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Dimensional artworks relate stories, opinions

WORTHINGTON -- Spring is a busy time of the year at Jim Dahl's place of employment. He's kept busy mixing paint and selling lawnmowers at Patzer's Hardware Hank in Marshall.

But he doesn't neglect his vocation, either. By day he's a hardware store paint manager, but the rest of the time, he's an artist.

"My life changed after I got divorced," explained Dahl, who lives in Cottonwood. "It's probably more important to make money now. It would be nice to make enough money with my art, then I wouldn't have to work so hard. Between my job and the art, I might work 90 hours a week."

An exhibit of Dahl's work opens Sunday at the Nobles County Art Center, 407 12th St., Worthington.

A native of Watertown, S.D., Dahl moved to Marshall with his family when he was 16 years old. Art has been a lifelong pursuit, and he studied it -- as well as other subjects of interest -- over a number of years at what is now Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.

"I never got a degree, but I've probably taken enough art classes to get me a master's degree," he said.

Dahl began to focus on dimensional sculptures in the mid-1980s.

"They started out as small square boxes with objects in them," he explained. "Initially, I started doing them to set up a still life, to do paintings like that. But as time went on, they started changing, became like a small room and became more representational of things, objects in the room."

Dahl's art often depicts themes that have meaning to his own life, such as a depot scene that pays homage to his deceased father, who worked for the railroad. A dimensional work called "Incident at Soldiers Summit" also relates a story from his dad's life.

"My dad died a couple of years ago, and you might have suspected that he was pretty important in my life," Dahl related. "He used to go with me to all the shows, help me set them up.

"This one is an interesting story, and I chose that to commemorate his valor. It's kind of called 'The Good Samaritan.' This doctor was transporting a crazy patient, someone who was being committed. The doctor was driving, and the crazy guy stabbed him with a buck knife he had smuggled into the car. ... My dad was coming from the opposite direction, up there in the mountains out in Utah. This crazy guy had stabbed the doctor, and he was bleeding. The guy jumped out of the car, and a truck driver who had a gun fired shots into the air. The doctor tried to go after the guy, but he was bleeding too badly, so Dad grabbed the doctor and held his thumb on his jugular vein for 45 minutes, until the ambulance came, and then all the way down the mountain until they got to the hospital."

The mental patient was apprehended, and the doctor survived the ordeal. Dahl fashioned the scene in miniature using clay figures -- only about an inch and a half high -- and a plaster mountain. He also uses the sculptures to relate ideas about topics such as civil wars and ethnic cleansing.

The Worthington exhibit will be a retrospective of Dahl's work, including the sculptures he created in the past along with some more recent works.

"These days, I'm not really making sculptures like that," he explained. "I haven't done one of those for four or five years. The things I do now are more personal, private -- little sketches on tiny pieces of paper, envelopes, matchbooks. I'll just stop and sketch something as I'm coming or going from work."

Dahl has also developed a habit of leaving natural artworks scattered across the countryside.

"One of the coolest things I do is I like to balance rocks. I've been doing that for 20, 25 years. I'll just stop and walk over to a rock pile and start balancing them. My brother does it down in Australia, too. I do that all over, probably within 30 miles of Marshall. It's not like they're just stacked up; they're precariously balanced -- they might lean one way, or counterbalance one rock over another.

"I guess it gives me a sense of peace. It takes a little bit of time, a little bit of talent to balance them, and when I let go of them and they're still standing, I'll step away and say, 'That one's cool.' Some of them are 5 feet high. It's just something that I do for fun, that would probably be my hobby."

The opening reception for Dahl's exhibit will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the art center gallery, located in the lower level of the War Memorial Building, 407 12th St. The exhibit continues through May. Hours are 2 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Phone 372-8245 for more information.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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