I don’t care for art which snooty people can point to and say something along the lines of “This represents the zeitgeist for transcendentalism among bohemian basket weavers during the Westward Expansion era.” I much prefer art depicting pheasants, horses or German Shepherds, as I can point to it and identify it and be correct every time.

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And when art is made of something special to its area of origin, I start reaching for my wallet. My very own German Shepherd statue by Dakota Coal Creations is in the mail as I type this article.

“I recently bought the business from Doc Hilz, who founded it about 30 years ago,” said Mike Sorum, who owns Dakota Coal Creations alongside his wife Heidi. “He was looking to sell, and I found out about him from an old family friend and decided to reach out. That’s a small-town way of doing business.

“I liked Doc’s Coal Craft Products right away because coal is sentimental to me. I’ve spent the last seven years working as a dragline oiler for BNI Coal. It can be pretty labor intensive, and sometimes North Dakota’s weather doesn’t make it easier, but we get the job done.

“I also like how our art presents coal in a different way. People are quick to call the fossil fuel ugly, but we’re showing that you can also turn coal into something beautiful – not counting the beauty of light and heat, of course. Coal really is something you can put in your home or business.

“Making our statues is easy. All we have to do is combine the coal dust with a special resin, pour the mixtures into one of Doc’s molds, and wait for it to harden. It takes any shape you ask it to and the final product is solid as a rock.

“We try to have a little bit of everything for everybody. We offer smaller pieces and magnets that kids are able to afford when they find us at art fairs. We pay tribute to our home state with our dragline and bison statues. Sportsmen love our ducks and pheasants, and no one can resist owning a little coal dachshund, Cocker Spaniel, Pekingese or Boxer if they already have the full-size dog back at home.”

Please visit dakotacoalcreations.com to see and order Mike and Heidi’s quintessentially North Dakotan figurines.


By David Scheller


What Is Lignite?

Lignite, which is also known as “brown coal,” is the lowest grade of coal owing to its least concentration of carbon. That alongside its high moisture content gives lignite relatively poor heating value – though it is very useful for generating electricity.

North Dakotans began mining lignite as early as 1873, and over 70 mines were in operation by the turn of the century. Many of these were wagon mines, where local farmers could easily drive up and hack off lignite that stuck to the face of an outcrop. Others employed hundreds of men and extended thousands of feet underground.The world’s largest deposit of lignite is right here in North Dakota. There are 25 billion tons of the stuff, which at the current rate of consumption would be enough to last for nearly one thousand years. There are presently six operations mining lignite in western North Dakota, which together excavate 32 million tons annually. The lignite industry contributes more than $3 billion to North Dakota’s economy every year. (Not counting German Shepherd statues.)