Submitted to the I-O by Sue Carlbom
The obvious difference between Conrad Dale Sheldon and other artists is the fact that he is totally blind.
Sheldon has been without his sight since just before his fourth birthday, which, as he says, “was a heck of a long time ago!”
Sheldon and his wife of 54 years developed a real interest in and appreciation for art and became faithful visitors to art shows. They were especially interested in shows occurring in conjunction with the Russell Auction and others going on in Great Falls at the same time.
The couple also became involved with Shadows of the Past art shows and auctions in Choteau. The artists they became acquainted with were agreeable, in fact eager, to have Dale look over their bronzes by running his fingers over every detail and crevice.
Many of the artists recognized his genuine interest in sculpting, and urged him to get some clay or wax and give it a shot himself.
Dale acknowledges that his artistic endeavors would never have gone past the interest stage if not for his wife, Aggie, who was his toughest critic and strongest supporter. Aggie died in a tragic accident on Christmas Eve, 2004.
In 1999, Dale’s first bronze, Lord Crooked Horn, a Rocky Mountain ram, was cast by Big Sky Bronze in Choteau.
Since that time, fourteen other bronzes have been created and regularly entered in shows and auctions.
One, a young lady fishing, was awarded first place for Creativity in the Shadows of the Past show and auction in Choteau.
Sundee first appeared as a nude standing by a gate, and later got a swimming suit and fishing pole after Dale’s wife, Aggie, thought the nude a bit too realistic. Dale, on the other hand, says he liked her better in her original form.
When asked how he knows what things look like, Sheldon says imagination and touch help him see his work. He takes advantage of every opportunity to look at (feel) stuffed wild animals and has benefitted from being raised around horses and cattle.
He only grins when the subject is ladies. Dale specializes in animals, especially horses. The detail on his saddles is amazing.
Other animals include bears, wolves, antelope, buffalo, and mountain sheep.
How does he do that? He has to first visualize what the animal will look like when finished.
He relies heavily on word pictures and how things have been described to him.
Dale begins his creations using wax. Wax has become his favorite medium since clay tends to get soft when handled and is easily distorted.
The wax stays firm and holds its shape even when handled excessively. “I just fool around with it until the thing takes shape. It helps to work awhile, set it down, and then come back to it. When I pick it up again, I can feel what needs to be changed.” Since Dale also enjoys wood working, he likes to design and finish the bases for his bronzes.
“My hope, of course, is to create pieces which folks can recognize and enjoy. The imperfections are mine. Perhaps that makes them more unique since sighted artists would probably see them and make necessary changes.”
Dale says it is extremely satisfying to actually have a piece produced in bronze and notes a deep appreciation for artists who have been so supportive.
Dale has led an interesting life. His many endeavors include: owning and operating an auto mechanic shop in Conrad for 30 years; working for the CIA as a Russian interpreter in Washington, D.C. for 5 years; serving as Pondera County commissioner for 12 years; and since 2001 he’s crafted beautiful wooden urns which he sells to several mortuaries throughout the state.
He is currently writing a book about his adventures.
In the fall of 2012, Dale was accepted into the Western Heritage Artists Association. He will be showing his bronzes in room 217 at the Holiday Inn during the Russell Art Week, March 13-17.