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Birds not of a feather.

I had never seen a red-tailed hawk--at least not close enough to identify, much less close enough to touch. Now, here were two--a yearling on the wing being taught hunting technique by an adult about to nail its victim, a ruffed grouse. I couldn't resist reaching out to stroke one of the soft, downy, beautifully marked flight feathers.

"Fake," Jules A. Bouillet exclaimed as my fingers made contact with what proved to be anything but downy. "all fake." And who would know better than the artist, sculptor, welder and engineer who had poured many months of work into this unbelievable wildlife sculpture?

"The feathers are wood," Bouillet said. "Except for the two that hold the piece up; they are steel. The birds have the proper number of flight feathers, but I don't use all the cover feathers--it wouldn't look right. The beaks are polished wood, the eyes are glass, the leaves around the base, aluminum. That branch supporting the adult hawk is not wood at all, but steel. That's why a creator of one of these major pieces must be a welder as well as a sculptor, a wood-carver and a painter."

So how many assistants does Bouille have? "This is it. I do it all," he said, gesturing toward himself.

Being a full-time wildlife artist is quite a leap from Bouillet's first career, as the owner and manager of three beauty salons. He was dabbling in water colors at age 16, however; he tool the Famous Artists Course during a three-year stint in the U.S. Navy. And his father is a sculptor and a painter.

"I really learned by osmosis," Boillet said. "My father, who did it for enjoyment rather than as a business, never sat me down and said, 'This is the way to do it.' But for years I had seen carving and I'd seen painting, and it was just one of those things. When I finally decided to begin fooling around with it, I knew just how I should begin.

"I never really had any training. I don't have that first piece of paper that says I can do anything. In other words, I have no degrees in art; I have no degrees in anything."

I suggested that no small amount of courage must have been involved in giving up a successful 23-year career shearing hair to begin carving ducks. "Not really," came his modest reply. "While phasing out the beauty business I was working three days a week with this other stuff. By age 40 I was getting into art real strong. And two years later I made a decision that if I wasn't going to go at it all-out, then I probably never would. We had something like a hundred stores handling our work even then. So three years ago I felt like I wanted to try."

Besides the masterpiece he brought with him that day, Bouillet has created four other major pieces. His latest in-the-air project took eight months to complete. He said the idea for one of these stop-action representations usually begins from reading something. He pointed to the winged sculpture that had fooled me with its lifelikeness and said, "This idea came from learning that red-tailed hawks hunt in pairs, one of them often being a youngster. I like doing pairs with another piece added--in this case a ruffed grouse."

After getting the idea, Bouillet makes a small model out of clay. He makes changes as more ideas come to him. The next step is a full-size model, done in Styrofoam, except for the wings--they are paper, so they can be turned to just the right angle.

This affable to 46-year-old Vincennes, Indiana, native has referred to his talent as an art, not a craft, but the obvious questions remains: Artist or craftsman, how can even the sharpest knife or finest brush breathe life and such exquisite detail into a block of walnut wood?

"I work from a preserved skin. Most of the museums will lend me a skin," he explained. "To do detail as tight as I do, I must have the real thing in front of me. I can't work from a photo; it just doesn't do it."

"When finished, then you begin reproducing them?" I asked.

"Oh, no! These are not reproduced. These are one of a kind. They are showpieces--museum-type pieces," he replied. But he does sell them, some going to private homes, and some to corporations--Kimball International and Mack Trucks for two. Is it a living? Well, when a piece such as the one now beside us can command prices of up to $35,000, it isn't exactly pinfeathers.

The hiatus between these multifigure pieces isn't all tennis and building and flying model airplanes, Bouillet's favorite hobbies. The artist keeps busy in the interim creating models of single birds. Molds are made, and some models are then cast in an Artwood medium--a film polyester--especially chosen to retain the solidity and the rich grain of his handcarved, walnut-wood originals. Others are cast in bronze. These single pieces are done in editions of 1,000, individually signed and numbered. When the edition is sold out, there are no more.

And sell they do, in 325 outlets across the country. Of some 20 of these editions issued, about 12 are already sold out. In riffling through a brochure of "The Jules A. Bouillet Collection of Wildlife Art," I saw that the Bobwhite Quail, the Wood Duck, the Canvasback, the Canada Goose, the Bufflehead, the Green-Winged Teal and the Ruddy Duck I were still available. Besides the SOLD OUT sign on a dozen or more, Ruddy Duck I obviously is now decorating the homes of 1,000 wildlife enthusiasts across the country, for it isn't even illustrated. The cold-cast bronze Mallard Duck, now nesting placidly on my desk top, is priced at $125, I was told. In colors, it would be more.

The pieces have lifelike appearance enough in the brochure. But one must come face-to-feather with the real thing to believe the incredible conformity. Even then, exhibit patrons gathered around the "Don't Touch" masterpieces of Jules A. Bouillet argue that the works must be those of a taxidermist.

Exhibits? Bouillet is invited to show his work at the most prestigious here and abroad. They include the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Ward Foundation in Salisbury, Maryland, and the Midwest Wildlife Art Show in Kansas City (at which he won Best of Show for his wood carving of the "Red-Shouldered Hawk with Covey of Quail"). This particular piece was also exhibited at the British Museum in London and at the Royal Academy in Edinburgh, Scotland.

While the artist was dismantling the piece he had set up to show me (it had come in three sections, took him all of five minutes to assemble and weighed 150 pounds), I learned he does all of his work in a "big, old house of 13 rooms."

"The house, of course, is decorated with your work," I suggested.

He laughed and said, "No, my wife--she's a professor at Vincennes University--does a real fine job of that. There's very little of my stuff in there. I think I've got one painting and one decoy, and that is it."

"After spending up to a year on a major piece such as this, don't you hate to see it go?" I asked.

He gently disengaged the two retailed hawks at the wing tips. "Not really. It's always that the next one is going to be the best. When you first conceive something and then begin working on it, you've got a lot of enthusiasm. But somehow or other my stuff always seems to fall short. It

never is as good as what I think I can do. Whenever I see something I sold six or so years ago that I thought was pretty good, I always want to buy it back," he said.

I reminded him his work has been compared to well-known porcelain birds. Making a slight gesture of protest, he said, "That's extremely flattering. Perhaps it's the design. To me, design is really fundamental. I like to think that it's like filming an actual happening, and I have taken one frame out of that film and reproduced that frame. I like to think my stuff has some design to it. The actual burning of the feathers and whatever--that is an acquired ability. Anybody can do that. But I think to be able to make pleasing designs, you've either got it or you haven't."

Jules Bouillet has it.
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Title Annotation:wildlife artist and sculptor Jules A. Bouillet
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1985
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