Local wildlife artist carves a different career path
Brown has instead made his living carving award-winning duck decoys for the past 39 years. And even though his hundreds of clients call him a professional, he’s the first to tell you it’s never felt like a job.
“Brownie,” as his college buddies still call him, grew up in Lincoln, never thinking the passion he held for hunting would shape his life’s ambition.
“When I first saw a classmate in law school carving a decoy, I thought it was something special,” he said, “and when I learned how much you could sell a good one for, I began dedicating a lot of time to it.” The 62-year-old Brown now spends his afternoons painting the feathers of a Mandarin drake and reading ornithology magazines instead of giving legal depositions.
And he’s pretty happy about that.
“Well, nowadays I wake up around 10 a.m. and start work around 2 in the afternoon,” Brown says with a smile. “There’s a little more freedom in this than most jobs.”
Brown travels around the country competing in worldwide competitions and collecting blue ribbons. On his frequent trips to Cabela’s, Brown sees decoys he’s carved over the years for large hunting companies that are now sold all over the world.
And the small handful he didn’t create belong to his best friends in the business.
“We’ll go on hunting trips together before the big shows,” Brown explained,, pointing to old photographs of trophy bucks and fellow carvers holding pull-tab Budweiser cans.
One of those friends, Fred Hoppe, taught Brown the basics of carving in a college cafeteria almost 40 years ago. When Hoppe, a Malcolm native, was commissioned to sculpt “Archie,” the 17-foot bronze mammoth in front of UNL’s Morrill Hall, he asked Brown to lend him a hand in molding the giant 5,000-pound statue.
Brown, who has always had a flexible schedule, obliged.
“Bill’s always been the guy you can rely on,” Hoppe said. “I guess he feels like he owes me something for those lessons I gave him a lifetime ago.”
Hoppe was commissioned to sculpt two more statues outside Memorial Stadium, the Husker Legacy Statue in 1997 and the Brook Berringer Statue in 2006.
Brown rearranged his busy schedule a few more times.
“The memories have probably been the best part,” Brown said. “The great friendships I’ve made with other artists in the industry are why I love to keep carving.”