Rural Missouri - February 2013 - (Page 14)
O U T D O O R S
by Jason Jenkins
ike books on a library shelf, each scar on Dan
Brueggeman’s left hand tells a story. Select a
volume, and he can tell you the tale behind
each self-inﬂicted wound.
Such injuries are an occupational hazard. For
nearly 30 years, Dan’s earned a living by transforming ordinary blocks of wood into realistic carvings
depicting some of nature’s most intricate creatures.
His award-winning sculptures can be found in galleries and private collections across the country.
However, a career as an artist wasn’t what Dan
planned growing up on a farm in the Missouri River
bottoms near Chesterﬁeld. Enamored with the outdoors, he longed for a career in conservation. After
attending the University of Missouri, he trained to
become a conservation agent in 1977.
While he enjoyed his time as an agent, it wasn’t
long before he realized the job was not his true calling; he left the department in 1981.
Dan’s journey into the realm of ﬁne-art woodcarving began the next year when he and his wife,
Barb, took a trip to Silver Dollar City for the park’s
annual fall crafts festival.
“There was a good ol’ Cajun boy from down
south of New Orleans, and he was carving ducks,”
recalls the 59-year-old. “He had this wood duck carving, and it was gorgeous. I just fell in love with it.”
What Dan wasn’t in love with, however, was the
$900 price tag the Cajun had placed on his handiwork. It was a hefty price to pay for anything in
1982, especially for a 28-year-old.
“Barb told me, ‘If you like it so much, make your
own,’” he says. “So for Christmas that year, she got
me some knives and a book on how to carve, and
that got me started.”
Dan quickly realized a talent he didn’t know
was hidden inside him. Though his ﬁrst carving —
a blue-winged teal, its head crafted from a chunk
of 2-by-4 — was by no means “ﬁne art,” it was the
proof of concept Dan needed to embark on a new
career. Throughout 1983, he began carving on a
part-time basis and by 1984, he decided to devote
himself completely to his newfound passion.
During the remainder of the 1980s, Dan learned
the ins and outs of the art business. For a time, he
toured with Silver Dollar City’s traveling artisans
show. He discovered where the best art shows were
around the country and began developing clientele.
All the while, his carving technique continued to
evolve and improve.
Though ducks and waterfowl were Dan’s initial
muse for his carvings, the Three Rivers Electric
Cooperative member needs only to look out the
window of his studio to ﬁnd inspiration. Nestled
amongst 11 wooded acres in southern
Cole County, the carver is surrounded
by deer, turkey and songbirds of every feather. The yips and yaps of the
local coyote pack echo through the
trees on full-moon nights.
“There’s a lot of carvers who really specialize in things, but I guess I
get bored too easily,” says Dan, adding
that memories from childhood — such
as watching a covey of quail scoot along
in front of the tractor while cultivating
soybeans — also stoke his creative ﬁre. “I
like to do a little of everything.”
When carving creatures such
as these northern cardinals,
Dan tries to add intricate
details that help tell a story.
photo courtesy of Barb Brueggeman
Whether he’s using knives or rotary power tools, Dan Brueggeman of Henley brings life to his wood sculptures.
Henley woodcarver ﬁnds inspiration in his backyard
He says carvings of backyard birds
the details of every feather on a duck’s back or
such as cardinals and chickadees are
every scale on a smallmouth bass.
Dan carves mostly in tupelo. He says the
always popular. Because they are the
ofﬁcial state bird, bluebirds sell particuwood is moderately soft, and its tight,
indistinct grain provides a canvas that is
larly well in the Show-Me State.
consistent and ideal for highlighting
“And hummingbirds, I can’t carve
both individual details in the carving
hummingbirds fast enough,” Dan quips.
and subtle nuances of the vibrant col“If I have a hummingbird carving on the
ors he hand paints on each piece.
table at a show, it’s gone.”
Costs vary greatly for Dan’s work. A
Although producing sculptures that pay
carving of an individual songbird feather displayed
the bills is important, Dan is constantly expanding
in a shadow box retails for $100, whereas larger
his artistic horizon. He enjoys working on larger,
pieces fetch as much as $7,500.
complex pieces, especially those that impart the illuHundreds of ideas for carvings ﬂoat around in
sion of movement. Carving birds in ﬂight is a forte
Dan’s head awaiting the day when knife meets
for the artist. In the past, Dan has carved both a lifewood. One piece he’s committed to carving involves
sized red-tailed hawk with a 48-inch wingspan and a
a scene that occurred in his yard nearly 20 years ago.
pair of blue-winged teal, wings set as they prepare to
One day, he witnessed a woodcock narrowly evade
touch down in a marsh.
an attacking Cooper’s hawk. Just as the hawk ﬂexed
“When I ﬁrst started, a good friend who pubits talons to grab its prey, the woodcock burst from
lished an art magazine told me, ‘Whatever you do,
his perch and took ﬂight in the opposite direction.
tell a story with each piece,’” he says. “In the end,
The hawk banked and began his pursuit.
the goal is to make people forget that it’s wood.”
“That’s the moment I’m going to carve, with the
Eunice Wallar, owner of Waverly House Gifts and
hawk’s wings ﬂared as he turns in chase and the
Gallery in Springﬁeld, Mo., has carried Dan’s sculpleaves ﬂying as the woodcock takes off,” he says.
tures for many years. She says the realism found in
While it bears little resemblance to his work
his wildlife carvings sets him apart from others.
today, Dan’s ﬁrst carving still sits on a shelf in his
“Many sculptors try, but few capture the true
studio and serves as a reminder of how far he’s
spirit and gracefulness of the wildlife,” she says,
come. While he may now use power tools to impart
noting that one of Dan’s carvings — a Caroever-increasing detail in his carvings, he still enjoys
lina wren — can be found on her dining
picking up a knife and whittling an afternoon away.
room buffet. “Many folks can relate to his
“That’s the visceral, hands-on part of wood carvsubject matter, especially the songbirds.”
ing,” he says. “I still enjoy the feeling of drawing a
To achieve realistic detail in his work,
knife through the wood and making chips.”
Dan’s toolbox contains more than simple
carving knives. Rotary power tools
To learn more about Dan’s artwork, visit his website,
originally designed for the dental apwww.danbrueggeman.com, or call 573-353-1039.
pliance industry are ideal for carving
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - February 2013
Rural Missouri - February 2013
Table of Contents
A lasting tribute
Preparing for the worst
Out of the Way Eats
Our history with Missouri’s future leaders
Hearth and Home
The cowboy way of life
Rural Missouri - February 2013