In the cluttered attic of Tech Hall lies a secret painting kept hidden for years due to its controversial subject matter.
Manifested from the hand and mind of Norway’s romantic landscape artist, Dag Hol, lives a monster of a painting in the attic of Tech Hall depicting General Sherman standing before Atlanta, GA, devoured in flames. After applying for a grant from the Mid-America Arts Alliance (MAAA), one in which fifteen foreign artists are given an opportunity to travel and create art in the United States for about two months, Dag Hol found himself here at Rocky Mountain College. Jim Baken, a retired Art Professor of RMC, wrote to MAAA after originally receiving a rejection letter notifying him that we would not have an artist in residence at the school, explaining how isolated, eastern Montana needed outside artistic influence more than anyone. Genuinely compelled by his letter, MAAA sent their “runner-up”, Hol, who traveled to Chicago and Santa Fe before spending 45 days here at Rocky, a time in which he produced nine major artworks, with several copies on display in the business office. As a sort of homage to his time here in the U.S., Hol somewhat naively created this portrait of William Tecumseh Sherman, a figure chiefly responsible for the depopulation of indigenous tribes through his incessant killing of buffalo and other cruel tactics of destruction acquired through his time served in the Civil War. Looking beyond the subject matter, one can see the exquisite detail through the smoke and fire as well as in the features of the battle aged face, though the bodily proportions are slightly skewed which appears more or less obvious from certain angles. Hol commissioned a woodworker from Rocky to create a frame for $700 and set the price of the painting at $10,000 accompanied by a certificate absolving the school from any legal responsibility in case of damage made toward the piece. The painting hung in a Rocky employee’s office for only about five days before it was taken down due to accumulating complaints surrounding the understandably upsetting memory of General Sherman. Ever since this first and final exhibition, the painting has sat hidden in the dark, decrepit attic of Tech Hall. The painting was shown to several Civil War museums in the south and even billionaires, Ted Turner and Jane Fonda, who spoke at RMC years ago, to which they all declined for presumably various reasons. For over twenty years, there has not been an offer made, be it from the lack of advertisement or an absent desire to convey such a figure in a heroic light. So, is General Sherman’s rightful place in a crowded attic of forgotten knick knacks or should it be brought out in appreciation for art and the remembrance of our nation’s war-weary past?
We would love to hear your opinions so comment down below. And remember, this painting of General Sherman is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the fascinating pieces of art at Rocky. Over the coming years, several of our art history classes will be working much more closely with it, cataloging and researching the work in the college’s art collection.