Biographical Sketch

Biographical Sketch of Dan Burgette


In all art is dialog.  Artists tell stories.  They give the viewer information.  Just as reading a novel can open one’s mind to new insights about how the world works, looking at art can present new ways of seeing our world.

Looking at the stories Dan Burgette tells in his bird sculptures tells a lot about his personal story of being passionate about, and excited by, the natural world.  And it can provide openings into how to see the natural world in fresh ways.

Dan’s journey into sculpture perhaps started during childhood near New Haven, Indiana. He did the standard art classes in grade school, he asked for sculpting clay for his eighth birthday and he tried wood carving.  But his sister was the one to major in art in college.  Along the way, he focused on the natural world.  Fishing and hunting, roaming the fields and forests and bee keeping kept him observing nature.

When it came time for college, he went to Purdue University and majored in Conservation.  That major was a cross between Forestry and Wildlife Management.  That suited him fine because he was a generalist and thought that being a good naturalist that knew about a wide range of the natural world was the ideal.

During college, he was active in the Purdue Outing Club and learned to enjoy hiking and rock climbing.  A trip west resulted in the Grand Teton being the first mountain he climbed.  That was the start of a path that resulted in his being emotionally attached to the Teton Range and the web of life that covers its hills.

After spending two years working on a community development team in the jungles of Bolivia, he returned to Purdue for a Master’s degree in Conservation.  There were a number of things he didn’t get in undergraduate studies that he was curious about, especially aquatics and botany.

During an Outing Club trip to Canyonlands National Park, he met a ranger that had just transferred from the Everglades.  In talking to him, it was clear that during a Park Service career, one could live in the mountains, in the swamps, along the ocean, in the desert or in Alaska.  That was attractive and fit his educational background.  After seasonal jobs at Devils Tower, Craters of the Moon and Grand Teton parks, he got his first permanent job at George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, IN.

Part of his duties there was to dress like a frontiersman, sit under a tree whittling, and talk to the tourists about George’s role in the Revolutionary War.  His new supervisor arrived from Redwood N.P., and his wife had a redwood duck decoy that had been carved with a chainsaw.  Thinking that it would be neat to have a duck decoy, he went in to the woods, cut a section off of a tulip poplar branch, and carved his first decoy with his tomahawk while he talked about George.

He didn’t really know what a duck looked like, and he didn’t know about reference materials, so that bird was pretty crude.  But the fire was lit.  His wife got him some       X-acto knives, and he was on his way.  Painting was another thing.  When his sister saw his first effort, she knew he needed help.  When she saw his second effort, she thought that she didn’t need to worry.

A transfer to Grand Teton N.P. led to meeting a woman whose parents sold bird carving supplies in Pennsylvania.  Through them, he learned about the Ward World Wildfowl Carving Championships in Ocean City, MD.  After attending that show, and competing at the Novice level, his eyes were opened to what the top wildfowl artists were doing.  He bought books, attended seminars and talked with other artists.  He sought critiques from judges and local artists in Wyoming and over the years improved his skills.

Since he started working with birds, as he progressed in his art career he stayed  primarily with birds as subject matter.  And as he studied and learned more about birds, he became more fascinated by them.  He attended the World Show every couple of years, and worked his way up to the Open Class.  He wasn’t winning top ribbons, but the Honorable Mentions he received, and more importantly the feedback he received from other artists, led him to continue to push his carving and painting skills.  He also looked at design and composition as an area that was a weakness for many carvers.

In the late 1990’s, an important event was seeing a World Class interpretive bobwhite quail piece done by Dave and Mary Arendt.  The flow, implied motion and power of the piece caused him to want to try interpretives.

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