Rock Chalk Carving

Posted on Mar 28, 2017 in Alumni News and News

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Chainsaw-carved Jayhawks delight alumni

For two weeks each September at the Kansas State Fair, dozens of Jayhawks stand silent on the midway, ready to meet their fans. The state’s annual celebration in Hutchinson is where artist Dan Besco first introduced Kansans to his wonderful and whimsical birds. His chainsaw-carved Jayhawks, each with its own unique personality, delight alumni and adorn lawns throughout the Kansas City area and across the state.

Besco’s Jayhawks will be featured at the Rock Chalk Ball April 29 at the Overland Park Convention Center, where he will carve a 4- to 5-foot Jayhawk on the patio during the reception. The bird will be included in the live auction, and the piece can be customized with the buyer‘s name or initials. Smaller Jayhawks used for centerpieces also will be available for purchase.

A true passion

Of course, not every Kansan is a Jayhawk fan, as Besco learned one year during the state fair. One morning following a concert at the grandstand, a Kansas highway patrolman showed up to take a report on “the assault.” It took Dan a minute to realize that K-State fans had knocked over his 5-foot Jayhawk the previous night. “There were plenty of witnesses,” the officer chuckled, gesturing to several dozen wooden Jayhawk statues, “but none of them are talking.”

Besco says he does get considerable harassment from other schools who don’t like KU, but carving the Jayhawk is his true passion. A self-taught artist, he first learned to carve a bear. “It was terrible,” he says. “It was more like a bear-dog-pig, and I didn’t enjoy it at all.” He liked carving, but the bear didn’t interest him, and he didn’t think it would sell. “After all, who wants to buy a bear in Kansas? We don’t have bears in Kansas,” he says. Besco has always been a KU fan, so he decided to focus on the Jayhawk. He carved his first one in 1995, and he hasn’t stopped yet.

Quality and endurance

The sculptor says he is one of few carvers who use standing dried timber from Colorado. Other sculptors use green wood to carve, but that’s a poor investment because the wood will dry and crack unpredictably, and new cracks can ruin a piece, Besco says. Because quality and endurance are important to him (and a Jayhawk should be tough), he purchases wood that has died naturally yet is still standing in forests. To keep up with demand, he rents a truck and drives to Colorado several times a year to haul logs to ensure that the wood he uses is stable. Existing cracks in the wood, which add charm to the piece, won’t further crack or warp, he says.

img_besco_historical-birdsBesco hews his birds from memory and can finish a carving in about two hours, then he trades his chainsaw for a blowtorch, burning the sculpture to smooth rough edges, waterproof the wood and add a deeper base for the stain, giving it an “antiqued” look. His Jayhawk renditions include a basketball-playing bird that attaches to an SUV and a long plank featuring all of the historical ’Hawks. His appearance at the Rock Chalk Ball will be one of the few times he has turned his talent into “performance art,” carving a sculpture from a tree stump for a live audience.

—Susan Younger

Watch the video to see Besco in action:

 

To see more of Besco’s work, visit www.kansaw.com. His KU work is officially licensed, and a portion of his sales support the University.

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