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.
Besco 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.
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.
We’re excited to introduce something new at this year’s Rock Chalk Ball auction: handheld bidding! How many times have you wandered around the tables checking out all the unique items and placing your bids—only to lose out on something because you ran into friends and ended up chatting, or you got stuck in line at the bar and never made it back to the table to check your bid?
Enter handheld bidding.
Bid from your phone from anywhere, at anytime during the Ball. Create a watch list of your favorite items and receive an instant notification when you’ve won an item—or when you’ve been outbid. Plus, checkout is easy: no more waiting in long lines to pay for the item you purchased.
If you’re new to handheld bidding, don’t worry. We’ll have staff members in several areas of the auction space to assist you, and they’ll have iPads available to help you place a bid if you don’t have a smartphone.
This year’s auction features popular favorites and lots of unique new items, including an official ball from the 2015 World Series, spa packages, a year of dining and drinking from Kelly’s Westport Inn, notable art and plenty of KU spirit items. A current list of auction items is available here, and if you still haven’t purchased your Rock Chalk Ball tickets, don’t wait!
The popular Kansas City event, now in its 19th year, is officially sold out for the first time in history. One of the most-anticipated components of the black-tie event is the auction, where attendees have the opportunity to satisfy their shopping habit while supporting their favorite university.
Here’s a look at five unique items in this year’s auction:
1. Marching band bag
These unique tote bags are made from actual KU Marching Band uniforms! KU Bands has donated two bags, each of a different style. These bags are perfect for the Jayhawk who already has everything, and they’re a great conversation starter!
2. A year of pizza
Like pizza and beer? Who doesn’t. The winner of this auction can make a trip to Westport every month for an entire year to enjoy a large pizza from Joe’s Pizza and two pitchers of beer at Kelly’s. That’s twelve pizzas and 24 pitchers of beer, folks.
3. KU rocking horse
Our creative director, Susan Younger, isn’t the only artist in her family. This adorable wooden rocking horse, handcrafted by her husband, Jerry, will convince any toddler to be a Future Jayhawk.
4. Crimson and blue ceramic stilettos
Here’s another unusual addition for your KU collection—a pair of ceramic stilettos adorned with a Jayhawk theme. If only you could actually wear them…
5. Basketball boy/girl
No, you aren’t bidding on an actual child. Give your future Jayhawk the opportunity of a lifetime- the chance to be a ball boy or ball girl at a 2014-15 men’s basketball game!
These are just a few of the many fun items that will be auctioned off this Saturday at the Ball. The silent auction will take place during the cocktail hour. Stay tuned this week to read about more auction items, or check out the full list.
Bidders, take your mark, and don’t forget your wallet!