World wood carving awards go to Lumberton’s Phil Brannan

Lumberton’s Phil Brannan with his alligator gar carving. Another of his world-cl
World wood carving awards  go to Lumberton’s Phil Brannan

Lumberton’s Phil Brannan just returned from the World Fish Carving Competition held in Springfield, Mo., and won two out of three World Titles. His carvings of an alligator gar and rainbow trout won Best in World for decorative miniature and natural finish.

This competition centers on the world’s best in taxidermy and fish carving.

“Fishing and art are two of my loves, and they collided,” says Brannan, who is no stranger to fishing on lakes like Houston County, Fork and Sam Rayburn. He’s also a dedicated coastal angler that targets reds and trout from Sabine Lake to Port O’Connor.

Brannan started out carving fishing lures and has actually used them to catch bass up to 10.75 pounds.

“The decorative finish was a carving I did of an alligator gar,” says Brannan. “It can be no longer than 8 inches. The rainbow trout carving had to be a natural finish with no paint and all natural wood. There were 75 fish carving entries competing for three world titles.”

Judging criteria consists of composition, craftsmanship, accuracy, essence of the species and overall presentation.

If he got paid by the hour for these delicate and highly decorative carvings, Brannan would be a wealthy artist. Each one is a time-consuming project that takes months to complete.

“I use a 15-step process in carving each fish, several steps being repeated many times, such as multiple fins and painting many, many layers to create depth and vermiculation in the final luster,” says Brannan. “I try to create movement in an inanimate object with undulating fin shape, body curves and painting shadows.

“Life isn’t always simple, and some things we want require dedication and sacrifice,” he says. “Weekends, holidays, and vacations are often surrendered in order to realize a dream that cannot be achieved any other way. In other words, we must deny ourselves one thing in order to achieve another. I have always thought of a true artist as someone whose work evokes powerful emotions from those who see it. In any creative craft, what is produced is a direct reflection of the person doing it.

“People tell me they have no talent, but I always say, ‘Not that you are aware of,’” says Brannan. “Sometimes talents lay dormant in a person only to become active in later years in life like mine did. I was 35 and had lost my job when I discovered my new talent. Many retire before they find out they can do special things.”

Brannan currently works as an operator at a refinery here in Southeast Texas.

His first world show was in 1999 in Ocean City, Maryland. Since then he has competed in world shows across the nation.

“I started out carving flat, craft type fish on flat boards, then moved on to walking canes,” says Brannan. “I’ve always done flat art but discovered round, 3-D art in about 1994, inspired by a fish carved by Dick Spinney of Beaumont.”

Brannan uses a variety of wood for his carvings. Butternut and juniper are best for natural finish fish. Basswood and tupelo gum are best his decoratives.

So where does Brannan find the wood for his carvings?

“I like to hunt deer and often find good pieces of wood at various ranches,” says Brannan. “Some of my best carvings are from wood I collected while deer hunting along the Devil’s River in West Texas. But I’ve also found a lot of perfect carving wood throughout the Pineywoods.”