museum 3

The main reason we were here, however, was to meet Amanda, the Curator of Collections at the museum.

Montana's Museum 4

Amanda led us downstairs, into the heart of the museum. She opened a vault into the room where the Museum’s permanent collection of Fanny’s illustrations (over 200 of them!) are stored and preserved.


She had spread out many of those artworks on the table. We say Fanny’s Sonnysayings, Little Miss Muffett, and many other illustrations I didn’t recognize at all.

The second vault we entered led into a much larger room where many of the Museum’s historic artifacts are collected and stored, and where new displays are prepared. On a table in this room Amanda had set out 5 (or so) of Fanny’s original Fairy Alphabet paintings.

I had never seen these originals before. All I can say is that they’re breathtaking, exquisite. It would be so amazing to see them all displayed together in a show.

Amanda did a great job on her interview, which will be part of the documentary.

After finishing up at the Museum, and finding out that our interview with Jacquey Cooney had to be canceled, we headed back to Redmond.

Here are a few concluding reflections on Julian and my trip.

It was so great at so many levels that Julian and I were able to do this trip together. Many years before we had taken a similar trip. In 2004, Jenny and I and our kids, Mom and Dad, and my siblings April and Jed and their families had spent a week of vacation in Montana.

Just like Julian and I had, we camped next to and played in the waters of Canyon Ferry.

Like Julian and I did, we had enjoyed the colors on the distant hills.

And photographed the moon over the waters.

2004 Dorsey Family Vacation to Yellowstone and Montana 192 (1)

As Julian and I did, we had visited St. Joseph’s church where Fred and Fanny had been married.

And Mom and Dad had even tracked down the owner’s of the land where Fanny’s studio sits and had been able to take a tour of it. I was too exhausted at the time to go with them to see the studio.

Mom and Dad had also stopped at the Montana Museum. They had seen some of the original Fairy Alphabet pieces, and mom had her picture taken next to her grandmother’s photograph.

FYC honoring at Helena State Capital, 2004

They had also visited Fanny’s grave.

Back then Mom’s pilgrimage didn’t mean as much to me as it does now. And I’m sure it doesn’t mean as much to Julian now as it does to me. Time and life has a way of deepening our appreciate of our forebears and of their legacy in our life.

Nevertheless, what a beautiful thing that Julian was willing to go with me, and serve the project as our photographer and videographer. It was a sacred three days we spent together.

Julian’s middle name is “Cory” after Fanny Y. Cory. I can’t wait to see how he lives into the legacy of culture making that is his.

I’m honored to be the grandson of Fanny Y. Cory and that I get this chance to help tell her story. She faced so much suffering with courage, grit and zest; out of death and pain she brought joy and beauty and life. She somehow combined the hard work of ranch life with a continual stream of creative illustrations, bringing joy to thousands daily through the newspapers where he cartoons were syndicated.

And I’m honored to be able to partner with great institutions like the Montana Museum to preserve and share the remarkable legacy of Fanny Y. Cory, one of Montana’s most beloved illustrators.

Fanny Y. Cory Cooney




Following Fanny (1): Julian and my Road Trip to Montana

This weekend my son Julian and I are going on an adventure to retrace many of the important Montana sites where my great grandmother Fanny Y. Cory lived. We are shooting a documentary video of her life that will be released on Saturday, October 14th, to celebrate the 140th anniversary of her birth.

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Julian and I plan to camp on Sewell Lake near where the Cooney 1,800 acre cattle and horse ranch was located. We’re hoping to catch some video of the moon sparkling on the waters of the lake at night. We plan to find Fanny’s old studio and the little church where she and Fred Coonie were married at Canton, near Townsend.

Though you may be following Fanny on the trail in Montana, you don’t appear to be following Fanny in all the facts in your Facebook article.

We have an interview scheduled with Amanda of the Montana Historic society at Montana’s Museum where her original Fairy Alphabet are kept.


And another with Jackie, who married Ted, Fanny’s grandson, who can remember vising Fanny on Camano Island.

Fanny had purchased the little house perched on the cliff on the southwest side of Camano Island in 1947. She spent some time every year there to be near her daughter Sayre and grandchildren.

She had permanently moved to Camano in 1953 the big new Canyon Ferry Dam on the Missouri River near Helena, Montana was completed. The rising water covered the little community of Canyon Ferry and most of the 1,800 acre Cooney horse and cattle ranch, where she had lived and raised her three children for fifty years.

Montana Historical Society Magazine Summer 1980 FY Cory featured

While they had moved her studio and a windmill to higher ground, the old ranch house wasn’t moved, and along with most of the ranch was covered with water. The family felt like the ranch they had known and loved and had the happiest memories of lay below the waters of Sewell Lake.

This is why, in 1953, when she was 79 years old, my great-grandmother, Fanny Y. Cory moved to Camano Island, Washington. Her little house overlooked the waters of Saratoga Passage to Whidbey Island and the snow covered Olympics beyond and was just across the street and down a magical tree lined driveway from the farm where her grandchildren lived: my mother Ann, her sister Margaret and brothers Robert and Bud. In the custom of her Island neighbors she named the beach below her cottage “Montana Beach.”

Fanny, or “Meetsy” as she was known by her family, always loved Montana. In 1951, she was named Montana Mother of the year, an honor she treasured.

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So we’re following Fanny back to her roots to discover more about this remarkable woman who is the matriarch of our family of artists.

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