Some intrepid souls will do whatever it takes to breathe authenticity into their sporting art. For Scott Lennard, seeking the truth means taking chances and leaving protective safety nets behind.
Late last year, Lennard knew he’d be entering a perilous danger zone when he set out for the cloud forests of equatorial Cameroon. Large megafauna, venomous snakes and crocodiles were actually the least of his worries. Not only was the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram on the loose wreaking havoc across a wide swath of West Africa, but several nearby countries in the region were also scrambling to contain a deadly outbreak of Ebola.
Lennard’s fallback position would’ve been to heed the advice of loved ones and stay home in Libby, Montana. “Both of those threats [terrorists and Ebola] were cause for concern and even fear,” he says, “but I had my heart set on a real adventure, the kind that’s becoming rare in our space-age world.”
Lennard, a Midwesterner by birth who moved to Montana half his life ago to get closer to wild country, wasn’t about to abandon “a hunt of a lifetime.” Nor was he willing to let a golden opportunity for doing more field research as a professional wildlife sculptor and taxidermist pass him by.
“The highlight of the trip was tracking animals through the wild mountains of north-central Cameroon,” he explains of going way off the beaten track and enlisting assistance from traditional tribal guides. It was an exhilarating feeling, he says, to be in the middle of untouched Africa with only native trackers and porters while in search of elusive species such as harnessed bushbuck, savanna/dwarf buffalo and Lord Derby eland.
Known for his realistic yet dramatic portrayals of North American and African species, as well as his humoristic Western cowboy predicament scenes, Lennard’s booth is a favorite destination for art collectors at SCI.
I’ll admit that until recently I hadn’t a clue just how diverse his arsenal of talent is. During the past several decades, Lennard has demonstrated his superb taxidermy skills on many record book animals. He was recruited to create high-profile mounted display pieces for the likes of Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, he not long ago completed a major monument in Libby commemorating fighting men and women who have served in uniform protecting America’s freedoms, and, on top of it all, Lennard is a luthier who makes custom guitars under his own brand, Montrose.
Born in Michigan in 1956, Lennard grew up on the edge of Coldwater, a rural community located in broken woodlands and farm country. He and his friends weren’t latchkey kids, instead wandering the forests, fishing the lakes and creeks and hunting whitetails and pheasants in the fall. He also ran a trapline for mink, muskrat, raccoon and fox. That, in turn, piqued his interest in taxidermy, which, like a lot of other artists in history, served as classical training for sculpture.
Lennard says he had always been smitten by public lands of the West and the large game animals that inhabited them. He dreamed, he notes, of becoming a mountain man. While Libby doesn’t reside at the end of the road, you can see it from there. This part of the Northern Rockies is only a stone’s throw from Canada and its mountainous spine rises above the edge of the Pacific Northwest rainforest. Within a half-day’s drive, Lennard can be hunting elk, wild sheep and goats, mule deer, pronghorn or moose—all of which are animals that one can find in his portfolio of bronze pieces. It’s the place where the Lennard’s raised their proudest wonders, daughter Kelly and son Jacob.
During the 1980s, Scott’s ability to portray game species in mounted poses attracted plenty of attention. Hunters sought him out and he won awards, earning distinction as one of the top taxidermists in the US. His life-like interpretations even appeared on a number of sporting magazines. “I seemed to be in the right place at the right time,” he says with modesty.
As a result, he was hired to sculpt mannequin molds sold within the taxidermy industry. Prestigiously, he also was recruited to design dioramas for Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops. Often, people told Lennard he ought to try his hand in sculpture. Indeed, the advice was prescient. The first pieces that Lennard sculptured in clay and then had cast, in 1991, were mule deer and bighorn sheep.
Patti Lennard says every piece is infused with a passion for nature that started in her husband’s childhood.
“After more than 33 years of marriage, he is still teaching me about wildlife through his sculptures and his extensive knowledge of each animal,” she says. “Scott is the kind of guy who when others are reading the latest murder mystery novel he is reading yet another book about mule deer and mule deer habitat or whatever animal he’s working on at the time. He is the real deal but when it comes to talking about himself, he is humble to a fault. I love that about him.”
I can vouch that it’s difficult to get Lennard to talk about his success or his strengths. His collectors, however, are enthusiastically forthcoming. Chuck Shellhouse, a lifetime member of SCI and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, says he savors seeing the Lennards every year, knowing Scott always has new works ready to be unveiled. A Coloradan who now lives in Georgia, Shellhouse has a particular ardor for wapiti, having spent years in the Rockies hunting elk, camping and photographing wildlife.
“I have come to know most of the sculptors who display their works at SCI and RMEF. I’m always on the lookout for that one piece that communicates the magic of elk,” Shellhouse says.
Today, he doesn’t have just one original Lennard that fits that description. He owns two limited edition pieces—“Goliath” and “Legend of the Arrowhead” that sit side by side in his home office and always elicit a strong reaction from people who stop by for meetings. “They constantly remind me not only of the great times I’ve had in pursuit of elk but the memories of watching Scott mold out of clay the most majestic animal that God has put on earth.”
Lennard draws from diverse reservoir of personal interests beyond hunting and taxidermy. He is constantly thinking about how to better translate flow and movement in both his wildlife and human figures. A self-taught artist, his study has included the works of European masters.
Looking back across the years, Lennard says the foundation of his creativity is rooted in having a sound, grounded sense of family and love for country. “My mom instilled in me a spiritual yearning, a compassion for downtrodden and a hope for eternal things,” he says. “My Dad instilled a sense of wonder and respect for nature that is with me to this day.”
It’s Lennard’s unwavering devotion to God, freedom, liberty and justice that formed the genesis for a commissioned monument that has become a reflective focal point in Libby. “Continue the Fight, Leave No One Behind” is a figurative statue depicting two combat troops on the battlefield. “The reason it means so much to me is that in some small way I hope that I have helped do something to stir emotions in this country, to bring honor to those who have fought to make this nation great,” he says.
Lennard credits his wife with being a soulmate, lifelong believer in his talent and honest critic, who has developed a keen eye. She, more than anyone else, knows her husband’s high standard for producing celebrations of animals, creation and the outdoor life that will ring true for generations.
“As it is with any wildlife artist, the greatest satisfaction comes from being able to capture enough of the essence and spirit of the animals so that when an observer encounters the artwork they feel an emotional connection between them and the sculpture,” Scott Lennard says. “That is what brings me great joy.”