Dan has been a fixture in the Twin Cities art scene for over three decades. Highlights of his career include projects with the following institutions: The Smithsonian Institute National Building Museum and the Phipps Center for the Arts, Disney, Animal Planet Television, Paisley Park Studio (Prince), The Mayo Clinic and Children’s Hospital of Minneapolis. Of particular note was his work with Dayton’s/Macy’s where he assisted in the design of 25 large-scale narrative installations, (13,000 square feet), was lead sculptor and directed the creation of approximately 1100 sculptures over a 19-year period. He collaborated with such notables as author Tomie dePaola, Liccy Dahl (for whom he designed sculptures that are permanently on display at the Roald Dahl Museum in Buckinghamshire, England) and Sesame Street’s Jim Martin and Tim Lagasse. Dan’s work with Dayton’s are featured prominently in two books: Dayton’s: A Twin Cities Institution and Thank You for Shopping: The Golden Age of Minnesota Department Stores, both authored by Kristal Leebrick and funded by the Minnesota Historical Society.
He has work in 72 public collections and has also been featured in several media outlets including Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine, Plein Air Magazine, Town Life Magazine, KARE 11, Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, FM 107.7 Radio “The Ian and Marjorie Show” and Midwest Home Magazine. He has received grants and awards in juried competitions through the years, most recently a 2019 Artist Initiative Grant and a 2021 Creative Support for Individuals Grant, both from the Minnesota State Arts Board.
Dan has been offering instruction in his studio for over 14 years. He teaches both painting and drawing. He holds an MFA from the University of Minnesota and his teaching experience includes work with the following institutions: The Peninsula School of Art, The University of Minnesota, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, The Lulea Tekniska Universitet, Skelleftea, Sweden, The Minneapolis Institute of Art, The White Bear Center for the Arts, The Minnetonka Center for the Arts, The Edina Art Center and the Minnesota Museum of American Art. DAN’S COMPLETE RESUME CAN BE VIEWED HERE…
A 2021 Peninsula School of Art video interview with Dan about his art career CAN BE VIEWED HERE…
Random Stories From an Art Life
An unlikely series of events
My first job after leaving home at 18 was working on a roofing crew. I lasted only two months. Unemployed, I spent my days hanging out at the Cedar Rapids Art Center, home of the largest Grant Wood collection in the country. Eventually, out of pity, the staff gave me the job of cataloguing the permanent collection. That summer job, being exposed to Grant Wood, John Stuart Curry and Marvin Cone up close, placed me on a permanent path that I’ve followed to this present day: to be a regionalist artist first and foremost, to be a voice of where I live. To ennoble the familiar.
Special moments in the museum business.
I continued working in museums after that first experience in Cedar Rapids, IA. It provided me the opportunity to examine a lot of great art up close, such as a stellar Hudson River School collection hidden in the vault at the Walker Art Center, never exhibited because of the Walker’s exclusive focus on contemporary art. I would spend lunchtime every day in the vault, scrutinizing an Inness, Moran or Church. or studying great work in the vault of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Work in museums led to some humorous moments like the time a fellow employee and I were caught stealing pre-opening hors d’oeuvres by Walker Art Center director Martin Friedman. We turned expecting a scolding but instead found him grinning ear to ear with Robert Motherwell. Or the moment, as an undergraduate fresh out of aesthetics class, I assaulted poor New York Times critic, John Canaday at a reception with the vaguest and most obnoxious of all questions one could ever ask an art critic: “what are your criteria for judging art?”
Highlights of my work as freelance production artist.
I eventually left the museum business and went full time as an artist. In keeping with my regionalist roots, I resolved to remain in Minnesota even when things became tight. In those days I was unaffected by money and willing to do the absurd like live for an entire summer in a university painting studio (pre cell phone). So when painting sales slowed from time to time, I found other work as a freelance theatrical artist. My reputation spread and led me to projects with Disney, Macy’s, Animal Planet Television, the Minnesota Opera, the Science Museum of Minnesota. There were many highlights. Some of the most memorable include a three hour dinner, one-on-one, with Liccy Dahl, the wife of Roald Dahl, at her request; sculpting for Prince; sharing a studio with Tommy DePaula; sculpting for a Macy’s event that attracted 600,000 visitors in 60 days and flying to a Las Vegas television convention with a sculpted head of Bill Nye the Science Guy in a duffle bag.
How backdrop painting complimented my easel painting.
For a while I painted full-time six months of the year and freelanced in the other half. Backdrop painting in particular complemented my fine art painting. I was lucky enough to work with one of the most accomplished drop painters in the midwest, Jack Barkla. At the time, Jack was a set designer who had worked on Broadway, the Minneapolis Children’s Theater and the Guthrie. But Jack got his start as a backdrop painter and introduced me to his technique which involved virtuosic brushwork. A backdrop has to be seen in low light and painted quickly. It requires an economy of highly descriptive brush strokes, with a mastery similar to Japanese watercolor painting. Getting the most out of each brush stroke, achieving a special touch, as it turns out, is an equally important skill to easel painters. I painted 30 foot drops for five years at the Minnesota Opera. Eugene Delacroix was also a backdrop painter in the beginning of his career. Not bad company. Production art slowly gave way to full-time painting. And since then the list of public collections that own my work has steadily grown to 72.
An unexpected introduction to the plein air movement.
Ironically, it was not art, but music, that led to a meeting and eventual close friendship with Brian Stewart, a nationally known plein air painter and early member of the Plein Air Painters of America. Brian and I were both square dance musicians and met for the first time at a session in St. Paul. We became good friends and went on painting trips together. Brian generously shared his technique, his method of developing a painting and his favorite tools and brushes. He told me stories of the early days of plein air events, traveling and painting across the country.Though I had been painting outside for many years, this was the first I had heard of outdoor painting as a competitive event He became the inspiration for my own painting trips around the midwest and Europe.
A connection to another regionalist painter, Thomas Hart Benton.
In 2020, I found the book “Tom and Jack: the Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock” written by Henry Adams. Among other things, Adams describes Benton’s connection to abstract painting and his effort to formulate rules for composition that applies to all styles. Those theories were outlined in lost essays Benton published while teaching at the Art Student’s League in 1926. After a fruitless search, I finally contacted Henry Adams directly, who generously sent copies of the essays. Bells rang upon reading the them because thirty years earlier I had received the exact same training while in graduate school. As it turns out, my graduate advisor at the U of MN, Herman Somberg, was a Queens transplant. Herman spoke often about his days as a young artist, friend and colleague to Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and his time spent at the Artist’s Club. Hardly mentioned was this interesting fact: he studied at the Art Student’s League. So in the truest sense, what Herman taught was directly handed down from Thomas Hart Benton. My life had come full circle, back where it started, with the regionalists! (Incidentally, Herman was very supportive of learning traditional painting techniques. He loved to tell how deKooning, during his only workshop at Yale, required students to master representational painting before ever attempting abstraction.)
In 2014 Dan was invited by the Minneapolis Institute of Art to be a guest lecturer and contributing writer for the “Marks of Genius: 100 Extraordinary Drawings from the Minneapolis Institute of Art” exhibition. Below is his article for that event.