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David J. Hetland

David J. Hetland, 58, died Sunday, April 16, 2006, at his home in Fargo, N.D., after attending Easter worship with his wife and daughter.

Hetland was a renowned liturgical artist whose work is displayed throughout the United States and abroad. His mosaics and stained glass constructions - beginning with assisting his mentor, the late Cyrus Running, as a student in the late 1960s - interpret the glory of God and His promise to humankind for worshipers in dozens of churches across the Upper Midwest.

He is perhaps best known for creating the mammoth murals for the Concordia College Christmas Concerts. David spoke in the visual language of inspiration and hope for 40 years, beginning in 1965 as a student at the college, then, since 1978, as designer of the unique, Biblically inspired backdrops.

Last Christmas's mural "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" topped them all at a gargantuan 168-feet wide by 20-feet tall. The dramatic, colorful backdrop was shared with Americans from coast to coast when the concert was broadcast by national public television. He wrote a book of recollections "On Our Way Rejoicing" in 1999 to celebrate 75 years of the concerts.

David was drawn to architectural-scale art in part because, he said, he couldn't do them alone. He enjoyed involving others in the process of bringing his ideas to life. In the case of the Christmas concert murals, dozens of volunteers stepped forward to help paint the canvases, magnifying the original designs to epic size, becoming part of the process that was truly his labor of love for more than half of his life. More than 20,000 people annually saw his murals at concerts in Concordia's Memorial Auditorium and Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

He believed liturgical art enhances worship, interpreting the wonder and struggles of faith in a visual vocabulary of color, light, symbol and story-telling illustration. "Not all of us are verbal people," he said. "Not all of us get everything we need to know out of the sermon on Sunday morning. That's why the stained glass and the sculpture and the architecture of our worship spaces are important. The artist acts as an interpreter of concepts that are difficult. We're asked to deal with issues of faith and grace and forgiveness, so I took it upon myself to learn how I could help communicate those things. Christ had the same problem in his journey, and what he did was resort to parables. I call the work that I do visual parables."

David was born October 21, 1947 in Fargo, N.D., to James and Marilyn Hetland. He graduated from Grand Forks Central High School in 1965 and earned a Bachelor of Art degree from Concordia College in 1969. He married Mary Shjeflo in 1971 at Bismarck, N.D. His daughter, Kristen, was born in 1978.

David's career bridged the distance between commercial and fine art. He worked in advertising, film and printing in Fargo-Moorhead until 1974 when he was named director of Concordia's Office of Communications. In 1979, he founded his own advertising agency and design firm, Hetland Ltd., which produced advertising and public relations materials for a variety of educational, commercial and public-spirited organizations. He accepted commissions for stained glass, mosaic and sculptural art for churches and other public spaces. Since 1982, he also served Concordia as director of special projects, designing art for architectural spaces and campus events.

Concordia recognized his artistic contributions with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1994, and with its highest honor, the Alumni Achievement Award, in 2000.

He received several awards in the fields of advertising and design. He was named Fargo-Moorhead Advertising Person of the Year in 1976 by the F-M Advertising Federation and earned a national Addy Award from the American Advertising Federation in 1980. His design for the state of North Dakota won first prize in the Franklin Mint's bicentennial medallion competition in 1975. In 2004 he received Ministry & Liturgy Magazine's Bene Award for setting high artistic standards for the use of liturgical art based on the Christmas murals.

Hetland received many prestigious commissions. In 1994 he created three mosaic panels of the Jerusalem Cross for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for presentation to Pope John Paul II in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury in London and the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Istanbul. In 1978 he created a one-and-a-half ton mosaic for the national convention of the American Lutheran Church held at Concordia. Titled "All Things Made Whole," it now graces the Grant Center on the Concordia campus. Another large mosaic titled "Inquiry," was dedicated in 1981 in the Carl B. Ylvisaker Library there.

David had grappled with serious illnesses for the past ten years, including primary pulmonary hypertension and cancer. Volunteers who helped paint the most recent Christmas concert canvases said his work became more intense, complex and vivid after his cancer treatment, and seemed to glow with a radiant, luminous beauty from within the art.

David is survived by his wife Mary (Shjeflo) and daughter, Kristen, both of Fargo; moter Marilyn, and brother Steve, niece Allison and nephew Michael, all of Grand Forks; sister Karen, Richmond, Va.; and mother-in-law Astrid Shjeflo and brother-in-law Robert Shjeflo, both of Bismarck. He was preceded in death by father James, brother Mark, and father-in-law Jelmer Shjeflo.

His memorial service is 2 p.m., Friday, April 21 at Olivet Lutheran
Church, Fargo.

Condolences may be sent online westfuneralhome.com

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