The man behind the metal
For more than half a century, Jim Dolan has made the world his gallery
BOZEMAN—A orange, bicycle-riding orangutan lives outside Jim Dolan’s Bozeman gallery.
The ape is just one of Dolan’s menagerie of work, another example of his characteristic metalwork, diverse in style, subject matter and size. The orangutan was just for fun, a project that allowed him to continue expanding his repertoire and avoid falling into a rut of just one style of art.
Dolan has become a household name around Montana in the five decades since he moved to Big Sky country, but he calls himself “one of those California transplants.” The Dolan family had been in the California winery and ranching business before making the decision to ranch full time in the Treasure state and moving to Montana in 1966. Jim worked on the family ranch with his three brothers and attended Montana State University, where he studied agriculture.
The family ranch sold in the 1980s, but Dolan transitioned to pursuing art full-time in 1972. As it does with many, Montana and its wild landscapes had captured his heart and his imagination. While his gallery is in Bozeman, his art spans both geography and content. He’s sculpted everything from horses to moose, bears to eagles and hawks, fishermen to authors like Walt Whitman. No two pieces look alike.
“I can’t imagine doing the same style all the time,” says Dolan of his wide-ranging subject matter. “It’s got to get totally boring. Some people love that, but I couldn’t do it.”
One of Dolan’s newest pieces has just been installed in Ennis, a place he credits as always being a great patron of his work because of its people and its love for the arts. Several of his works already adorn the town, from the iconic fly fisherman at the Highway 287 junction to the Ennis High School mustangs and the yellow-raincoated surveyor who stands along the road heading out of town toward Norris.
The newest addition, however, isn’t permanent, and will find a home whenever an art enthusiast decides to adopt it. The life-sized horse has been drawing eyes since its installation after the Fourth of July, standing on a platform outside the Black Jack Ranch Gallery, a space with which Dolan has developed a rapport. It looks different from the Ennis mustangs, and from the 39 blue horses he installed on Kamp Hill near Three Forks.
“I do a lot of representational things, but I went a little more impressionistic with this one,” says Dolan of his newest horse. He used flat tank ends to create the round parts of the body, covered in a black liner that contrast with the horse’s copper accents. He says he drew inspiration from the stone sculptures of horses often seen in Ming Dynasty art.
Dolan, who visited Ennis and Black Jack Ranch Gallery over the Fourth of July, says he wants to support things in the town where he’s built such good relationships. Several of his pieces are on display in the gallery, and his work will be featured on the gallery’s online counterpart as well. And never still, he already has plans for his next project. This one will also involve horses, and will also be no small installation. It will feature an old truck bed, he says, with several horses jumping over it. It will travel to White Sulphur Springs in August for the Red Ants Pants festival, but it already has a permanent home, with a buyer in Washington state.
“It’s just a fun piece,” Dolan says. “We’ll haul it around and show it off first.”
And after that, who knows? With Dolan, nothing is off the table. We’ll all just have to wait and see.