FARGO — The sanctuary for Tom Herzog is a small room with a portable heater and an endless potential for imagination. With small windows facing Edgewood golf course in north Fargo, it’s nicely tucked away with the only access from his house a short walk through the garage.
It’s his painting studio.
It’s where the retired physician has finished artwork that now presumably hangs prominently in the homes of parents of some former North Dakota State football players. It’s where he figures out the signature pose or running style of a particular player and nails it.
Take a painting he did of Bison assistant coach Tyler Roehl, when Roehl played for the Bison from 2004-08. It’s of a particular moment when Roehl was running away from a University of Minnesota defensive player in the 2007 game at the Metrodome.
It was one moment in time during Roehl’s school-record 263 yards rushing in NDSU’s 27-21 win over the Gophers. The painting went for $750 at a recent benefit for Marilyn Roehl, Tyler’s mother who is recovering from a seizure, the result of a diabetic hypoglycemic reaction.
“A lot of retired guys are bored, but I’m not,” Herzog said. “I actually enjoy winter when I get to do more painting. I can come out here, put on a movie or listen to music and I can spend the whole day out here.”
The individual who bought the Roehl piece gave it to the Roehl family and asked Herzog to paint another one, which is in the finishing stages. The first one now sits in the sports memorabilia section of Tyler Roehl’s basement.
“That’s something I cherish, although I really didn’t know if my wife would want another NDSU-Tyler-Roehl-something in our basement but it’s done that well,” Tyler Roehl said. “It’s a centerpiece. For someone to do that and take the time and want to do those things is pretty cool.”
It’s debatable which run against the Gophers is depicted, but all parties agree it’s most likely either the 77-run for a touchdown from a backward pass from quarterback Steve Walker or a 68-yard run at the end of the first half that led to a Bison field goal and a halftime lead.
“Those moments are really good moments and to see that recreated in a painting that is done really well is awesome,” Roehl said. “Just the generosity of wanting to give back to the program, the university, the community knowing how much that stuff means to people associated with NDSU because the person who bought it didn’t have to give it to me.”
A 1971 graduate of Cooperstown High School (N.D.), and a 1975 graduate of NDSU, Herzog’s paintings of Bison players started in January of 2016 with a benefit for Paul Morlock, the late father of former NDSU running back Chase Morlock. With a grandchild due around then, Herzog and his wife Julie stayed home from the FCS national title game against Jacksonville State (Ala.) and Tom got the idea to do something for the Morlocks.
He primarily does the paintings to give to parents after the player graduates. He’s careful about timing since giving it to them before they’re done playing would be an NCAA violation. And the poses?
He’s in the process of working on a couple of current players that help warm the days of the current cold snap in the Upper Midwest. All mediums are in play: oil, acrylic, pencil or watercolor.
All styles are in play. A painting of former Bison safety Robbie Grimsley is black and white with a hint of Andy Warhol. The background of some paintings carry a LeRoy Nieman-esque feel, like the one of Morlock and former running back Bruce Anderson. An autographed painting of Carson Wentz went for big money in another benefit.
There’s one of former linebacker Nick DeLuca, perfectly displaying a 6-foot-3, 248-pound linebacker with speed about to tackle an opponent.
All of those are action. Herzog went another way when he did a painting of former Bison safety Tre Dempsey. Knowing Dempsey was the son of a pastor, Leo Dempsey, and routinely would kneel to the Fargodome south end zone fans before games like a lot of players do, his piece with Tre was one of him kneeling and his head down in prayer.
“I went through a number of photos with him and just thought, this really says it all,” Herzog said. “Leo was just overwhelmed.”
That is true, Leo Dempsey said this week. He met Herzog at a local restaurant for breakfast, with the only caveat Herzog saying he had something for the Dempsey family. Leo had no idea it was a painting of his son.
“I was like, wow, what do I owe you, a million dollars?” Leo said. “He said it’s free. I said, 'Free?'”
Leo appreciated the prayer pose, certainly.
“That to me was part of the bigger picture,” he said.
Herzog has portrayed many other sports local sports figures like Roger Maris and Rick Helling. His “Hockey in the Heartland” sketch raised over $15,000 for Fargo Youth Hockey in the late 1990s. The number of Bison football players is now 12, and will continue to grow.
There was a time in his professional life that Herzog used painting to help relieve the grind of being a physician.
Now it’s just about being an artist.
“You don’t realize how much stress you’re under until you’re away from it,” Herzog said. “And then you do realize it. It’s easier to paint, not rushing things. It’s different now. I’m more relaxed and it’s probably more enjoyable.”