Art La May used to make a quiet living painting birds, but the popularity of wildlife art has grown at such a frantic pace that La May and his wife, Bonnie, have had to open their own gallery.

"We're spending so much time acting as go-betweens and advisers for our artist friends and their customers, that we decided the only practical way to handle it was to go into the business formally," said Bonnie La May, waving her hand at the hundreds of paintings, carvings, prints and photographs that line the walls -- and floors -- of Portraits in Nature Gallery at the new Village Centre in Great Falls.

"Besides," she said, "there are so many new collectors coming into the field, the prices in a lot of places have grown outrageous. Much of the work being offered is by people painting from photographs in a book; you cannot do anything worthwhile in this field without studying the animals themselves."

The La Mays show a range of works by such established artists as Robert Bateman, but take special interest in young and/or local talent. Prices range from several dollars to several thousand dollars.

Rural Great Falls might seem an unlikely place for an art gallery, but the phone was ringing so steadily that La May hardly had time to show a visitor around. "Liz Taylor found us, so I guess we're not too far out," she said.

Business hours are 10 to 5, every day but Sunday. The center's at the intersection of Georgetown Pike (Route 193) and Walker Road; it's the only traffic light in Great Falls.