I cut my teeth at the National Wild Turkey Federation.
My first real job after college, I spent several years there as a graphic designer and illustrator, working on magazines, advertising and various print and web projects. It was a great place to work, and I made some of the most meaningful friendships of my life there.
NWTF headquarters had an incredible working environment. Not only were we working for a meaningful cause, but there was a passion for hunting and conservation that bled through the entire organization. We'd shoot bows at the range during lunch, train labs in the pond outside the office, and shoot all sorts of guns and video on the property. Even when I was in our graphics cave doing actual work, I got to work with turkey photos and content centered on hunting and conservation. Pretty sweet gig.
But the biggest thrill for me was to see behind the scenes into the NWTF Banquet Art Program. Art has been an important part of NWTF Hunting Heritage banquets since day one, well over 40 years ago. Artists from across the country submit their work to the NWTF, whose crew whittles down the entries to a select few pieces of art that they believe will resonate best with their membership. Once selected, the NWTF prints around 1,800 canvas or paper prints and brings the artist to headquarters to sign and number each one of them.
I remember walking down the hallway and seeing guys like Bruce Miller, Greg Alexander, James Hautman and Pat Pauley sitting at a table, signing and numbering their art. I always mustered the courage to introduce myself, compliment their work, and start up a conversation about deer hunting or art. They were great dudes, each of them willing to offer advice, and I even brought my paintings in for them to critique. I learned a lot from them, and to this day see their work as some of the best in the business.
Four years ago this spring, I launched out on my own as an artist and left NWTF headquarters in the rear view mirror. We still continue to work together, and now I have the honor and privilege of being an NWTF artist myself. This fall I spent two full days working through a stack of 1,800 canvas gicless of "Sons of Thunder" and the 2016 NWTF Stamp Print "A Place in the Sun II." Most people don't realize this, but from the first brushstroke on canvas to the moment an NWTF member places the winning bid at auction, every framed print is handcrafted by hard working Americans. My old buddy Jason Rikard prints the art at headquarters in Edgefield, SC, and together we sign off on the quality of each and every print off the press. The hard working fellas in the warehouse even cut and assemble the frames by hand before shipping them to Hunting Heritage banquets across the country. Those guys assemble quality frames so fast it'll make your head spin.
As we head into 2016, do me one favor: find your local NWTF Hunting Heritage Banquet and go to it. You'll have fun. You'll meet people in your community. You'll win stuff. You'll eat well. And you'll have the opportunity to put a well crafted piece of fine art on your wall. Most importantly, you'll ensure that your kids and grandkids will grow up to enjoy the same wild places that you and I have. And as you hang those two gobbling longbeards on the wall to share with friends and family, know that it took a tremendous amount of pride and craftsmanship to create. And it was created for you.