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Hi-Line Living: Dale Shulund: Sketching for a living


October 20, 2017

Courtesy photo

It took less than 10 years of persistent drawing for Havre pencil sketch artist Dale Shulund's artwork to find its way in the nation's capital.

Shulund, who said he began seriously drawing and framing his sketches in 2009 after his wife, Marlene, insisted on it, recently caught a big break when Sen. Steve Daines borrowed one of his pieces, "Montana Memories," to hang in his Washington, D.C. office.

The drawing depicts two boys with their backs to the viewer, gazing beyond toward a mountainous landscape, the Bear Paw Mountains, to be exact.

The idea for the drawing was born after Shulund saw a picture in a calendar of two African-American boys by a lake. Shulund said he took those two boys and penciled them into a scene with his beloved Bear Paws.

"I just thought of those two little kids coming to Montana," he said.

The drawing, for Shulund, is about what could be and about what doesn't have to be.

"If those two boys were from Chicago and they were in a 4-H group here, they wouldn't have the problems they have in Chicago," he said. "It doesn't matter their skin color - those two little boys, they would not have the problems that they have there."

The way Daines got a Shulund art piece started with the artist taking a first easy step.

"I actually got ahold of him," he said.

Daines got on Shulund's website and picked "Montana Memories."

But the journey to D.C. was just beginning. It would take many arduous months before "Montana Memories" would hang on the walls in Washington, D.C.

Senate rules prohibit senators from buying any private artwork for their office, Shulund said he learned. The drawing had to be approved by a Senate subcommittee. Once Daines got the OK to hang a Shulund it his office, it had to be registered as an art loan, a process which took another couple months.

"I had no idea Senate rules prohibit them from buying any private artwork," he said.

Finally, Shulund got to frame, wrap, rewrap, package and send "Montana Memories" to D.C. But not so fast. There would be one more snag.

"The post office has a machine they put their boxes through," Shulund said. "The machine broke the frame and the glass."

Someone from the post office in D.C. called Daines' office and said there was a broken piece of artwork down there, he said.

Shulund said a member of Daines staff called him and told him about the frame, saying, "It totally broke."

She told Shulund there was a framer who did work for the Senate building and even the White House. They could have that framer fix it there, or, she said, they could send it back to be done by Shulund. He went with the former.

"So they restored it, and the next thing we got is that picture of Sen. Daines with it on his wall," Shulund said. "Now there's a Dale Shulund in his office."

Daines said he likes the idea of D.C. looking a little more like home.

"It's great to celebrate and feature Montana artists in our office. We need to make Washington, D.C., look more like Montana," Daines said.

The first drawing Shulund framed was of an eagle on a tree. That was before he met Havre's renowned pencil artist, Don Greytak.

Shulund was displaying his work at an art show in town when Greytak, "one of the best pencil artists in the nation," stopped to talk, he said.

"He came over to my booth and said, 'What kinds of pencils are you using?' I said, 'Walmart.' He laughed. He came back. 'What kind of paper?' I said, 'Walmart.' By then I knew he was mad," Shulund said. "He then went home and he got me one of his pencils and one his papers, and the diameter of the pencil is like the size of a hair."

Greytak's intervention, Shulund said, was instrumental.

"It did so much for me being able to draw detail I couldn't believe it," Shulund said.

Greytak said he did introduce him to quality materials.

"I suppose I did give him a pencil," Greytak said.

The pencil he suggested, Greytak said, has a .3 millimeter diameter, which is very minute. But that's only half the recipe. The other part is the paper. Greytak said the .3 mm pencil, when combined with watercolor paper, allows for great detail. Shulund has been using Greytak's suggestion since, ordering the materials from a store in Great Falls.

"Look at the scales on that trout," Shulund said, holding a drawing of a trout to emphasize the pencil's ability for detail.

Shulund is hopeful his art career is just beginning, that bigger and better things are up ahead. He and Marlene have plans for more exposure. He has been connected with people who are helping him market, who want to open doors in the art market, so others all over the country, all over the world, can buy Shulund art.

And while he doesn't anticipate a slowdown in artistic inspiration, there might be other factors that could impede his ability to draw in the future.

Shulund said he was diagnosed with idiopathic neuropathy five years ago. Neuropathy is when nerve damage interferes with the functioning of the peripheral nervous system. When the cause can't be determined, it's called idiopathic neuropathy.

The only thing doctors can be sure of, Shulund said, is the cause is environmental. Because he worked construction for so long, his neuropathy could be the result of paint fume exposure, or it could be from mold, he has been told.

"It's almost impossible to say what I got it from, but it is environmental."

Describing the effects of the disease, Shulund said he pictures the disease as a human agent of torture.

"When you first get it, it's like if there's a hideous little human being in your hind pocket, and your feet are hooked up to electricity and he's got the button and it zaps your feet," he said.

Neuropathy, when it's acting up, prevents Shulund from feeling anything. Symptoms are intermittent, he said.

As a hunter, he said, his illness can pose serious problems because he may not know when he is stepping on rocks or other things.

Doctors told him the neuropathy is progressive and it's a matter of time before it climbs from his toes, where it began, to his hands and fingers. When that happens, Shulund is optimistic he'll find a way to keep drawing.

"If I could still hold a pencil, then my eyes can - you know, you don't have to feel the pencil," he said.

"When I look at this artwork, it gives me hope," he added.

Shulund's favorite piece, he said, pointing to a drawing of three horses and three tepees in a valley, is called "Help is on the Way."

A friend was trapping muskrats west of town near Chain Lakes, west of Kremlin, he said.

"While he was checking his traps, I was walking around. There was little tepee rings that were 8 feet. They were disappearing, they were full of rocks. Then there was big teepee rings, 15 feet," Shulund said.

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

He asked his friend why the smaller rings looked older. His friend told him the older rings were "pre-horse."

"So I was standing there and the March wind blowing and thinking about those people - however they got those tepee poles there, I have no idea," he said. "They drug them from the Bear Paws, they had to. They set up there because of the water. The reason those teepee rings are smaller is because that's all they could bring and carry on their back.

"I sat there and imagined the wolves howling, having a little baby, and setting up and living in that thing," he said, "and I thought, 'Those gotta be the toughest people that ever lived.'"

The arrival of the horses was the help they needed.

"Life got a lot easier," Shulund said.


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