It’s fitting that one of Montana’s best-known artists got his start in a welding class. Jim Dolan, whose larger-than-life metal sculptures are scattered across the state, came to Montana to pursue a degree in agriculture from Montana State University. He chanced upon sculpting during a welding class-creating small pieces out of scrap metal and nails. Dolan grew up on a ranch in California and has parlayed his understanding of the natural world into incredible sculptures. Working with metal gives many of Dolan’s pieces a rough-hewn feeling that manages to capture the subject without looking entirely life-like. As he once said about the remarkable horses that grace a hill outside of Three Forks: “They’re not horses; they’re images of horses.”
In 1979, Gallatin Field, Bozeman’s airport, installed a flock of Dolan’s Canada geese in the lobby, launching his professional career. Since then he has created over 170 public sculptures and innumerable pieces that are now in private homes. The landscape of Southwest Montana acts like a Jim Dolan gallery. He has almost a dozen pieces scattered across Bozeman; the iconic fisherman, as well as the surveyor and the mule team in Ennis. His most recent Montana installation, “Bleu Horses” puts the Dolan penchant for dreaming ever larger. Covering a hill between Three Forks and Townsend, the 39 larger-than-life blue metal horses manage to look remarkably natural, as if the hill was built with them in mind.
This piece (on the right), innocuous and easily overlooked, sits off of the road to Holter Lake and Gates of the Mountains. It captures what makes Dolan such a remarkable Montana artist-although rugged and metallic, the statue looks somehow organic, fitting perfectly into its landscape.