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The Antelope

‘Primal’ art paves way for student’s small business

Will Keller paints animal skulls with customized designs. Photo provided by Kylie Schwab / Antelope Staff

Will Keller brings skulls back to life with carvings, barbed wire, paint and gunpowder. His canvases are grizzly bears, longhorn cattle, bighorn sheep, moose, pronghorns, deer, foxes and coyotes.

He calls his business Wolverine Workbench, where he transforms the dead into decorative pieces.

“If you think like stone age, people would take bones and pieces of animals, and they would make pretty much anything out of it,” Keller said. “I was kind of going back in time and seeing if I can do something like that.”

Keller studies visual communication and design at UNK.

In 2021, the 32-year-old entrepreneur turned to eBay or Craigslist to ethically obtain animal skulls. Now he travels to school auctions, elk fests and companies in Oklahoma. Sometimes his search for materials takes him to Wyoming, Montana, Utah or Idaho.

The skulls come in various sizes and conditions, but he takes care to clean the fur and fluids left behind.

After sanding the bones, he dips them in tubs of water and paint to create patterns or wraps barbed wire around the horns or ignites gunpowder for a darkened effect. He even used antlers to make a coat rack, gun racks and a small lamp.

Keller said many of his creations appeal to video game or nature fanatics.

“I’m a hunter. I’m a bow archer. I’m an outdoorsman-ish,” Keller said. “But I’m a gamer too. I enjoy crafting and designing — I don’t know how to say it — primal stuff.”

Before starting his business, Keller earned two master’s degrees from UNO — one in criminal justice and criminology and another one in political science and domestic/foreign policy. While he chipped away at a doctorate, he worked for a private probations company in Omaha for a year. But the job did not satisfy Keller’s craving for creativity.

“It was just a factory,” Keller said. “People were robots. If you had a good idea, they really didn’t let you move forward.”

It was during COVID-19 when he rediscovered his true passion for fine arts.

“I was at home one day, and I just started drawing because I used to in high school,” Keller said. “We were locked down, and I was like I’d rather be doing this full time. So that’s when I quit my job and started doing this.”

Now a semester into his UNK degree, he designs posters, covers for electronics, clothing, stickers, coffee cups, mugs and other things for Wolverine Workbench. Aside from the bone business, he works part-time as a medical technician assistant at a private medical office in Hastings.

Clients can contact Keller by emailing He then communicates with them to develop customized pieces.

“For a lot of my clients when I do skull work for them, I’ll usually keep my concepts for other things, and if I have like a spare moment, I’ll just revise it,” Keller said. “So if a client would come back or somebody else would come along, they could go, ‘Oh, look at that. That’s a new and improved or kind of refined model.’”

As he pursues art, Keller wants to focus on Wolverine Workbench and a medieval comic he’s designing. He plans to bring beauty to the macabre by following his artistic passion and finishing his design degree.

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