College PF Member’s Wildlife Art is Just for Kicks
No more space on your walls for wildlife prints? Maybe it’s time to start thinking about your feet.
Iowa State University Pheasants Forever chapter member Nolan Benzing is part of the next generation of upland hunters and conservationists, and his artwork is another pin to that balloon filled with the stuffy perception that all things upland are old, tired and tweed.
“I started drawing on shoes as a senior in high school,” Benzing says, “My school had entered a contest sponsored by Vans to create art on four shoes by four different students and the winning school would then win money for their fine arts program. Although we didn’t win that contest, it was really fun to work on something so foreign to me.” Following community college, Benzing, now 21 and a senior at Iowa State, was looking for ways to help finance his pursuit of a degree in Animal Ecology (wildlife emphasis). “One of my buddies convinced me that I should just make a Facebook page and start drawing on shoes and it took off from there.”
Like many professional and amateur artists before him, Benzing is using his artistic talents – which are wide-ranging – to support wildlife habitat conservation. “After sitting through the first couple chapter meetings of the year, I decided I should try to use my talent to create something for our banquet. I’d made some plywood cut-outs of geese this summer while I was working for the local county conservation board and decided I should do something similar with pheasants,” Benzing said, “The sign I created and donated ended up being a great addition to our banquet. It was a great experience to build as I stayed up late at night working on it thinking about all the great hunts I had shared with my father. I am working on one right now for the Mahaska County Pheasants Forever chapter banquet and hope to continue using my gifts for conservation.”
Benzing, who hails from the small central Iowa town of Gilman, has been involved with the Iowa State University Pheasants Forever chapter almost the minute he stepped on campus. “My first day of classes at ISU, I sat near the front row of the vertebrate biology class and it just so happened Brooks VanDerBeek (president of the chapter) sat right next to me. We struck up conversations about hunting and shooting sports. Needless to say we became best buds and he started dragging me to meetings where I quickly began to learn about Pheasants Forever and gained a great deal of respect for the organization,” Benzing says. (VanDerBeek formerly served on Pheasants Forever’s National Youth Leadership Council and was a charter member of Iowa’s Oskaloosa Pioneering Ringnecks Pheasants Forever chapter, the first high school-based Pheasants Forever chapter in the country.)
Set to graduate this fall, Benzing is hoping to get a job managing and conserving upland habitat in the Midwest. “I was raised hunting pheasants in central Iowa and would love to play a role in bringing back the high populations I witnessed as a boy,” he says, “Wherever my life takes me, I hope to be an active member of the local Pheasants Forever chapter with the hope that someday my future children will have the same opportunities to appreciate the outdoors as I did.”
Despite his wildlife management focus, Benzing doesn’t plan to pack away the sharpie or the paintbrush just yet, keeping his hobby alive for the enjoyment of family, friends and maybe even the occasional wildlife habitat fundraising opportunity. “Drawing is a passion of mine and, like my desire to pheasant hunt, will stick with me.”
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