Corbett Kesler Creates Intricate Sculptures of Skulls & Beads

Corbett Kesler takes sculpture by the horns.

Mosaic skull art
Photo by Corbett Kesler.

Growing up in Texas, Corbett Kesler regularly encountered cattle skulls and horns. Now at home in Wheat Ridge, he finds inspiration in the horns and skulls of not only cattle, but also elk, deer, buffalo, antelope, bighorn sheep, and other animals. Kesler creates both wall-mounted and tabletop sculptures. His artistic process involves covering skulls in thousands of glass beads, resulting in works that appear both traditional and contemporary.

Born and raised in Texas, how did you land in Colorado?
I wanted to get out of the Texas Panhandle and see some beauty. I’m a snowboarder and spent fifteen days a year in Summit County or in Vail or Beaver Creek. Now I’ve lived in Colorado fourteen years.

What was your first project in this vein?
In Salida, I saw a cow skull decorated with chunks of turquoise. I thought that was a fun idea. I thought I could do that on a skull I had. I started tinkering around and discovering. My first cow skull I probably did four different times, experimenting with different designs and themes.

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Are the skulls organic? Or replicas?
Both. I got tired of trying to source skulls. A lot are decrepit and not up to quality. Skulls are nasty, to tell the truth. And I’d rather have one perfect one that I can reproduce, so I mold a cast. I watched a lot of YouTube videos and learned how to mold and cast. Then I took skulls I had and sealed them up and took out imperfections to make it easier to work with. In that process, I screwed up a lot, too. It was definitely trial and error, but now I don’t have to have a real bone skull. These are more sustainable and will last forever.

You cast the skulls in plaster?
Plaster and resin. I use resin if I’m lighting them because I can make clear skulls I light internally. I use battery-powered lights so there’s no cord.

The horns also are both organic and replicas?
How do you source the real horns? I have two sources for deer and elk horns. They fall off every year. I met a random guy on Craigslist. The longhorn cattle horns I started sourcing four years ago on eBay from a guy in Denver, originally from Africa. His family has a ranch in Cameroon, and when their cattle go to the butcher, they keep the horns and handpolish them and ship them here. Then this gentleman sells them and sends money back to his family. Some people want real horns, and some want replicas. A lot of my pieces are all handmade—even the horns.

Corbett Kesler
Photo by Jake Holschuh.

Your beadwork is beautiful, both the colors and textures and also the way the beads reflect light. Beading is a traditional art for Indigenous people of the American Southwest. How did you start working with beads?
I was inspired by the beading of the Huichol Indian tribe out of Mexico, but I went my own direction with geometrical designs and color waves.

Your website notes you use 18,000 to 65,000 beads per piece. What sort of beads do you use? Are you applying them one by one? That’s tedious! It’s so tedious!
Yes, one bead by one bead, so the pieces can’t ever be reproduced. Each one is an original. For ease, I wish I had chosen something else. I use Japanese glass beads.

How many hours do you typically invest in these works?
The smaller skulls take 40 hours. The larger skulls take up to 200 hours each.

What are the advantages of 3-D artworks?
3-D art gives dimension. People go to paintings because they want things on the wall. A lot of sculpture doesn’t give the same presence as something on the wall. These do both.

Who are your collectors, typically? And how do you market your art?
I do a lot of festivals. I did Cherry Creek Arts Festival for three years. At the festivals, people see the work in person. The best compliment I can receive is from somebody who is not into the hunting world or the Western art world, but they think it’s beautiful. I also take commissions from hunters—anything they bring in.

What do you do to customize your commissions?
Lots of clients like more modern, contemporary designs. I do a lot of two-color black- and-white pieces. For the more vibrant colors, we look at their color palette and patterns that work best for them. We hone things in.

What are you working on currently?
I just finished my first bighorn sheep. I was at a taxidermist place buying antlers, and I looked in a corner where he had bighorn sheep skulls. I bought both of them. I’m replicating them so they look spot-on.