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Region loses diverse artist

Jim Dahl, whose wide range of artwork can be seen all around Marshall, dies at 54

August 20, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - When it came to putting content onto canvas, Jim Dahl had it covered.

And his ability to work in myriad disciplines allowed the local artist to spread his artistic wings enough to capture the imagination of an entire community. From chainsaw sculptures to more personal work like his box series, to intricate mural paintings, Dahl's style and flair transcended the traditional.

Dahl, the artist, poet and seasoned harmonica player, died Saturday, two days after suffering a brain aneurysm.

Article Photos

Independent file photo

Artist Jim Dahl is shown working on the Mrs. Whitney statue earlier this summer. Dahl, who died Sunday, was on schedule to finish it sometime in the next month.

He was 54.

"As an artist, he's kind of considered our Marshall artist, so to speak," said Ellayne Conyers, who had worked closely with Dahl throughout the years on a number of projects that were destined to be seen by many. "It's very special having known Jim as a young person and seeing him develop into a very renowned artist. He even had shows in the Twin Cities. To be able to work with him myself was a great honor."

"There's no question this is a shock to all of us," said Marshall Community Services Director Harry Weilage. "I've been working pretty close with him on the Mrs. Whitney project and he shared with me how challenging it was but how happy he was to be included in the project."

Dahl left a can't-miss mark in the Marshall community. He has painted murals at Marshall Bowl, Marshall High School (a ceiling mural) and has a sculpture on display at Southwest Minnesota State University, where he studied and blossomed as an artist.

One of his most recognized works is the diorama that had been on display at the Lyon County Museum - a large mural with a Midwestern feel that covered an entire wall.

Conyers said Dahl's diorama depicts history through art.

"It tells this region's history without words," she said. "It was touted all over the state, because not only was it a piece of history, it was a piece of art."

Up until his death, Dahl had been spending roughly four to six hours a day on the Whitney statue, which upon completion will stand near the intersection of 3rd Street and College Drive in Marshall. Dahl told the Independent in June that he thought he would have the statue finished in late August or early September. The statue shows Mrs. Mary Whitney, who helped found the city of Marshall, pouring water on the ground to baptize the town of Marshall, named after a former governor of the state.

Conyers said Dahl was open to thoughts and opinions on the Whitney statue and that he was careful to accurately reflect history when putting the piece together.

"I brought him a lot of information and sometimes had to correct him on his sketches, but he accepted those facts, and I was so pleased I could work with him on that. They say you don't tell an artist what to do, but I was so glad that he followed the history. He was very emotionally involved in the Whitney statue."

Conyers said the statue will be completed, but it is unknown who will finish it and when.

Dahl spent his early years in Watertown, S.D., before moving to Marshall and was a student at then-Southwest State University from 1979-1984. One of Dahl's art professors, Jim Swartz, called Dahl an "incredibly skilled and creative" person who always displayed an excitement about art.

"He could always do well with just about any discipline - drawing, painting, sculpture," said Swartz, who is also part of the Whitney project. "Working with clay he could do anything really. "The term 'renaissance man' maybe gets overused, but he really was. From a teaching standpoint that's really valuable."

Swartz said Dahl excelled with studio work and his talent pushed him ahead of his fellow students.

"He was a joy to work with," Swartz said. "He was a really sharp, interested student with electric abilities. He could also get at content in art; his pieces meant something, they weren't just exercises in techniques. He was most interested in what the piece meant - the human side of it."

Dahl's diversity is most evident in one of his more memorable pieces, the box series, which ended up as a show at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts through the Artists Exhibition Program.

"That was a big deal; it was a work that was chosen by his peers from the Cities," Swartz said.

Swartz included Dahl's name with other artists with local ties like Terrance Fogarty, Pat Hand and John Sterner, whose art carries with it a true and symbolic meaning.

Dahl's funeral is set for 2:30 p.m. Thursday at First Lutheran Church in Marshall.



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