ALBERT — In 1986, the Kansas Governor’s One Shot Turkey Hunt was established as an economic development tool for El Dorado. Partnering with the National Wild Turkey Federation, it has since brought together the sitting Governor of Kansas, leaders of business and industry, guest celebrities, the media and outdoor enthusiasts for a three-day weekend of hunting and fellowship.
From the beginning, a prominent wildlife painter has been chosen to capture the excitement and tradition of hunting, with the image playing prominently in acquiring sponsorships and raising funds for the sustainability of the hunt. This April, Barton County artist Dan Branham, Albert, will be the third official artist to fill that role, following in the footsteps of Jerry Thomas, who joined KGOSTH 1993, producing work through 2016, and Wayne Willis, the original artist serving from 1989-1992, and for whom the shoot's scholarship fund is named.
Branham can’t remember when he didn’t enjoy drawing wildlife scenes inspired by the natural landscapes around Barton County. After decades pursuing his love of painting at a leisurely pace, he’s now made the happy transition from hobbyist to professional painter and he’s about to step up to a whole new level in his field. He’s about to go from an obscure, local artist whose talent is valued amongst a few, to an artist with increased exposure, on his way to becoming a household name like that of Terri Redlin or Jerry Thomas, two artists whose work he admires greatly.
Even at an early age, the wildlife Branham saw as he rode around Barton County with his family, visiting the farms of family members, captured his imagination and he would draw scenes. Teachers commented on the details he included, assuring his parents when he was still in elementary school that he had talent. Later, his high school art teacher at Great Bend High School, Char Brown, was a frequent recipient of wildlife drawings he created after he completed class assignments.
While there was no shortage of encouragement, Branham said he never really took his art very seriously. What he didn’t realize then was not everyone is capable of capturing what he can. When Brown encouraged him to go after an art scholarship he did, but never with a career in art in mind. Later, studying under Barton Community College’s Steve Dudek, he enjoyed building relationships with others who enjoyed art, but again, he didn’t take art very seriously, he said. It was something he did for enjoyment and after college it was on to work.
Branham recalls Dudek tried to convince him he could continue his art education and make a living with it, but he couldn’t see it then. That, he said, is one thing he regrets.
From amateur to professional
After college, he worked at Dillons, and later Midwest Energy. In his spare time, he enjoyed hunting and being out in nature. Early on after college, he sold a few of his pieces at an art auction at the country club in Great Bend. Then there was a big gap where he didn’t show his art, opting instead to provide a painting here and there for the local banquets for Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited.
In the last eight years, he began entering his work in local and regional shows. About six years ago, he submitted a turkey painting to Russell’s Original Art Review (ROAR).
“My sister loved it. She told me if I didn’t sell it, she wanted to buy it,” he said. He told her he would “put a ridiculous price on it” and if no one bought it, she could have it. When the painting sold, his wife told him perhaps he ought to take his art a bit more seriously.
“Ever since then, I have and I’ve enjoyed some success,” he said.
His work has since been shown several times at the ROAR show, the Kansas State Fair, and the Public Broadcasting Service art auction. He also submits paintings to the Great Bend Art and Wine Walk.
Now, painting is officially a second job, with several hours a week spent painting, selling prints and doing shows, all while juggling a full-time job. Branham's wife, Teri, acts as his manager.
Being picked to be the official artist for the Kansas Governor’s One-shot Turkey Shoot is a huge step.
“This is a lot of exposure, not only in Kansas, but nationally. I was very humbled when I found out about it, and a little scared, but it was an honor for me.”
In 2016, Branham entered a pheasant scene in the Professional Arts division at the Kansas State Fair. When the fair was over, he went to pick up his painting, and the fair staff gave him a stack of business cards from people interested in purchasing the painting. On the top of the stack was the card of Janet Post, the executive director for the Kansas Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Shoot, with instructions she urgently wanted to talk to him.
“I was like, ‘Oh. My. God,’” he said. “I called her, and she asked if I would like to put my name in the hat to be in the running for the next official artist, and the rest is history.”
Post shared how she learned about Branham.
“After our 2016 hunt, we were ready to give another Kansas painter a chance to be our official artist,” she said.
John Sutherland, on the board of directors, suggested she visit the art building at the Kansas State Fair. That’s where the painting Branham had entered was hanging, which Post’s husband, Pat, discovered.
“Daniel’s work has the feel, perspective and colors of the great Kansas outdoors,” Post said. “I knew immediately, if we could persuade him, he would be a perfect fit for the Kansas Governor’s One Shot Turkey Hunt.”
Eyeing the future
Being in the running was exciting. After being picked, the excitement was over, and Branham went to work looking for inspiration. He only halfway completed his first attempt before he decided he hated it.
“I put it in the scrap pile and started something new,” he said. “That’s the one they have right now.”
The painting for the turkey shoot is finished, recently photographed in Kansas City prior to being sent to Manhattan where the prints are being created. Branham said he looks forward to the bump in exposure.
“I’m humbled by the thought that nearly 300 people I don’t know and probably will never meet will be taking home prints of my painting, to places I may never visit, where they will be seen by more people,” he said.
“It’s a huge honor to me that my art is going to be seen so widely. That’s a dream.”
In recent weeks, he completed work on his latest creation — a pheasant scene, the inspiration of which came from the 2017 cloudy opening weekend for pheasants. The painting was created for the Black Gold Pheasants Forever banquet on April 7 in Russell.
Looking ahead, he’s always on the hunt for original scenes as he drives the backroads of Kansas, keeping an eye out for inspiration. Branham spends a lot of time doing field work now instead of relying on his memory, he said. He likes to take the side roads home. Luckily for him, there is no shortage of them here in western Kansas. Rarely do the Branhams get to a destination without having to circle back to take a closer look or photograph some old barn, stone fence posts or old limestone houses.
Courtesy photos( Dan Branham)
Dan Branham, Albert, recently finished his latest wildlife scene, “Farmyard Flush”, which will be auctioned at the upcoming the Black Gold Pheasants Forever banquet on April 7 in Russell. He was inspired by the cold, cloudy and dreary 2017 opening weekend of pheasant season, he said.
In January 2017, Branham completed this oil painting titled “Winter Whitetails. The idea for this painting came to him on a hunting trip last December.
Dan and Tami Branham live in Albert, where Dan finds his inspiration for his wildlife paintings. His first painting for the Kansas Governor’s One Shot Turkey Shoot will be unveiled at the 2018 event at El Dorado, April 19,20 and 21.