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Resurrecting Lewis and Clark’s adventure

Monday, February 17th, 2014
Posted by Larry Griffin; Williston Herald

After three winters of hard labor at a shop on top of a hill outside town, David Njos has completed his final iron work project: A collection of iron sculptures of items Lewis and Clark Sculptor David Njos holding a steel art piece. Photo Credit: Williston Heraldwould have taken on their journeys.

The collection is nearly finished. All Njos has left to do is weld the items to a plate (which will be made to look like buffalo hide) so they can all be transported together.

But with so many heavy, iron sculptures all welded to one plate, how will Njos move the set? Simple - his son is part of a crane business.

Once safely transported, they will be going on display at Williston State College to educate students and passersby about a piece of North Dakotan history. As Njos graduated from the college as a young man, the project is special to him in more ways than one.

Njos, a career artist, is also a passionate Lewis and Clark buff - making the project easy for him to get invested in.

The sculptures are scaled to one and a half times their normal size, allowing for a much greater attention to detail. A few of his sculptures depict the boxes and wooden crates to carry medicine and other items Lewis and Clark would have needed.

Njos's attention to detail is so great that he put lines and cracks where the nails would have broken the wood into the sculptures. The realism of the sculptures is such that people have actually mistaken them for real items encased in steel.

"I had a guy come out and ask, 'How did you make that wooden box look like steel?'" Njos said.

Sculptor David Njos surrounded by steel works. Photo Credit: Williston Herald

As he has a background in construction and leather making, Njos was able to apply those skills to make his sculptures more realistic when he had to make leather straps and woodwork imitated in the iron sculptures.

Njos does his work in a garage on top of a tall hill east of town. The lawn is scattered with old junk cars which Njos said is also a passion of his. Inside the building is a warm space heated by floor heaters, with enough space to house his sizeable projects.

The garage is the perfect place for Njos to work in peace, isolated from the hustle and bustle of Williston.

"I like coming out here to work every day," Njos said. "It keeps me going."

In the summer months, though, Njos doesn't like to waste a second of the nice weather. He plants around 50 trees a year and just enjoys being outdoors. The iron work became strictly a winter project for him.

The attraction to Lewis and Clark is a practical one for Njos, craftsman-to-craftsman. He admires the creativity they had in building and using tools.

"I want to give people an idea of the equipment they had," Njos said. "Technology has changed. I want to show people how good they were at making things back then."

Njos put exquisite detail into getting his sculptures as realistic as possible. He researched every piece to make sure they were all correct.

One of the most intricate works in the collection is a map that depicts where Lewis and Clark planned to go - an exact duplicate of what Clark drew, Njos said. Using a stainless steel slab, Njos was able to etch the lines into the map with a laser - hired out to a company named Triangle Electric Laser, which  volunteered to do it for him.

The map even contains some of the inconsistencies that Lewis and Clark flubbed on back in the day, such as their assessment of where the White Earth Dam was.

"They have [the dam] where Williston really is," Njos said.

The project, much to Njos's regret, will be his last due to the spreading of rheumatoid arthritis in his hands. Once he can't do iron work anymore, he said he wants to go back to painting, which he has not done much of in recent years, and more glass etching.

The one thing he can't do is stop.

"This is my passion," he said.