Montana State University

Dolan hopes Whitman sculpture will inspire MSU students

December 7, 2009 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News


"November Boughs" frame Bozeman artist Jim Dolan and his larger-than-life sculpture of the poet Walt Whitman. Dolan hopes the piece of art, now sitting on a bench in the courtyard of MSU's Wilson Hall, will inspire students to learn about the great poet. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham. Photo archive information: The photo was taken November 16, 2009 in the courtyard of Montana State University's Wilson Hall.    High-Res Available

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Montana State University has found a new home for Walt Whitman, which coincidentally is near quite a few "Leaves of Grass," and a few pine boughs, too.

This Walt Whitman, a larger-than-life-sized sculpture of one of America's most beloved poets of the 19th century, was donated to the university by Bozeman artist Jim Dolan, an MSU graduate. In a bit of whimsy, the statue sits on a bench in the courtyard in Wilson Hall, nearly in earshot of humanities classes that may discuss his poetry and philosophies. A formal dedication of the statue will take place at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9. The event is sponsored by the MSU College of Letters and Science and MSU Facilities.

"I've seen kids put things in his hands and take pictures with him and that (accessibility is) what I wanted," Dolan said. "I like that he's not on a pedestal. Art should not be untouchable"

That the piece is of a person, rather than of wildlife, may come as somewhat of a surprise for Dolan's fans. The MSU grad, who has a bachelor's in agriculture education (1970) and a master's in agriculture (1971) is known for large animal pieces. Among his best-known pieces are the herd of metal elk on the lawn at First Interstate Bank across from the Gallatin Valley Mall, the flock of geese above the stairway at Gallatin Field airport and the rusted chain draft horse in front of the Museum of the Rockies.

Dolan said the idea for the sculpture was rooted in a couple of thoughts. First of all, he said he is asked frequently to donate art for a variety of causes.

"I thought, why not just do one big piece instead of a lot of little pieces? I immediately thought of the university because that is where it can make a difference," said Dolan, who is passionate about MSU and is working to promote the building of a Native American campus center on campus.

Plus, Dolan said, he noticed walking around campus all these years that there was a dearth of art on campus.

Dolan's long-time practice of creating miniatures of some of the world's best thinkers as Christmas and birthday gifts for his children led to the subject matter. Several years ago he made a miniature of Whitman for his son, which confirmed that Whitman has always been one of his favorite historical figures. "In addition to changing poetry, he also led a life of service during the Civil War," Dolan said.

"How could it NOT inspire students to walk by a statue of Walt Whitman every day? Before long, they'd be researching who Walt Whitman was and would learn about him and his life. That is bound to be inspiring."

Dolan said he brought up the idea of the gift to MSU President Geoff Gamble more than a year ago. In addition to the museum's chain draft horse, the other Dolan piece on campus is a camera and director's chair metal sculpture hanging in the VCB building donated when the theaters across from the Fieldhouse closed. Once Gamble approved receipt of the Whitman piece, it was referred to MSU's Public Art Committee, a committee of the University Facilities Planning Board and other members from across campus, including students. The committee approved the gift and selected the Wilson courtyard location.

"I love Jim Dolan's vision for Montana State University," said Teresa Snyder, president of the Associated Students of Montana State University and a member of the committee. "Students love the sculpture because it is fun and so interactive. Little things like that tie you to a place. You take your picture next to it and put it on facebook. Students really appreciate it and we thank him."

Dolan said he has ideas for other sculptures for MSU's campus, such as figures from Montana's history, or perhaps prominent people from the areas of study represented at MSU. He hopes that other artists will join him.

"There is plenty of room, and this is what the university should be about," he said.

Jody Sanford (406) 994-7791 jody.sanford@montana.edu