DOUBLE LIVES: Art of two kinds

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For some, dentistry and painting may sound like two things that have nothing in common. But for Dean Anderson, an Alexandria dentist who paints in his spare time, they're both a form of art.

"Dentistry is really art," Anderson said. "I like seeing smiles and knowing what makes a good smile and seeing shapes and how it all fits together."

Anderson says his path to becoming a dentist might seem a little unusual.

"I had a good friend in ninth grade that said ... 'What should we do with our lives?'" Anderson recalled. "I didn't have any ideas. ... Two or three weeks later he came with a dental school catalog and said, 'What do you think of this?' I thought, 'Yeah, that looks good, that would be perfect.' So I headed for dentistry right from there."

Anderson attended Wheaton College in Illinois, and then attended dental school at the University of Minnesota. After graduating, he landed a job working for a dentist in Willmar. However, it didn't go quite as planned.

"I was there about two days and then he (the dentist) went on vacation," Anderson said. I worked about two weeks without him there, and during that time I asked lots of questions. Then he came back and got the report from his staff that I didn't know what I was doing, and he said, 'Well, I don't think this is going to work out,' so he fired me."

After being fired, Anderson attempted to join the Air Force but was turned away. It was then that Anderson's uncle connected him with dentist Tom Johnson of Alexandria. Johnson had two offices, one in Alexandria and another in Evansville, and he and Anderson took turns working between the two.

Anderson has remained in Alexandria ever since, and now runs Dean Anderson Dentistry.

"I just feel like God has had his hand in getting me here, not ending up in the Air Force, everything," Anderson said. "This has been just a great place to raise kids and wonderful in so many ways."

Though Anderson knew early on that he wanted to be a dentist, it wasn't until a few years ago that he discovered his passion for painting.

While living in Willmar, Anderson had met an artist named Myron Sahlberg. When Anderson moved to Alexandria, the two lost touch. Then Sahlberg was hired as an art teacher at Alexandria Technical and Community College and the two were reconnected. Anderson's wife had taken art classes through the college, and convinced him to do the same.

"I decided to take it and got to drawing and I liked it," Anderson said. "I took about four or five art courses with Myron. It started with drawing and some oil painting. Then he started teaching more in painting, specifically portraits."

It was there that Anderson found his niche.

"It was amazing to see the likeness you could get," Anderson said. "To know what you're looking for and see shadows. Myron was a great instructor in what to look for and how to see. Painting and drawing is about seeing. It really has to do with seeing the colors and the darks and lights and identifying them accurately."

Though Anderson paints mostly for enjoyment, he has had one commissioned piece. Some of his artwork is also hung in his dentistry practice.

While he enjoys painting, he says it also takes a lot of focus.

"I wouldn't say it's relaxing," he said. "I feel really drained when I'm done. It really takes some energy and concentration, but it's really satisfying."

Anderson stresses that anyone who has an interest in art can learn to be an artist with some time and patience.

"You can figure it out, and certainly some people are better at it than others," he said. "But drawing and seeing like that is really something that can be learned. I would say almost anybody with some persistence and interest can learn it."

Editor's note: Double Lives of Douglas County will be an occasional feature in the Echo Press, profiling people who have a hobby or second-calling that may seem an odd fit with their everyday lives. To suggest a possible subject, email jbeach@echopress.