It might be hard to find a man who's as happy in his job as Jim Dolan.

After 40 years in the same career, that's saying something.

To celebrate all that fun he's been having, Dolan is having a party and everyone is invited.

Dolan is a sculptor who has created some of Bozeman's most recognizable public pieces. There are the Canada geese flying through the Gallatin Field airport terminal. There's Rusty, the draft horse residing at the Museum of the Rockies. Dolan's ode to Walt Whitman rests outside Wilson Hall on the Montana State University campus, where Dolan graduated from the agricultural program in 1970. And, there's a herd of elk welcoming visitors to the west side of Bozeman on the First Interstate Bank lawn.

These are a few of the more than a dozen public sculptures in the area he's created.

In total, the artist has 170 public sculptures around the country, mostly in the eastern part of the U.S., and countless more in homes and as private commissions.

Because so many of his sculptures are shipped out of the area when finished, many people don't know Dolan is as active at his art as ever, he said.

Dolan will have 50 pieces - some new and some loaned back to him for this event - on display at an open house at his 4,000-square-foot studio on Airport Road Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22.

"I'll borrow some eagles back, some porcupines, things like that," he said. "Some unusual things I want to show off. We're going to clean the whole shop out and the whole thing will be an art gallery."

He plans to have a display where people will be able to see the steps it takes to create a sculpture.

"I think that's important. People think it's voodoo magic," he said.

About one-third of the items will be for sale, both small and large. His work is priced from $500 to $60,000, but everyone is invited, not just buyers, Dolan said.

"I worked in an oversized garage for 28 years. All of sudden we have a space where we can have a lot of people. I want people to see what I'm doing."

Dolan came to Montana from the country around Livermore, Calif., where his family ranched. But Big Sky country beckoned. He had extended family ranching in the eastern part of the state, and he said Montana always seemed like home.

He got his start as an artist at MSU, although not in the art department. He took a welding class and started creating small pieces from nails and metal pieces.

"I started sculpting with what I had," Dolan said. "I liked making pieces that were one of a kind."

In 1979, Gallatin Field hung Dolan's sculptures of flying Canada geese to welcome visitors. That was a turning point and the start of the artist's full-time professional career.

His metal sculptures, made from welded steel, stainless steel, copper and brass have grown in size to 40-feet tall teepees, a blue heron with a 14-foot wing span and a "heroic" sized (1/5 larger than life) Jeanette Rankin sitting prettily in a crescent moon.

There's a touch of whimsy in many Dolan pieces.

A pair of Scottish highland cattle sport shaggy coats as if blown by a breeze, Albert Einstein leans forward tossing a Frisbee and of course, there's Clyde, the motorcycle-riding orangutan marking the entrance to the Dolan driveway.

"My kids and I (he has three grown children) made it in 1989 to '91.We wanted to do something really fun."

But along with the fun, is a serious regard for art, music and literature.

"It's serious art with a whole fun context," said Joy Novota, an event planner from Helena who was introduced to Dolan's art through his daughter Jamie. "It's stuff you want to feel and be part of. You want to touch it, be closer to it."

Maybe that's because Dolan is a hands-on kind of artist.

"I want my hand touching every bit of the piece. When it goes out the door, I've got the fur marks on my hands. You put different energy in it," Dolan said.

He spends 40 to 50 hours a week working in his studio with electric welders, electric cutting torches, forges and grinders to create sculptures of birds, horses, cattle, famous people and just about any subject that comes across his mind or is commissioned by a client.

"In the morning, I walk in, turn on the classical music," Dolan said. "Jimmy Buffett goes on a 3 o'clock."

With a perennial grin and a laugh, you get the impression that this artist loves life and life is work.

"He's a friend of the world and a friendly person," said Novota. "He enjoys life."

But with the economy on the downturn, so is the art market. That doesn't stop Dolan from creating.

"I always sculpt. Good years, bad years, you just sculpt. You do it for 40 years, you're going to have ups and downs, lefts and rights. You just have to say I'm simply going to do it.

"I'm 63, I just renewed by 30-year contract with myself. I'm going to sculpt until I'm 93. And, I can honestly say it's more fun now than when I started. Not too many people can say that about their career."

LuAnn Rod is at getout@dailychronicle.com.

 

FYI

WHAT: Jim Dolan "Celebrating 40 Years of Sculpture in the Gallatin Valley"

WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22, 2 to 7 p.m.

WHERE: Open house at the studio, 3501 Airport Road

EXTRAS: Also see work by Sheryl Katzenberger, painter; and Pam Dolan, painter and potter. A portion of proceeds go to the expansion of the emergency department at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital.

 

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