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‘Primal’ art paves way for small student business – The Antelope

By GRACE MCDONALD

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Will Keller brings the skulls back to life with sculptures, barbed wire, paint and gunpowder. His canvases are grizzly bears, long-horned cattle, bighorn sheep, moose, pronghorns, deer, foxes and coyotes.

He calls his business Wolverine Workbench, where he turns the dead into decorative pieces.

“If you think of the Stone Age, people would take animal bones and parts, and they would make just about anything out of them,” Keller said. “I was kind of going back in time and seeing if I could do something like this.”

Keller studies visual communication and design at UNK.

In 2021, the 32-year-old entrepreneur turned to eBay or Craigslist to ethically source animal skulls. Now he goes to school auctions, elk festivals and Oklahoma businesses. Sometimes his search for materials takes him to Wyoming, Montana, Utah or Idaho.

The skulls come in various sizes and conditions, but he takes care to clean up the fur and fluids left behind.

After sanding down the bones, he dips them in tubs of water and paint to create patterns or wraps barbed wire around the horns or ignites gunpowder for a darkened effect. He even used antlers to make a coat rack, gun racks and a small lamp.

Keller said many of his designs appeal to video game or nature fanatics.

“I am a hunter. I am a bow archer. I’m an outdoorsman,” Keller said. “But I am also a player. I love tinkering and designing — I don’t know how to put it — primitive stuff.

Before starting her business, Keller completed two master’s degrees at the UN – one in criminal justice and criminology and another in political science and domestic/foreign policy. While fleshing out his doctorate, he worked for a private probation company in Omaha for a year. But the work did not satisfy Keller’s thirst for creativity.

“It was just a factory,” Keller said. “People were robots. If you had a good idea, they really wouldn’t let you go.

It was during COVID-19 that he rediscovered his true passion for the fine arts.

“I was home one day and started drawing because I was doing it in high school,” Keller said. “We were locked in, and I was like I’d rather do this full time. That’s when I quit my job and started doing this.

Now a semester after graduating from UNK, he designs posters, covers for electronics, apparel, stickers, coffee mugs, mugs, and other things for the Wolverine Workbench. Besides the bone trade, he works part-time as an assistant medical technician in a private medical practice in Hastings.

Customers may contact Keller by emailing [email protected] He then communicates with them to develop custom parts.

“For a lot of my clients, when I’m doing skull work for them, I usually save my concepts for other things, and if I have a spare moment, I’ll just revise it,” Keller said. “So if a customer came back or someone else came in, they might say, ‘Oh, look at that. It is a new and improved model or a kind of refined model.

As he pursues art, Keller wants to focus on Wolverine Workbench and a medieval comic book he’s designing. He plans to bring beauty to the macabre by following his artistic passion and finishing his design degree.

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