Artist Clell Gannon

Sep 28, 2018

The legacy of an accomplished North Dakota artist can still be seen in the Burleigh County Courthouse in Bismarck. Clell Gannon painted a number of murals in the courthouse vestibule, depicting scenes from North Dakota history, such as “Verendrye Meets the Mandans” and “The Sibley Campaign.” The courthouse is in Art Deco style, built during the same period as the state Capitol skyscraper.

Gannon was born in 1900 in Nebraska, but by age eight his family had settled on a farm near Underwood in North Dakota. After graduating high school, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago for two years until an illness intervened. He returned to North Dakota, and came to work as a secretary for the superintendent of the Soo Line Railway. He later became an artist for Provident Life Insurance in Bismarck.

Gannon’s inspiration for his murals came from the landscape, history, scenery and wildlife of the Great Plains. He also wrote poetry, and published two collections, with a third published by his family after his death.

It was on this date in 1962 that the Bismarck Tribune reported on Gannon’s death the night before. He was 62. His obituary described him as “one of North Dakota’s leading artists” and “one of the most beloved figures in the state.”

Gannon associated with others who shared his interest in history, and in 1926 he canoed the Little Missouri River with George Will and Russell Reid, men who would each take a turn as director of the State Historical Society. The trio travelled from Marmarth, North Dakota to the Missouri River, then on to Bismarck. This was before the Garrison Dam created Lake Sakakawea. Their efforts in documenting and recording North Dakota history remain in the books, photos and artwork they left behind.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

The Bismarck Tribune. 1962, Sept. 28. Page 13.
Barr, P.E. (1954). North Dakota artists. University of North Dakota Library: Grand Forks, ND