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Piehl's art given a home in permanent gallery

Long after he's hung up the signature hat only he could wear with flamboyance and panache, Minot State University art professor Walter Piehl will forever remain on campus. At the Prairie Public documentary screening of "Walter Piehl: Sweetheart of the Rodeo," in October, MSU President David Fuller announced that the university will create the Walter Piehl Gallery, dedicating space to permanently house a collection of Piehlís work. The gallery will contain many pieces illustrating the magnitude of his talent and breadth of his work.

"The Walter Piehl Gallery will allow MSU to develop a richness, tradition and scholarly destination for distinctive artists, teachers and academicians on our campus. It will allow us to raise the visibility of MSU in becoming a premier institution, and it allows MSU to claim a distinguished artist as one of Ďour own,í who has chosen to stay in our place for so many years, who contributes to our past, helps define who we are and what we will become," Fuller said.

MSU, in conjunction with Prairie Public Broadcasting and the North Dakota Council on the Arts, hosted the public screening of "Walter Piehl: Sweetheart of the Rodeo." The documentary details how this North Dakota visual artist and MSU art professor combines an expressionistic painting style with visual investigations of many facets of Western Americana.

According to Bob Dambach, director of Prairie Public television, "Walter Piehl: Sweetheart of the Rodeo" gives viewers a glimpse of the method Piehl uses in creating his art and illustrates that what may appear chaotic or confusing to the casual observer, is actually visually stunning and full of activity, when one knows what to look for.

"I like the act of painting," Piehl said. "The first stages of my paint application are chaotic, out of control. The exciting part is to bring chaos under control and direct it toward an image I feel good about. For me, itís the solving of the problems in the painting thatís exciting. I never know what the end product is going to be like."

After graduating from Marion High School, Piehl left the farm to attend Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., to study art. He described his early years in college as a "terrifying experience."

"I thought art was about drawing; classes in college were over my head," Piehl confessed. "The only reason I stayed was fear of the haystack."

He graduated in 1964 with an art major and teaching certificate. Unsure about his abilities to make or teach art, Piehl enrolled in graduate school at the University of North Dakota (Grand Forks) and received a Master of Arts in painting and drawing two years later.

Early in his career, Piehl taught in Dickinson, Valley City, Ellendale and Mayville. In 1969, he entered the University of Minnesota Fine Art Department to pursue an MFA. Fall semester 1971, he began teaching drawing, painting and art education methods at MSU.

Piehl has exhibited his work regionally, nationally and internationally. Among his many honors and awards is the 2008 Enduring Visions Award for his creativity, connection to community and impressive body of work from the Bush Foundation, a private foundation serving Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Piehl was one of three people selected for the prestigious $100,000 award and described it as the highlight of his art career.