One of the country’s premiere Western artists hails from right here in North Dakota, and the James Memorial Art Center is celebrating his life with a collection of his work.
Born in Marion, North Dakota, Walter Piehl came from a family that raised rodeo stock, and that lifestyle and those experiences serve as the inspiration for the majority of Piehl’s work. As part of the North Dakota Art Gallery Association’s statewide tour, the James is hosting a retrospective of Piehl’s work, showing the evolution of the artist’s career from 1963 to 2018.
Piehl’s passion for all things western is evident in virtually every piece displayed at the gallery. Piehl says in his biography that this stemmed from his ranching upbringing, where his family rode horses, raised stock and regularly participated in rodeos. That influence, along with his passion for history and art, cemented his love for Western Americana.
“I will always be a painter of Western Americana,” Piehl says in his biography. “The horse culture and the ranching culture were always so important to me, part of my everyday life. Pursuing art and pursuing that subject matter which was so important to me, naturally led me into all sorts of themes of the Wild West, of the tame West, of the rodeo and of the historic West.”
Piehl’s use of bold colors, fast brush strokes and multiple outlines conveys a sense of motion in his pieces, allowing the viewer to truly feel the action as cowboys are thrown from horses, cowgirls twirl lassos and bulls buck and twist in the air. Piehl has a signature style that differs greatly from many Western artists, focusing more on the movement, rather than a static image.
“I want people to know how fast a brush stroke was put on and that paint is a fluid medium, that it drips and it splatters and those drips and splatters are collateral enhancements,” Piehl explained. “I want them to look like they were done in a frenzy of activity and that the paint was applied with great energy.”
Piehl has been a part of the art community in North Dakota for more than 50 years, and was recently honored by having a gallery dedicated to him on the Minot State University campus. The Walter Piehl Gallery opened in April of 2018. His work have been traveling the state, visiting galleries in many city’s across North Dakota.
“We are very honored to have Walter’s work on display at the James,” said Deana Novak, vice president of the James board. “He’s such an important and influential artist and an important North Dakota figure. It’s an amazing retrospective of his career. I find it really interesting that he has pieces from the very beginning of his career, so you can really see his style change as an artist.”
Piehl’s work will be on display at the James Memorial throughout the month of May. An artist reception will be held on Thursday, May 30 from 7 to 8:30 p.m., with Piehl on-hand to share stories and discuss his work. The James Memorial Art Center is located at 621 First Avenue West in Williston. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and Friday and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.