DAN KIBLER COLUMN: Artist combines stone, tobacco sticks, granite, love for outdoors into career
Published 3:08 pm Friday, September 1, 2023
Sandy Brady remembers that in 2010, a woman who was a friend of his mother’s was talking about spending $100 on a pet memorial.
“I thought to myself, ‘They’re gonna charge her $100 for that?’ ” he said. “I figured I could teach myself how to do that.”
And he did, learning how to etch words and artwork on marble and granite; he was working with both minerals in his business building hardscapes for backyards around his Reidsville home.
Thirteen years later, Brady’s “Sandy Brady Originals” is a thriving business, producing between 600 and 700 original pieces of artwork every year, the large majority of them going to conservation and outdoors organizations as awards or fund-raising pieces of various shapes and sizes.
“I”m a ‘redneck artist,’ ” said Brady, 55. “I love my job, and I never imagined I’d be doing the things I’m doing, and for the people and corporations I’m doing them for.”
Recently he drove a good two-dozen pieces to Statesboro, Georgia, where the KT Team, an organization that provides hunting and fishing opportunities for disabled sportsmen, held a fund-raising event at a sporting clays facility.
Brady, who said the event would probably raise around $50,000, also emceed the awards banquet, which was an interesting twist, since he was handing out his own, hand-designed awards, built in a shop behind his home, hard by the Haw River.
It was a set of awards he designed and built about five years ago that really sent his career skyward, matching his love for all opportunities outdoors with this new desire to create pieces of art from common rural sights like tobacco sticks and old strands of barbed wire.
“I was doing different things, trying to sell a piece here and there — Bob Timberlake (the famous Lexington artist) — helped me and mentored me — and then I had the opportunity to do the awards for the South Carolina chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation’s state turkey calling contest,” Brady said. “Matt Linder, who worked for the NWTF (as editor of its Turkey Call magazine), he pulled me into his office and gave me the opportunity to create and make the awards for their Grand National turkey calling contest.
“I couldn’t speak; I cried. I couldn’t believe the opportunity I was handed. They took a chance on an old redneck artist. It gave me great exposure on the national level. It has opened up so many doors for me in the outdoor world. I started being able to do more custom pieces. I have gotten to work with some of the country’s greatest wildlife artists. I turn some of their paintings into black and white, and I etch them onto stone.”
The NWTF was so thrilled with the awards Brady designed for their calling contest, they turned to him to do 1,600 pieces for their “core package” — a group of various things that go out to all of their local chapters to raffle off at fund-raising banquets around the country. He is producing awards for upcoming state turkey calling contests in West Virginia and Virginia, and doing the Grand National awards is an annual task, er, joy.
None of Brady’s pieces are alike; he’ll change the color of the stone a bit, even in the various awards he sends to a single organization, or he’ll change the arrangement of the tobacco sticks that often give the pieces a “framed” appearance. One etching of the Ten Commandments commissioned for a fund-raiser sold for $13,900 at auction, he said.
Brady will include a tiny turkey feather and ceramic turkey spur somewhere in the piece, along with a tiny “traveling pocket cross” made from slivers of tobacco stakes shaped like a cross, with a tiny nail and a little swatch of green, fake grass representing the “green pastures” of the Bible’s 23rd Psalm.
“There’s not a piece of art that leaves my studio without one of those on it,” said Brady, who credits his faith with the spot his personal journey has reached.
Now 55, he was playing golf at Guilford College — his father, Pat Foy Brady, was the 1961 N.C. Amateur Champion who played in five U.S. Amateurs, two British Amateurs and was the youngest amateur to qualify for the U.S. Open — when the idea of college golf, and college in general, soured on him.
He moved to South Dakota, where he became a hunting guide and eventually connected with longtime TV hunting personality Tom Miranda, working with him for nine years as a cameraman and later co-host of ESPN’s Outdoor Adventure Magazine show.
That ended in 1994 when he returned to Reidsville, got a job as a heavy equipment operator and battled addictions that had contributed to the end of his TV career.
“I had an alcohol and drug addition problem,” he said. “I spent 19 years fighting addiction, but I’m now 16 years sober.”
Pieces and parts included in Brady’s artwork come from a variety of places. He’s used scrap marble or granite that was, in his words, “headed for the landfill,” and he’s got 4,000 tobacco sticks from a local farmer and his mother’s Warren County tobacco farm. The barbed wire might come from anywhere he stumbles on it while out hunting or cruising the woods.
Hunting wild turkeys has always been his passion, which he’s taken to a new level over the past handful of years. Hunting with a sling bow — essentially a beefed-up slingshot on steroids — he has killed 20 wild turkeys, and he’s the only hunter who has killed a traditional turkey grand slam (Eastern, Merriam’s Osceola and Rio Grande subspecies) with a sling bow, and he’s working on his world grand slam, hoping to add the Gould’s and Ocellated subspecies in the next few seasons. He’s active with the NWTF and the N.C. Wildlife Habitat Foundation, two prominent conservation organizations.
“This has been just so amazing,” he said. “There was no instruction manual — I had no formal training — there was no right or wrong. I’ve been so blessed.”
For information about Sandy Brady Originals, email email@example.com or call 336-215-1599.
Dan Kibler has covered the outdoors since 1985 as outdoors editor of the Winston-Salem Journal and later as managing editor of Carolina Sportsman until his retirement in 2021.