Andrea Hunter Halgrimson column: As I Recall: A sculpted life: Ann Brown Bolin's works continue to enchant art aficionados

During my life, I have been fortunate to live in homes -- first my parents' and then my own -- that were filled with art. Many friends also had paintings, etchings, drawings and sculpture in their homes. James O'Rourke of the Rourke Gallery and M...


During my life, I have been fortunate to live in homes -- first my parents' and then my own -- that were filled with art.

Many friends also had paintings, etchings, drawings and sculpture in their homes.

James O'Rourke of the Rourke Gallery and Museum in Moorhead, who with his brother Orland Rourke opened the first local gallery in 1960, is among those to whom we owe our thanks.

I bought my first art from the Rourke Gallery when it opened -- a lithograph called "Mother and Child" by Abner Jonas, and a squatty lavender ceramic teapot with a raffia handle. I still have both of them.

One of the artists whose work I've lived with and also admired at friends' homes is Ann Brown Bolin, a local sculptor who died in 1974.


Bolin served as head of the NDSU Art Department from 1934 to 1944 when she retired and married NDSU professor of veterinary science Fonso M. Bolin. They lived at 1505 6th St. S., Fargo.

In October 1973, a retrospective of Bolin's life works was held at North Dakota State University. Twenty-four pieces loaned by area collectors were displayed.

Kay Cann, Fargo artist and columnist, arranged the show. At the opening, music was provided by local jazz group Ward Dunkirk Trio.

Twenty-four sculptures were in the show, most of them on loan from area collectors and one from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Bolin called the retrospective of her work "a reunion of my pieces and a resurrection of me." The exhibit gave Bolin an occasion to view some of her works that she hadn't seen since they were sold many years earlier, and she said she was eager to see if her style had changed and if her techniques had improved.

Born Oct. 20, 1893, at Blue Earth, Minn., she attended Moorhead State College and North Dakota State University, graduating from NDSU in 1930. She received her master of fine arts from Columbia University in 1931.

During the summer of 1934, she studied with artist Grant Wood at the University of Iowa, and in 1937 with Ukrainian-born Cubist sculptor Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964) at the University of Washington in Seattle.

In 1940 she went back to Columbia University to study with Italian-American sculptor Oronzio Maldarelli. In a story written during her retrospective, she recalled that she "learned how to handle tools from Maldarelli and design from Archipenko."


Bolin usually worked in stone (Carolina marble) and wood (Badlands cedar) because they offer more resistance than clay.

She said, "I don't really consider myself professional in stone, but I do what I can with it," adding that, "Badlands cedar is a challenge. It dictates to you, rather than you to it."

The way in which cedar grows, divided by creases, has often revealed hidden families to Bolin. "I keep winding up with father, mother and child. But then, I'm family-minded. Families are to me the most important thing."

Bolin kept only six of some 40 works she made, a family grouping in Badlands cedar, a clay head done of her mother and an onyx bird among them. In regard to the small number of her works she still had she said, "Painters should acquire this habit. Usually their homes are cluttered with their work."

Minnesota artist and longtime Concordia teacher Cyrus Running said, "For me the dean of area artists is Ann Brown Bolin."

However the retrospective was not her first exhibit.

In 1937 she showed her work in the National Exhibition of Contemporary American Art in New York and in 1939 she exhibited in the Contemporary American Art division at the New York World's Fair.

Bolin's sculpture was shown in an Exhibition of North Dakota Art at the Fine Arts Club in Fargo in 1938, 1939 and 1941. In 1953, she gave a lecture on "Creative Sculpture" and exhibited several original pieces at a meeting of the North Dakota Pen Women in Bismarck.


In 1946, at one of the largest regional sculpture exhibitions in America held at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Bolin won purchase award for "The Bison," a 138-pound, 10½-inch work chiseled from a piece of Georgia marble. The exhibit traveled to several other regional art museums.

In 1954, Bolin was awarded honorable mention for her sculpture "Jezebel," a polished rosewood torso entered in the sculpture section of the art division of the National League of American Pen Women's convention held in Washington, D. C.

In 1955, in an exhibit sponsored by the Moorhead branch of the Association of University Women, she exhibited a cat sculpted in green Carolina marble. A story at that time says she was also working on a woman's head done in Badlands cedar. I think this is one of the pieces I have.

But I wonder where the Green Cat has gone.

Resources: Institute of Regional Studies at NDSU, Helen Pepple and Mary Louise Hershberger

Andrea Hunter Halgrimson writes a biweekly history column for The Forum. Readers can reach her at

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