Dan Jones: Charcoal
February 9 - April 7, 2013
Dan Jones is a painter of place, his own place, the utterly flat landscape of the Red River Valley and the rolling hills that flank the forty-mile-wide and two-hundred-mile-long Valley, which isn’t a valley at all but the flood plain of the ancient Lake Agassiz. Meandering through the Valley today is the Red River of the North, slowly making its way from its source at the northeastern tip of South Dakota to the Hudson Bay, some 550 winding miles north. Enroute, the river forms the border between Minnesota and North Dakota while periodically emerging from its banks into a vast, borderless, shining sea, as if to reclaim the once-upon-a-time lake bottom.
The history of the prairie region is long. Geologists speculate that over 12,000 years ago, the landscape that Dan Jones paints today was born of the great Ice Age during the final retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. It took another 3,000 years for the lakes, sloughs, and marshes to materialize.
As the weather tempered and glaciers melted away, Lake Agassiz emerged to encompass what is now eastern Saskatchewan, much of Manitoba, western Ontario, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Over four millennia later, the Lake began its own retreat, leaving in its wake the Red River Valley. Here, glacial melt water had deposited till or glacial sediment, to solidify in the silt and clay soil that underpins today’s lush agricultural land in the eastern Dakotas and western Minnesota.
The lands stretching beyond Lake Agassiz were not flat lakebed. Instead, enormous tracts of dead-ice moraine formed as the glaciers advanced against and over the Pembina Hills and the Prairie Coteau escarpments—the hilly upland or divide between limestone meshed with the ice pack. Over the next 3,000 years—from 12,000 to 9,000 BCA—the Ice Age climate moderated. The glaciers came to rest, stagnated, and then died. As the stilled glaciers melted, the embedded rock and sediment surfaced, creating a coat several hundred feet thick on top of huge fragments of ice. Gradually, even the buried ice melted. The sediment drifted downward; water filled the depressions; the prairie slough came into being, and bands of lakes formed along the former beaches of Lake Agassiz.
Given that the dead-ice moraine is uneven, rocky, and undrained, North Dakota’s less valuable farmland in the center of the state and Minnesota’s scrub land in northwest Minnesota—both riddled with a matrix of potholes—have become the province of small grain farms, cattle, birds, and, most certainly, plein air painters such as Dan Jones. The prairie slough along with its sister marshlands, the wooded rivers and draws, the undulating wetlands, fully occupy the landscape, leaving small space for shrinking towns and expanding cities. This is the land that entices Dan Jones into the open to make preliminary sketches, which back in his studio evolve into finished works of art.