Marking the Land: Jim Dow in North Dakota

Jim Dow (Signed)


Marking the Land: Jim Dow in North Dakota
Photographs and narrative by Jim Dow           
Edited with an essay by Laurel Reuter, Director of the North Dakota Museum of Art
220 pages, 186 color images, hardcover and paperback
Published by the North Dakota Museum of Art in collaboration with the
Center for American Places.

$ 75 (cloth)

$ 35. (wraps)

In 1981 the North Dakota Museum of Art invited Jim Dow of Boston to photograph the State’s environmental folk art—that is, architecture, signage, sculpture, painting, grave markings, working shops, the stuff made by farmers during idle winter months, and all else that decorates the land. Over the course of a year, Dow captured over a hundred images. The initial commission was funded by Target Stores. Then in the late 1990s, he returned to North Dakota to photograph Northern League baseball parks. Dow once again was hooked on North Dakota. The Museum found enough money for Dow to begin anew, but this time with one condition: he could photograph whatever he pleased but Northwest Minnesota should be drawn into the project. From a distance of twenty years, Dow saw the larger themes harbored within the photos: change, the passing of time, the innate creativity demanded of people who live in rural or remote places, and the way humans live lightly on the land and then move on, leaving marks that soon fade away.

Jim Dow’s photographs are among the most important works ever created about North Dakota. They encapsulate the historic change that swept across the Northern Plains in the last half of the twentieth century. Dow literally has captured the traces of people who have died or gone elsewhere. He records an earlier, hand-made existence, churches now sitting empty, the remains of decayed civic life. Described as having the 'grandeur and loneliness of ancient ruins,' Dow’s work has been cherished for documenting the disappearing uniqueness of American life.

The book opens with Views of North Dakota, twelve gigantic murals painted on the walls of the State Prison yard half-a-century ago by Charles Oliver. Dow photographed them in their crumbling state just before they were torn down. He closes with Whitey’s Wonder Bar in East Grand Forks—before and after the 1997 flood. With his 8 x 10 large-format camera, he recorded groups of “dinosaurs” or thrashing machines arranged on the hills near Amidon. The World’s Largest Holstein Cow near New Salem. Henry Luehr’s Bull from Buchanan. The hand-forged iron crosses made by Germans from Russia marking the graves near Hague and Zeeland. Sign for Barlow Meats in Devils Lake. Alex Pauluck’s Shop in Belfield. Sig Jagelski’s Jugtown near Auburn. Artist Walter Piehl’s painting studio, his drawing classroom at Minot State, and his Blue Rider Bar. The Goose River Lutheran Church before it burned as well as the State’s grand churches in Warsaw. Dazey, and Strasburg, Eccentric architecture such as the Kite Café in Michigan. Monuments and follies intermingle with one-offs and life-time passions in Jim Dow’s masterpiece, Marking the Land.

Marking the Land consisting of 186 photographs from nearly all reaches of the state is a moving reflection by a leading American photographer on the state of the Northern Plains today, forcing us all to rethink our conceptions of America’s forgotten frontier.

Jim Dow's photographs focus on the passage of time as it is recorded in landscapes from North Dakota to Great Britain to Argentina.Using an 8 x 10 inch view camera, Dow turns his lens to roadside signs, aging buildings, and interiors that feel locked in another era.His images honestly record the scenes before his camera, avoiding sentiments of nostalgia while paying tribute to marks made to the land by current and past residents.A leading American photographer, Dow pushes his viewer to reconsider familiar surroundings and discern the beauty and cultural history hidden in a North Dakota car wash, Argentinean barbershop, or British convenience store.

Clark Gallery has an extensive inventory of Mr. Dow's photographs.  Jim is an internationally exhibited artist represented in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, J. Paul Getty Museum, Library of Congress, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.Dow has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, LEF Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship among many other grants and commissions. Dow has taught at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts for over twenty years.