By Brad Reynolds
When Jim Dolan was signing up for classes at Montana State, the line for ag was shorter than the line for art—at least, that’s the joke he tells. In truth, he’s always loved agriculture. He never imagined the success he’s found as an artist.
“I thought I’d end up working for the USDA or something like that,” he remarks.
Dolan came to the Treasure State for college in 1966. At that time, MSU registrations were completed through a catalog, which was reprinted with updates every four years. Dolan was a Californian and thereby required to pay an out-of-state tuition fee, listed in the catalog as $90 per quarter; however, when he arrived at Bozeman, he was informed that the fee had recently been increased to $180 per quarter—twice what he was prepared to pay.
“I was putting myself through college. I sold my car because I couldn’t afford it. I was working full time at 70 cents an hour,” he explains.
Desperate, he went before an administrative committee to challenge the fees.
“They asked, ‘Why do you think you shouldn’t pay?’ I said, ‘It wasn’t in the catalog, and I plan on living the rest of my life in Montana and being an asset to this state,’” Dolan remembers. “They looked around at each other and said, ‘Tell you what, we’re going to make you an in-state student,’ and they dropped all my fees. I thought somewhere along the line, I’d pay them back for what they did for me.”
In Dolan’s senior year, his parents and three brothers moved up to Montana. The family’s California winery was full-up with relatives, each with their own idea of how the business should be run. A small ranch near Belgrade was more desirable by comparison.
Dolan helped his folks out on the ranch, but he knew it would never be big enough to support them all. In 1972, he developed his passion for metalwork into a career, becoming a full time metal artist.
Forty years later, on his 64th birthday, Dolan finally envisioned a gift worthy of the people of Montana—a thank you for all that the state has afforded him in life. He set to work, and one year later unveiled his creation: 39 metal horse sculptures overlooking Highway 287 at Three Forks.
“Dean and Hope Folkvord, who owned Wheat Montana, offered up the land. In 2013, the horses were placed there over a three-day period with a forklift,” Dolan explains.
Each of the 39 horses is designed and positioned as it might appear in nature, with personality and interaction. A dozen have moveable heads on ball bearings. All have manes and tails of unraveled polyester rope, which flutter in the wind.
Though the horses are lifelike, they are not “realistic.” Dolan’s sculptures are works of impressionism, stretched and skewed to emphasize the elegance of the animals.
Each is blue-gray, which is where the title of the installation—Bleu Horses—comes from.
“When I was setting up a website for the horses, the domain ‘Blue Horses’ was taken. They wanted $5,000 for it. The French spelling ‘bleu’ was only $15,” he says of his decision to name them.
Dolan still regularly visits his creations, stopping every two to three weeks to lovingly untangle their manes and tails. He encourages everyone to drive by and enjoy the herd. These sculptures are, after all, his gift to you.
At 71, he still has big plans for future projects. One (which he cannot discuss at this time) is to honor Montanans, their culture, and their history on an even larger scale than the Bleu Horses.
“Eventually age will get to me,” he says with a laugh, “but I haven’t accepted that yet.”