A legacy of art

Late Medford sculptor's wildlife pieces to be auctioned to cover medical bills
This bust is Bruce Killenís homage to Homer, Otis, Spike and Bubba Boy, his bulldogs. Mail Tribune / Bob PennellBob Pennell

One particular bronze in Medford wildlife sculptor Bruce Killen's personal collection stands out as much for its attention to detail as for its incongruous placement among majestic herons, pintails and other bronzes.

The bust is of a bulldog with a dimpled nose, scraggly teeth and twitchy ears. Stare at it long enough and you expect to see drool oozing off its lips.

If you go

What: Auction of bronze pieces and other work by the late Bruce Killen, a wildlife artist

When: 11 a.m. viewing, 1 p.m. live auction, Sunday, Oct. 28

Where: Wall Auctioneers of Medford warehouse, 2338 S. Pacific Highway, across from the former Kim's Restaurant

Online: Bids can be placed now or in real time on the day of the auction at www.wallauctioneers.com

It's Killen's homage to Homer, Otis, Spike and Bubba Boy.

"He loved those bulldogs," says Dirk Killen, Bruce's son. "Every one of those was one of his."

This once private memorial is available for public consumption along with 32 other bronzes up for auction to help settle the estate of Bruce Killen, who died in June at age 74.

Killen suffered from Alzheimer's disease and racked up large bills from expensive, around-the-clock care. Now his family is selling off what remains of his personal collection of bronzes and duck decoy carvings, along with similar pieces from other artists, to pay lingering bills and close out his estate.

The pieces include a majestic eagle next to a rattlesnake, a handful of great blue herons and a life-sized pintail drake, among others. Each has impressive, minute details that were Killen staples during decades of work. Some, like the pintail, include soft painting to add lifelike breadth to the feathers.

Wall Auctioneers of Medford is handling the sale, which is open online at www.wallauctioneers.com, including lot numbers, descriptions and photographs.

It culminates in a live auction Oct. 28, with an 11 a.m. viewing. Live bidding begins at 1 p.m., with bids taken online as well as in person at Wall's warehouse at 2338 S. Pacific Highway, across from the former Kim's Restaurant.

Sculptures born from weeks of clay carvings, wax moldings and bronze pourings will go in a matter of minutes.

"It's tough," Dirk Killen says. "Everybody in the family's got some special pieces. The grandkids all got one. But you only have so many places you can put these things.

"I'd love to have the pintail piece myself," he says. "But there are still some bills to pay off from the illness. Sometimes you have to do the tough things."

Killen bronzes have stood out for decades in the local wildlife art world, with pieces on display everywhere from the Medford airport to the desk of Medford native Dave Frohnmayer when he headed the University of Oregon law school.

One of three artist brothers who grew up in Minnesota, Killen moved to Medford in 1968 and worked in a series of jobs at United Airlines, melding his love of art and the outdoors together on the side.

For many years, that meant carving duck decoys for the Killens' regular hunting trips.

"He didn't like any of the decoys we could buy and he wanted to go retro," says Dirk Killen, 52, who grew up in Medford and is now a regional manager for Georgia-Pacific in Albany.

Bruce Killen's segue into bronzes brought him fame and enough sales to quit United Airlines in 1982 to become a full-time wildlife artist.

The bronzes originated as a large lump of clay into which Killen would carve his animals with intense detail. The clays would then be coated in wax, from which a mold would be fashioned. The wax would then be melted away, leaving the details in the mold.

A foundry would pour the bronze, which Killen would then polish and often paint.

He poured himself into his pieces, which he considered a way to pay tributes to the animals he admired and that inspired him.

"He could work 12-hour days, seven days a week for six weeks straight if he really got into it," Dirk Killen says.

Bruce Killen was a life member of several conservation and hunting groups, often donating his art for their fundraising auctions. He was an advocate for protecting the Foothill Roosevelt elk herd, which lived around his Dry Creek Road home, from poachers.

His wife, Elaine, died in 2006, and Bruce was eventually stricken with Alzheimer's, leaving him in need of 24-hour care but with no insurance coverage for longterm care, Dirk Killen says.

The family sold some pieces to pay for his care along the way.

"Alzheimer's takes a person's life and wipes it away physically, mentally and financially," says Dirk Killen, who also has a brother and sister.

Auctioneer Steve Wall has separated the art elements of the estate for one auction. The vast array of collectibles — Killen collected everything from matchboxes, signs and posters to restored carousel horses — will be sold in a separate, yet-to-be-scheduled auction, Wall says.

"He was a pretty eclectic collector," Wall says.

The family has collected all the bronze molds at a Portland-area foundry, and they will be destroyed to ensure limited-edition pieces will remain that way, Dirk Killen says.

When the gavel drops for the last time Oct. 28, the private Killen collection will be no more.

"So what's there is there," Dirk Killen says. "That's the end of it.

"It's a pretty good legacy."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.



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