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A Treasure State: 4 Emerging Artisans in “the Merc”

Mercantile Style: Local Luxuries

One of the reasons we’re committed to expanding the frontiers of experiential travel is that a story really is the best souvenir. But often, our guests want a memento to commemorate their bucket list adventure, family reunion or corporate getaway. This might be a cowboy hat that they wore on their first trail ride, a copper Moscow Mule mug from Butte (Montana) Copper Company reminiscent of nights in the Silver Dollar Saloon, or custom Sage & Cedar bath products formulated to evoke the scents of hiking through our pine forests or sagebrush flats.

A guest enjoys a signature Yule Mule cocktail during a Twilight cocktail hour
A custom-engraved copper Moscow Mule mug with RC logo on the front and recipe on the back. Engraving by local Missoula company, All American Trophy.

Our Mercantile is designed in the spirit of the original Western mercantiles. It’s full of adventure clothing and gear, sundries and handcrafted artisan goods vetted for their originality and quality. Our Retail Manager Cat Johnson tries to anticipate our guests’ seasonal needs, so that they can purchase an extra layer for sunrise yoga on a mountaintop or bring home leather baby moccasins for a new family member. The outdoor gear and ranchwear available in the Merc and Rod & Gun Club is the same Patagonia, Filson, Simms, Ariat and Lucchese that Montana ranchers and outdoorspeople use for work and play. What is our day-to-day uniform features nicely in a nature-lover’s capsule wardrobe.

Our Ranch Mercantile is filled with Western essentials, like cowboy boots, hats and seasonal ranchwear

Cat says, “We keep a balance of luxury, local, Western and RC personalized items year-round. The greatest luxuries are found in the handcrafted objects, like local leatherwork, metalsmithing or woodworking. You can see the time and detail that went into each item—making it a perfect way to remember The Ranch at Rock Creek’s distinctive balance between luxury and Montana’s raw beauty. We have a commitment to stocking as many one-of-a-kind, Montana-made luxury items as we can.”

The Ranch's Mercantile caries locally made James Behring knives
A custom-made knife from Missoula-based James Behring, and handcrafted box from Philipsburg woodworker Scott Shake.

Call To Artisans & Purveyors

Cat is constantly looking for new, original products to feature in the Mercantile, and she’s putting out a call for submissions on our website. Montana artists, makers and purveyors are invited to submit images and information to see if their goods would be a welcome addition for our discerning guests.

Mercantile Artisan & Purveyor SubmissioN FORM



Spotlight on 4 Emerging Local Artisans

Lead Wrangler Mindy Avila rides her horse during a winter round-upMindy Avila during our running of the horses tradition. Photo by Kelsey Bruns

In conjunction with our call for submissions, we’re featuring four local artisans who exemplify the Montanan work ethic and commitment to quality that we seek. All are ranchers or outdoorspeople by day and talented artists in their spare time. They find inspiration in awe-inspiring alpine vistas, historic ranching culture and meditative outdoor pursuits, like fly fishing. Meet some of our Mercantile artisans, and you’ll see how their passions enhance their hand-hewn artisan goods.


Mindy Avila: Leatherwork

Lead wrangler and artisan Mindy Avila creates a custom-tooled belt in her studioWrangler Mindy Avila working on a belt on her craft desk in the horse barn. 

Mindy Avila wears many hats at The Ranch at Rock Creek. She’s a lead wrangler, rodeo athlete and rodeo announcer. In her spare time, she runs an artisan business, Flying M Leather, producing custom leather work. Mindy’s dad gave her the “Flying M” brand when she was a child. As she grew up and learned roping, she also started to try her hand at tooling and carving leather. Custom tooled leather is part and parcel of the rodeo lifestyle. Most rodeo competitors use custom saddles, belts, stirrups and chaps. Perhaps the most important element is the belt. In addition to prize money, many rodeos award their winners with custom belt buckles. A tooled leather belt with your brand, initials or favorite motif is a place to showcase your trophy.


This labor-intensive process of creating leather accessories can include sketching, carving, tooling, oiling and painting. Avila’s team roping partner encouraged her to make her leather art into more than a hobby. Now, guests at The Ranch can purchase her one-of-a-kind bracelets and belts in the Mercantile—when they’re not sold out. She can also arrange to produce custom orders with logos, brands, initials and imagery.


John Piacquadio: Artwork and Jewelry

Expert fly fishing guide John Piacquadio practices tying flies before painting them in Sumi ink outside the Rod & Gun ClubExpert fly fishing guide and artist Piacquadio combines fly tying and painting in his original art. Photo by Shea Shaughnessy

It wasn’t long ago John Piacquadio was a mental health therapist in New York. Despite studying art in school, he’d developed a career that didn’t directly utilize his art skills. Meanwhile, in his private life, he had developed an obsession with fly fishing. Before long, he and his wife Karen, The Ranch’s Spa & Wellness Manager, sought livelihoods that they were passionate about. In 2016, John became one of The Ranch’s expert fly fishing guides.

John learned to tie flies and fell into a rhythm of tying them over and over to reproduce likenesses of insects that had just hatched. This muscle memory meant that when he put pen to paper, he could reproduce it in a freehand drawing almost immediately. His freestyle artwork pays homage to the craft of fly fishing, and we’re proud to sell it in the Mercantile and the Rod & Gun Club. His one-of-a-kind drawings now sit in homes across the country, inspiring anglers to seek the next Caddisfly or Salmonfly hatch. His sumi ink art was recently featured in Fly Rod & Reel Magazine.

A Sumi ink painting of a fly by Ranch fly fishing guide and artist John Piacquadio

Piacquadio also creates earrings from the tools of the fly tying trade. He uses the same metal ribs, feathers and techniques and produces wearable art for women of all ages. He is currently experimenting with capturing other aspects of The Ranch’s environs, like forest scenes and wildlife.


Kate Radtke: Kate’s Kandles & Honey

Local Granite County purveyor Katie Radtke of Kate's Honey rides one of her Welsh poniesKatie riding one of the Welsh ponies she bred and raised in Hall, Montana.

Just like her honey and candles, Kate Radtke was made in Montana. After earning her Construction Engineering Technology degree from Montana State, she settled into ranch life with her family in Hall, Montana. She’s managed many businesses, including a mercantile, an outfitting business and raising Welsh ponies. For years, a local honey company kept hives on the Radtke’s land in exchange for honey. One day, she thought she would bottle it to sell in her Mercantile. Her son Jack came up with the idea of making candles from the beeswax. Since then, it’s been a lot of trial and error to bring the unique design of Kate’s Kandles to fruition, ultimately culminating in building a commercially certified bottling and candle making operation.

A close-up of Kate's Honey, a locally harvested product available in the Mercantile in both creamed and raw varieties

Kate is most proud of the fact that both the candles and the honey are pure Granite County. Many companies dilute their honey with cheaper, lower quality honey (and Granite County’s honey is often ordered to improve the taste of other honey), but Kate says her customers will always get “the cream of the crop.” As for the candles, it’s important to keep them pure, because beeswax is the only kind of non-toxic candle. She adds a bit of essential oil, and works in a very warm room to keep it just right for molding. These are labors of love, and ultimately a wonderful souvenir that began its journey in the wildflowers you see on nearby grasslands and ranch pastures.


Judy Gurnsey: Stationery

Judy Gurnsey was playing on The Ranch’s pastureland decades before it became a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star resort. Her father, Bucko, and his partner bought it in the 1950s and named it Eagle Canyon Ranch. Judy remembers that her friends were so jealous she had a big ranch to play around on every weekend and summer, but she remembers long days and hard work, in addition to the horseback riding adventures, neighborhood camaraderie and Christmas celebrations.

Artist Judy Guernsey is pictured on her horse as a child. Guernsey grew up on The Ranch, when her father owned it.
Judy as a child on her family’s ranch, now The Ranch at Rock Creek.

Although her father eventually sold The Ranch and moved his family to Missoula full-time, Judy has been involved in farming and ranching on and off for much of her life. An award-winning artist, Judy currently lives in Great Falls and is a member of the Front Range Artists’ Association. She paints landscapes with oils and water colors and turns them into exquisite stationery.

Four cards with landscape paintings produced by local artisan Judy Guernsey and available in the Mercantile

Judy starts a painting on location, witnessing an ephemeral moment, like the first snow on Rock Creek, or mountains near her cabin in Lincoln, Montana, and then uses a picture to complete the piece at home—whether it takes her two weeks or six months.


Interested in more information about our Mercantile? Read our Mercantile Style blogs, Vol. I and Vol. II. The Ranch is the only US charter member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, a travel collection focused on sustainability. Read about our commitment to sustainability, including using local artisans and purveyors, in our blog Securing Sustainability.