Jim Dolan's Bleu Horses

Arts & Culture

A herd of 39 steel horses awaits your pleasure on a hill overlooking Hwy 287, three miles north of Three Forks on Wheat Montana property.
Conceived and built by sculptor Jim Dolan of Belgrade,” 
Montana is infinitely richer for this permanent gift.

As soon as the Three Forks Herald article about the horses appeared on Facebook, a friend and I made plans to visit this site. One can pull off the road and get out to look at the horses or take the first westward driveway (Hilltop Vista) and circle around in back, then walk up the hill and mingle with the herd. The horses look so realistic we nuzzle noses and put our arms around their necks. A spectator says, “Seeing them is one of the most moving experiences of my life.”

Artistry is at work here. Dolan says, “They’re not horses; they’re images of horses. If I had tried to do actual horses, it would have been a horsey project, not art.” The horses are painted blue with slashes of black or white paint, creating shadows and a three-dimensional effect. Some look thinner than others. Several foals lie down. One is nursing. The horses have manes and tails made of 4,000 feet of debraided polyester rope, which blow in the wind. Heads rest on ball bearings so they can move. Some horses graze. One poops; stones simulate droppings. Several are placed on the ridge looking at the Tobacco Roots. Others look down at the road with perked ears.

On the hill the horses are bolted down. Dolan put some of the larger ones in back, the next in size near the front, thus using foreshortening to affect the viewer’s perception. Across their backs he painted a light shade of glossy blue enamel that shines in sunlight.

Gary Bates, the (national and local) award-winning sculptor and long-term friend of Dolan, said that he was amazed at how superbly Jim installed the horses on the hill. “Usually a museum will use models and move them around the space to get the display just right. Not Jim. He took his loads of horses up there and placed them, using his innate knowledge.” Anyone who knows horses recognizes in this installation the qualities of an actual herd.

Jim Dolan has known horses most of his life. Now 65, in good physical condition, his white hair frames a friendly face. He says that he did not make a sketch of these horses, he just used his magination, creating them out of steel. Hooves are pipes, eyes are made from capped pipe. He needed them to be solid so they wouldn’t blow over when installed. He says, “If I created just five or six horses, that wouldn’t look like much. I just wanted enough for viewers to stop and say ‘Oh my god.’”

He created them all in 15 months. Once as he was sculpting them, he grouped a bunch in a semi-circle around him. There are no stallions — “too sensational or Hollywood-ish.”

Dolan arranged with Dean Folksvord to put the horses on Wheat Montana’s property. Installing the horses a crew used a jackhammer, long thick stakes welded to the horses hooves, and a tractor to move the sculptures into place. In the spring poppies and blue flax will decorate the meadow. However, the horses will be beautiful no matter the season. Definitely a destination milestone.

See www.bleuhorses.com for more info.

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