Fishin' accomplishedIf you can’t catch ‘em, carve ‘em. It’s a motto that has served Gene Bremmer well.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
If you can’t catch ‘em, carve ‘em. It’s a motto that has served Gene Bremmer well.
It earned him “best in the world” status at the 2011 World Fish Carving Championships held in St. Charles, Missouri in May.
Bremmer, a hunter and former fisherman, started carving duck decoys about 25 years ago. Ducks held his interest for awhile, but he soon got bored sculpting feathers and bills and webbed feet.
“A duck decoy is a duck decoy is a duck decoy,” said the retired Parkers Prairie resident.
About six years ago, he tested the waters and jumped to carving fish instead.
“It grabbed my fancy for some reason. There are so many variations of fish,” he said. “I’ve always said that I can’t catch them, so I might as well carve them. That’s where my heart is now.”
Although trout are his favorite, Bremmer carves several species of fish, including northern, sunnies and walleye. Wood from butternut, black walnut and basswood comprise some of his carvings, but his media of choice are juniper and mesquite. Both woods are native to Texas and are harvested by a friend who lives in Colorado. Bremmer is so convinced of the quality and character traits of the wood that he travels all the way there to pick it up.
While first honing his craft, in 2005 Bremmer was encouraged by a fellow carver to attend the World Fish Carving Championship, which is held every other year in various locations. Seeing firsthand the magnificent carvings there, he was inspired to enter his own at the 2007 show in Reno, Nevada.
He skipped the novice level and entered two carvings in the intermediate level of the “natural finish” category for his unpainted wooden fish.
Each one reeled in a prize catch – one earned first place, the other second.
The accolades were all the bait he needed to create another carving for the 2009 World Fish Carving Championship in St. Charles, Missouri. This was a larger, intricate design using mesquite as the twisting base and juniper for the three fish perched upon it. This time he opted to enter his creation in the open category – the top level.
“I kinda got my hand slapped in that one. My mission was not accomplished,” Bremmer lamented. “I thought I had a good piece. The judges said the base was too beautiful, that it took away from the fish.”
Even so, the carving earned a third place award out of about 50 carvings in the top level of the natural finish category.
Disappointed with the result, Bremmer returned to the carving board. Over the next two years he worked on a piece for the 2011 show. Inspired by a carving he had seen of a bird flying out of two hands, Bremmer spent about 150 hours carving a piece he called “Catch and Release.”
The base of the sculpture is an abstract/impressionistic hand and forearm carved out of juniper. The hand is cupping a realistic fish, carved from black walnut, which is about to be released.
Once again, he entered his art in the open level natural finish category. He was competing against carvers from 48 states and 17 countries, including New Zealand, Sweden, Russia, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany and Australia.
This time, his fish mission was accomplished.
“Catch and Release” was awarded the “Best in the World” in the open level natural finish category. Bremmer was officially a world champion fish carver.
“It’s pretty exciting,” he said.
He realized just what a “big deal” it was when he was called onto the stage to receive his award. There he stood with top-notch carvers from all over the world whom he had always respected and admired.
“It was nice to be up there on that stage,” he said. “In past years you’ve seen those guys and to be one of them finally is pretty nice.”
Now that he’s netted the big prize, Bremmer is debating whether he will create another piece for the 2013 World Fish Championships or if he has other fish to fry.
“I’ve toyed around with doing some fish decoys,” he pondered. “I’m also thinking of bird carving – I might take a whack at that one.”
If his ascent to the top of the world in fish carving is any indication, his bird carving will likely be a soaring success.