In memory of Devon Kurzhals

Whitetail buck to be beaded in Devon's honor.

This is not a large whitetail buck. However, he is a VERY important one. Not to just one person but to an entire family. And the most important beaded skull art piece I have ever had the privilege of creating.

Whitetail buck to be beaded in Devon's honor.

This buck is in memory of Devon Kurzhals. He was a very loved young man who was taken from this world too soon. His father and he were especially close hunting and fishing buddies. And this is the last deer Devon took on his grandparents’ property.

Only once before have I named a beaded skull art piece before I started working with it. But this is the first time one has been named before I had even held it. Before getting Devon’s buck from his father my husband and I were talking about Devon’s story and his family. And my husband thought of a name that made us both tear up. However, this is such a special situation I wanted to make sure his family would approve. When we met David, we asked what he thought of the name and I will never forget his smile.

This is “Devon’s Legacy”.

Getting started

To get started, as with every skull I work with Devon’s buck got a bath. However, there was just a bit of debris in some deep crevices. David did a great job taking good care of him.

He had lost a couple of teeth but David found some replacements in the “treasures” he keeps and glued them in before I got him. Nice job David!

There was very little to clean on the outside of his teeth. So it only took an hour or so to pick the debris out.

Devon's whitetail deer teeth before cleaning.
Before cleaning
Devon's whitetail deer's teeth after cleaning.
After cleaning

Ready to start the clay process!

Clay Work Process

Clay work is coming along nicely. I was happy the small bones in front were just loose and not missing. Therefore they secured in place very well.

Devon's deer before the clay process.
Before beginning the clay process.
Devon's whitetail buck after clay is finished on the right side.
After left side clay work.

The left side is finished save a few spots I will blend in as I work with the right. In this case it was necessary to use some clay below the antler base as there was a bit of cracking. And so I’ll do the same on the right side.

Finished with clay on the left side of this whitetail deer.
Left side clay finished.
Clay work started on the ight side of deer skull.
Right side started.

The cartilage in the eye sockets is always cracked as it is very delicate. Therefore it breaks easily meaning more clay work. However, Devon’s Legacy is gladly cooperating and nothing has broken. Strong young buck.

I’ll post more images when the clay process is complete.

Clay Update

Finished with clay! Well, almost. The center needs to be fitted to the focal bead when it arrives. I have already started “flattening” the area so it shouldn’t take much to complete.

I painted the inside cavities before finishing the underside clay. So, while waiting for the that to dry I worked on the antlers. To address the discoloration, since they were on the whiter side, I had originally thought to simply give them a white-wash. I started that process; however, it didn’t take long to change my mind. It would have taken more white than I liked to cover some blemishes and I kept thinking of the chosen color scheme. This was not going to work. So, I washed the white-wash off.

After Devon’s Legacy and I sat together for a while, I decided to start with a light tan and medium brown. That was better but still not quite right. So, I added a bit of deep brown and that was the ticket. Now his antlers will blend just right with the color scheme.

Next up, paint! Although I won’t be able to finish until final claying is done for the focal bead. But I can get started.

Whitetail buck beaded skull art piece; clay finished, antlers painted.
Clay finished and antlers painted

Final Clay/Paint/Focal Bead

So grateful the beads arrived with only a couple of days delay compared to “normal times”!

With the focal bead in hand I finished the clay work and painting as quickly as possible. Though still taking enough time to allow everything to dry properly.

Ready to start designing this layout!

Whitetail deer skull ready to begin the beading process.
Ready to start beading!

Bead Design

Before the beads arrived, I had several thoughts in my head for this design. But from experience I know things change depending on so many factors including the skulls’ dimensions, the size and shape of the focal and other beads selected and, most importantly the FEEL of the project.

I was so excited when they arrived because this color scheme is amazing! I started by laying them out side by side in different successions against the beautiful focal bead. And I found three colors I loved the balance of with it. Perfection!

Then I tried all kinds of layouts I’d had in my head before getting them. Why, I have no idea because in the end I came right back to the way I’d laid them out when I first got them. This is definitely a “heart” over “head” project! I’m listening now, Devon! Moving on to laying out the design on the skull. Doing this helps me envision how it sits on the skull and where other beads will fit in. And then the exciting part of this beaded skull art piece…the beading begins!

Initial bead layout
Initial bead layout

Beading Process

In this first image you can see how I start this process by placing the beads for the main design layout onto a temporary “pattern” on the skull. I don’t attempt to add all the beads here, just enough for me to get an idea how they will sit and where other beads will fit in according to their shape, size and/or color. Because it is a very rough visual representation of the design at this stage, it is difficult for others to see where I’m going with it. But in my mind, I see much more. Sometimes I have to put more beads on than other times to get the “vision” I need. This time it didn’t take much.

Main beaded skull art piece design layout.
Main bead design layout.

I was going to show an image of Devon’s deer with the design just to the point of the first image but changed my mind. I really wanted Devon’s family to see the main design as I “saw” it in my mind. The only thing that changed was I moved the line of tiny dark blue beads to the other side of the skull.

I still have a bit to do on the main design on the back and sides of the skull, though it wouldn’t be visible at this angle anyway. Then it’s on to all the details, which is the time-consuming part. So, Devon’s family, this is going to take a while. Please know I’ll be working diligently to get this precious skull back to you as quickly as possible. I’ll let you know just as soon as Devon’s Legacy is finished.

Beaded skull art initial design.
Initial main bead bead design for Devon’s Legacy is complete.

“Devon’s Legacy” is complete!

“Devon’s Legacy” is finally complete! And my husband and I had the great pleasure of delivery him safely back to David, Devon’s dad and Grandma Jean (Devon’s paternal grandmother).

Before saying anything else I want to say how much I appreciated the opportunity to meet in person Grandma Jean, who came wearing her signature turquoise. Love it! I SO wanted to hug her, but in the current circumstances that contact had to unfortunately be restrained. However, I got to see her face and smile and feel her energy and love for Devon. So thankful we met, Grandma Jean! Maybe we’ll still get to hug one day.

Devon's Grandma Jean and dad, David with "Devon's Legacy".
Grandma Jean and dad, David with “Devon’s Legacy”.

The image here does not do “Devon’s Legacy” justice and I am excited that professional photos by Byran Bosch (find him on Facebook at ) are on the way! Because of Devon’s and his family’s love of the outdoors, I had these photos taken outdoors in a woodland setting. As soon as I am able, I will create a page on my gallery with many of the images displayed here in the “The Making of Devon’s Legacy” section as well as the professional photos.

And that would normally be the end of this story…happy clients, happy life, right? But it was not the end for me.

Leesa with Devon's dad, David and "Devon's Legacy"
Leesa with David and “Devon’s Legacy”.

As we drove home after delivery “Devon’s Legacy” to his family the thought struck me that I would never see that deer again. My eyes suddenly welled up and startled, I shook off the thought. I’ve never had that thought or that feeling of sad separation before with any of my artwork. Later that evening it returned to me and I allowed the thought and feelings to linger. As a lump formed in my throat and tears came to my eyes something very profound struck me. It was not about the deer. It was about Devon. Whatever loss I felt, the small tears that I shed were but a literal drop in the bucket to the monsoon of tears this family has shed and the life constricting emotions they have felt for the loss of Devon.

Dear Devon’s family, I pray this small piece of Devon’s life, that you have given a “new life” to brings happy memories to you all for many, many years to come. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your and Devon’s journey here, and beyond.

Beaded Skull art piece, "Devon's Legacy".
“Devon’s Legacy” completed.

The Autumn Leaves Story

Couple enjoying an autumn stroll

Believe it or not, some people think beaded skulls are a morbid or grotesque concept and cannot image why anyone would want such a thing in their house. However, all creation has beauty even after the life cycle ends. This Autumn Leaves story attempts to convey the perspective of the beauty and untamed elegance of beaded skulls. Enjoy!

Couple enjoying an autumn stroll

It was a sunny, crisp autumn day in a small town in West Michigan. Mary walks out back to her husbands’ work garage leaving his favorite dinner, beef roast and red-skin potatoes to finish cooking. On the way the smells of the root beer scented sassafras leaves and a wood stove burning in the distance enhance her desire for a walk along the nearby nature trail. But not without her hardworking, yet stubborn-as-a-mule husband, Jim. She finds him working in the garage on the old car he found rusting away beside a barn. “Come on Jim, Honey, let’s take a walk toward the shore before dinner and watch the sunset over Lake Michigan.”

“I’m a little busy Mary, hey could you pass me that C-clamp while your here?”

“C-clamp?” She looked around at all the tools lying on the workbench and hanging neatly on the walls below his priced hunting mounts. “I haven’t a clue what a C-clamp is, Jim. Why do you spend so much time on this old rust bucket anyway? And surrounded by all these dead heads? It’s depressing out here and that car will never be what it once was.”

Jim stood up from bending over the engine, “Rust bucket?! Come on, Mary, Nellie here sat out in the elements for years to get that color. Mother Nature did that. It’s called patina. When I’m finished with her, she’ll run like a charm. And geez! Dead heads? Their called European and skull mounts. Have a little respect, will ya? You see them as dead; I see them as memories. It’s all a matter of perspective, Mary. Nellie may never be what she once was but I don’t want her to be. She’s already lived a full life, just like these bucks. I just want to give her, and them a second chance to show off their glory, just in a different way. And savor the memories they bring. You’re pretty pessimistic about the stuff I care about.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Umm…okay, but you know the stuff you say you care about is junk and dead, right?” Before he could answer she finished, “You can come back to your rust bucket and dead heads after our walk and dinner. I’m making your favorite meal; you can come for a walk with me.”

Jim sighed, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders irritably he put away his tools, giving in though resentfully. They walked to the end of the cul-de-sac taking the path toward the lake. Mary walked with a spring in her step enjoying the colors of the autumn leaves and brisk breeze but she was fully aware of Jim sulking beside her, hands in his pockets, eyes focused on the ground. “Look around, Jim! Isn’t it beautiful?”

“What’s beautiful? I just feel the cold wind.”

“Oh, come on, it’s not cold and look at the Autumn leaves! Their colors are gorgeous!” as they reached the wooded trail, she scooped up a handful from the path tossing them into the air with delight.

“Just means I have to rake and it’s going to get cold and snow. And, Mary, you know they’re dead, right?”

Fully aware he was trying to use her words against her she buzzed her lips and replied, “They may be dead but they serve a purpose in nature and their colors are lovely. AND Mother Nature did that. THIS is Mother Nature’s patina!” She felt quite satisfied using his words on him. But he just buzzed his lips back, mocking her, still starring at the ground.

Wooded Autumn trail.

Determined to make her point she continued, “You don’t have a problem with the flowers and herbs from the gardens I cut and dry for arrangements and to flavor our food over the winter. They’re dead but are pretty and delicious.” He responded with a shrug of his shoulders and his brooding mood was infectious.

As they neared the lake the wind blew stronger through the trees and she felt the chill of it and Jim’s silence through her sweatshirt. “Come on, lets take the shortcut home. Your right, it’s getting chilly.”

Finally, Jim broke the silence, “The grapevine wreaths.”

“What about them?”, she replied puzzled.

“You dragged me out to that farm when somehow you found out they were pruning their grapevines because you and Sarah had a bug up your butts to try and make wreaths. They were going to burn them otherwise so you said you’d buy a whole bunch. But I found Nellie by the barn and when I said I’d buy her they gave you those vines free. You didn’t have a problem with Nellie then even though she was rusty. And those vines were dead but they’d served their purpose in nature and you two gave them a second chance plus you have great mother/daughter memories of making them that you both still talk about. They’re pretty too. The whole neighborhood wanted to buy them.” “Yes! That’s true and exactly what I’m talking about!”, she replied delighted that he had gotten her point to appreciate nature.

“Well, how’s that any different than David and I making father/son memories hunting those bucks? Me and our son spent years hunting these deer together! Especially that big fella. He was supposed to have a place of honor hanging in the living room over the fireplace, not out in my work shed. And he served a purpose in nature too you know. He was a mature deer and had plenty of time to pass on great genes and we all ate well that season. You didn’t have any problem eating the meat he gave us.”

Not expecting that comparison, she answered with a knee-jerk response, “Well, I like hamburger too but I don’t want a cow carcass in my living!”

Jim stopped in his tracks, wide-eyed with astonishment and frustration. “A carcass?!?! It’s a European mount, Mary. Don’t be so dramatic.” Knowing her response was a bit over the top she tried to better explain her perspective. “Okay, fine. I know you and David love those…things, that one in particular. I understand what you’re saying about the memories the two of you have attached to them. The grapevines may be dead but they’re pretty especially when we decorate them. But…I’m sorry, those skulls are just…ugly.”

“Well, then, make them pretty!”

“What? I mean, how am I supposed to do that?”

“I don’t know. You’re the creative one. How did you make dead vines pretty? Or make all that driftwood into artsy/crafty stuff? Maybe Sarah would have an idea.”

Now she stopped in her tracks. “You mean you’d let us decorate those dead heads?!”

He scowled at her, “If you’ll stop calling them dead heads, yes! If making him ‘pretty’ in your eyes means he can go over the fireplace, then yes. Just do it with respect.”

“Wait, what do you mean?”

He continued walking staring into the distance, “When I look at that buck, well all of them, I remember watching them, sometimes for years. Seeing what was or could have been their offspring, passing on them when they were still young, tracking them, the chase they gave. They all tell a story; of their life, their death, the meat they gave that supported our family. They’re not dead heads or carcasses to me. Putting them on the wall lets me give honor to them, for their life and sacrifice for us. I respect them and wish you could too.”

She watched his face as he spoke, hearing him explain in a way she’d never understood before.

Sensing her stare, he finished, “I just don’t want him covered in purple ribbon bows or something. I’d have a hard time respecting a buck covered in bows.”

She laughed out loud. “Okay, no purple bows.” Glancing at him sideways she jested, “Maybe pink bows!” He stopped with his mouth gapping and she laughed again, “I’m just kidding! I think I get in now. No bows and be respectful of how you feel about him…them.” He smiled, “Yes, thank you. Does that mean the big guy gets to go over the fireplace?”

She smiled back taking his arm, “Yes, and thank you.”

“For what?”

“For trusting me with something so important to you, and David. And giving me the opportunity to put my stamp on your treasure.” She took his arm, “Hey, after dinner how about I make a pot of coffee and we go out to your work garage together. I could take a closer look at that buck and maybe you could teach me about some of those wrenches and clamp thingies for Nellie.”

He stopped again, “You mean you’d help me work on my old rust bucket?”

She sighed deeply patting his arm, “That’s called patina, Jim.” They chuckled together and she continued, “Yes, I think I will. And thanks for helping to change my perspective a little.”

He looked into her eyes, patting her hand on his arm, “I’d like that.” He looked around before opening the door for her, “But maybe we should thank the Autumn leaves. By the way, you’re right, they are pretty. But not as pretty as you.” She gave him a gentle slug on the shoulder and a kiss as she stepped inside, “To the Autumn leaves then.”

Beaded Memories

Making beaded memories with Zoe.
Making beaded memories with Zoe.
Leesa’s granddaughter, Zoe making
beaded memories.

Spending time with family is always special. And one-on-one time with grandchildren is even better, especially when you enjoy the same things. I recently had the pleasure of sharing some beaded memories with one of mine.

My granddaughter, Zoe Davis and I have shared coloring (the big girl kind), puzzles and sewing as well as making button jewelry and silk flower arrangements. Being creative together is fun but its even better with someone who makes you laugh, and Zoe and I do a lot of that!

Sharing Beaded Art Making

Recently she spent some time with us and was checking out my current beaded skull art project. After asking several questions about it and how I come up with my design ideas she asked if she could try beading! Hmmm…let me think, you would like to try something I am absolutely passionate about? Well…YES!!!

We set her up with her own “beading station” at my art table, picked out an array of beads and a glass rosebud vase for her to work on. I gave her a couple of tips on working with the glue and such and then just let her go with it.

Leesa and granddaughter Zoe having some laughs together.
Leesa and Zoe sharing some giggles.
Leesa and granddaughter, Zoe making beaded memories together.
Grandma and granddaughter making beaded memories together.

Admittedly, I could have made it into “lesson”, teaching her about beads, techniques, placement, blah, blah, blah. But she wasn’t asking for a lesson, she just wanted to be creative.

Over the next few days she beaded with me as well as randomly sitting down to bead while I worked on other things.

Once she announced she was finished but later changed her mind and added a bit more.

In the end it turned out super cute! High five, fist bump, thumbs up, Zoe!

Zoe and her beaded rosebud vase creation.
Zoe and her pretty rosebud vase beaded art creation.

I would be thrilled if she caught the “beading bug” from this experience. But if not, she will always have her beaded vase and we both will have the memories we made together while she created it. Obviously making beaded art is important to me, but making memories with my granddaughter means far more.

Thank you, Zoe for being the creative, entertaining and beautiful young lady that you are. And for still wanting to spend time with me, sharing, doing things and making memories together. Grandma loves you!

How would they “feel”?

Blue Moon Shadow, beaded skull artwork
Blue Moon Shadow, beaded skull artwork

A while back when my Aunt Sandy Bergman saw some pictures of Blue Moon Shadow, she made a very nice comment then asked jestingly, “Wonder how he feels being decorated in jewels!” Being silly I replied, “He feels marvelous darling!”

However, I later thanked my Aunt for making me truly in my heart think about that question. How would these animals “feel” about being decorated in beads and jewels?

My Aunt Sandy Norris-Bergman
My dear Aunt Sandy Bergman

Honestly, I have no idea. What I do know is, since man’s beginning, he has tried to honor animals by using or displaying them, for food, shelter, clothing, spiritual items or jewelry. Even mounting them on their walls as skull mounts or with their hides intact or quite often today as full mounts. The same question can be asked about all of these things…” Wonder how he feels about…” any of them?

Blue Moon Shadow, Beaded Whitetail deer Skull Mount

In any and all of these cases no one can truly “know” how they would “feel” about it. But I believe we all hope that we give them the honor and respect they deserve, in life and death.

The deer I have for purchase were taken by nature, not man. I give 100% honor to “Her” in her choices but do these bucks not deserve as much admiration and respect for their lives as the ones taken by hunters? They have no hide to cover them and no one would mount them European style. What then? Should they just be left and forgotten? Or would they prefer to be remembered and honored…in some way…even if it’s decorated with beads?

So, how do they “feel” about what I do? I will never in this life know the answer but I can only hope with all my heart they would “feel” the respect I truly wish and try to give them.

I know we were just being silly, but thank you again Aunt Sandy. Thinking about that question has made me even more passionate about this art form.