If you are a hunter, chances are that you have had at least one animal mounted to remind you of a special hunt. I personally have quite a few duck mounts and deer heads decorating my house (my wife really is a huge fan of them, wink wink). The one thing I do not have but find to be absolutely beautiful is any skull art or antler art. Carvings on skulls and antlers date back thousands of years but are pretty rare to find in today’s society.
While browsing the infinite world of the internet, I discovered two gentlemen who have mastered and still practice the lost art of skull and antler carving. We would like to thank each of them for sharing their stories and pictures of their beautiful masterpieces. It’s my pleasure to introduce Robert Nichols and Buddy Donaldson.
The Master Carver of Skulls – Robert Nichols
My name is Robert Nichols and I live in a small town in Oklahoma, south of Oklahoma City. I’m the proud father of two amazing young men and have been married to the love of my live for 23 years! I am an engraver/carver of skulls, antlers, and gunstocks.
In 2013, I started looked into having a buffalo skull carved as a memorial piece for my mom who had recently passed away. I reached out to a well known carver in the Dallas/Fort Worth area to see what it might cost me. After discussing what I wanted to do, he quoted me a price and I soon realized that I would not be able to have the skull carving done due to finances.
Several months had passed and, while snowed in for a few days, my wife Cindi encouraged me to give it a try. Very reluctantly, I grabbed my Dremel and bits, pulled out an old shed antler, and gave it a shot. I decided to try a fairly simple design and after a few hours it actually looked ok! After my initial success, I ended up doing a whitetail shed and an elk shed that I had laying around for a few years. I WAS HOOKED!
After only a couple weeks of trying to learn on my own and posting some pictures on social media, I actually had people asking me to do projects for them! I was shocked and amazed, but loving every minute of it. I used these new projects to experiment with different dremel bits, ideas, and ways of doing things. I quickly realized what type of stuff I liked doing and what my “niche” was going to be.
My inspiration came from saddle work, leatherworking and gun engraving scrollwork that I have seen in the past. I tried creating and implementing similar patterns and luckily for me, they just seemed to flow very nicely onto the skulls. One of the last pieces to the puzzle for my creations was to figure out the proper way to stain them my finished carvings. After a little trial and error, I figured it out and it all seemed to come together!
Commissioned work started to come in on a regular basis. This was awesome, but one thing I have always struggled with was coming up with the best price for my work. I feel like somewhat of a novice at this craft and find it hard to charge what others are charging. I have always felt that I wanted to be cheaper than the typical shoulder mount. This would give people a second yet still beautiful, unique and less expensive option.
To date, I’m not exactly sure how many pieces I have done honestly, but the pride I get from someone choosing me to enhance their trophy is priceless to me! Unfortunately I have run into some health issues this past year, and haven’t been able to do much with this hobby. And with every passing day, I feel more detached from my work. Hopefully soon I will be able to get back into it.
Additional skull carvings of Robert Nichols
Click on image(s) for full size version.
We at shootingtime.com hope that you get back to this hobby as soon as you heal up! Your work is beautiful and should be enjoyed by many more people….. by the way, you’re pretty damn good and should charge what others are charging regardless of what a shoulder mount costs (unless we want work done, then we want a discount! lol). If you would like work done by Robert Nichols send him an email by clicking here email@example.com.
Now let’s look at a talented guy who tackles some of the big game antlers and horns from out West, Buddy Donaldson.
The Surgeon with a Dremel – Buddy Donaldson
I was a medical flight nurse for over 15 years, and was on my way to Alaska for my first flight nurse job in Anchorage, when I saw an advertisement in the back of the Alaska highway magazine for a sheep horn carving. I was amazed and thought they were beautiful, but they were way out of my budget, so after a lot of coveting and dreaming, I decided to try my hand at carving, and that is how I got started.
That was back in 1989. I have been carving ever since, and have done a lot of bartering for hunting opportunities as well as carve for horn and antler to have things to continue to carve. I consider sheep horn my favorite material to carve, but have carved nearly every type of antler and horn I can get my hands on, as well as numerous types of wood.
Nearly all of my work is custom, because I want my clients to get exactly what they want. As I hope you notice, my focus and specialty is detail. Every carver has their own style but early on, I set my sites on one of the best carvers in Alaska named Tom Cooper from around Soldotna, and he does beautiful detail. I later met and became friends with Tom which was an honor. Tom has made his living for as long as I’ve known doing carvings.
I have been an avid hunter since my youth, and as you might guess, ending up in Alaska was no accident. I lived and worked in Alaska for only about 3 years, but have been back numerous times since, and still love Alaska. Although I probably average around 8 to 10 carvings a year, I have plans to carve full time when I quit doing nursing in about 2 and 1/2 years. I live in the beautiful White Mountains of Arizona at about 8,000 feet elevation, and have elk around me 365 days a year, as well as mule deer, antelope, and occasional bighorn sheep. If you would like to find out more about me and my work, visit my website at http://azcallofthewild.blogspot.com/.
Additional antler art by Buddy Donaldson
Click on the images for the full size version.