Sawdust in his blood Artist carves out his niche

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Sawdust in his blood - Artist carves out his niche

By Deb Zeiner

The Gazette newspaper, Emporia, KS January 24 & 25, 2004

Western Chase CountyAbout eight miles from nowhere, down a winding gravel road, there sits a bright-painted house with a big stone barn nearby and a workshop out back. It’s the home of Mark DeCou and his family and the shop where DeCou makes his dreams come to life.
DeCou is an artist who creates hand-made pieces from wood, horn, and stone.
He grew up with sawdust in his blood.

“My dad was a wood-shop teacher and I had a wood workbench in my bedroom,” he said one drizzly morning as he sat in his shop. “In fact, I still have the bench. I remember getting tools for gifts when I was a kid, and I just sat in my bedroom and made things.”

He was still a boy when he first sold something he had made.
“I was hooked,” he said, laughing as he remembered the feeling that came from making money on something he had created.
DeCou, a mechanical engineer by trade, works for a company in Wichita four days a week. He and his wife, Shelli, are transplants to Chase County. The couple worked for a ministry near Cedar Point, Morning Star Ranch, when they decided it was time to start a family, so they bought a small farm in the rolling country north of Cedar Point.
When they made that decision, the couple decided to live more simply – with no debt. And it is a decision that DeCou said neither regrets.
“I used to do things I thought would impress people,” he said. “I bought all the right clothes and motorcycles and cars but when I got all of that straightened out in my life, everything changed for the better.”
But DeCou struggles between his dream of sustaining his family on earnings from his art and the reality of needing a job to pay the bills.
“The reality of life is you have to make a living, and that is a conflict with this artistic side of me, “ he said.
So DeCou has begun to work a four-day work week in Wichita, which will allow him more time to make and market his works of art.
DeCou’s art is unique. Each handmade item takes hours of time to create.
“I spent four months working the evenings (doing scrimshaw) on one horn, “ he said. “And I’ll have 200 hours when I’m finished on this rocking chair.”
That many do not appreciate the amount of labor involved in handcrafted items dismays DeCou.
“I’ve made $1 or $2 an hour for handcrafted furniture and $60 an hour doing sheet rock,” he said, shaking his head.
His shop is filled with tools he uses to coax new creations from unfinished lumber or horns. A bookshelf above one window is filled with books about other artists and furniture styles and everywhere are pieces of sculpture, or furniture, DeCou’s works in progress.
On the floor, near a wood-burning stove, is a burled walnut rocking chair patterned after the work of California artist Sam Maloof.
“I went to Indiana to a school to learn how to do that chair,” DeCou said. “The reason I am interested in this style is because Sam came up with a way to combine sculpture and woodworking.”
The Maloof-Style chair has graceful, untraditional lines.
“Maloof talks about how God is the instrument of your hands,” DeCou Said. “I had to change my mindset to that and now that I have, my business has come together.”
Boxes of antlers and horns are ready for DeCou to use as handles on knives or powder horns. He said he loves to do scrimshaw designs.
“The hardest part is finding a horn,” he said. “Most cattlemen don’t want horns on their cattle, so you have find someone with either Mexican cattle or dairy cattle that aren’t dehorned.”
DeCou’s biggest obstacle to successfully marking his work is geographical. “If I moved somewhere else, it would be a ton easier to be successful,” he said. “But my family is all in Kansas so we’re trying really hard to make this go here.”
So he is concentrating on his Web site,, and taking his work to shows
“What I’m finding with my stuff is that unless you pick it up and touch it, there isn’t a connection,” he said. “But people that pick it up and touch it and feel the smoothness are the ones that buy the stuff.”
He is trying to find proof of Indian ancestry in his family. “My great-great-great-grandmother on my mom’s side was Indian,” he said. “Bu, back then they didn’t document real well.”
If DeCou could document the ancestry, he could show his art at tribal-sanctioned shows. But for now, he can’t do that without the proper verification.
“This all just takes time, and a lot of word of mouth, “ he said. For information, call Mark DeCou at (620) 273-8992.

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