Iowa artist does make bones about it (2024)

Make no bones about it, Gregg Bensink can do wonders with all sorts of bones.

From his small family farm in Pleasantville, Iowa, southeast of Des Moines, he operates his own business cleaning animal skulls and skeletons and articulating them for various customers. The friendly 44-year-old creates artwork from animal bones and other oddities for sale. He gets bones from whole dead animals.

Iowa artist does make bones about it (1)

Bensink’s pieces are all made with bones that he personally cleans and preserves, and he’ll bring over 25 of his unique creations to the Eclectic Market Sunday, June 23 at Village Theatre, 2113 E. 11th St., Village of East Davenport.

His bones are from pheasant, armadillo, paddle fish, dragon eel, coyote, ostrich, turtle, hamster, partridge, turtle, python, guinea pig, iguana, badger, rat, co*ckatiel, and bearded dragon.

Bensink – who has displayed several pieces for sale at Abernathy’s in Davenport for two years — grew up on a pig farm in central Iowa.

Iowa artist does make bones about it (2)

“I started finding pig bones and wandering the woods in the creeks and bringing home rocks and bugs and things in jars and everything else,” he said recently. “And I’ve just always brought that stuff home and had boxes and collections and years ago, I started putting my own skeletons together — things I would find or I would buy raw animals and clean them down and just had my own personal museum.”

For 15 years, Bensink worked in screen printing and T-shirts.

At one of the art shows, at a tattoo shop, it was zombie themed. “So my friend said you should leave your stickers and buttons at home, but bring all your dead stuff,” he recalled. “I brought like sheep brains and jars, and everyone just loved it. And I was like, well, this is a lot more like what I’ve always liked than printing some buttons and T-shirts and selling, and people don’t remember where they got it the next morning.”

Iowa artist does make bones about it (3)

Bensink has always kept exotic animals, like prairie dogs and flying squirrels. He now has a pet badger, four foxes, four groundhogs, and three skunks. “And I have seven baby skunks sitting right here; they’re all sleeping by me in the living room.”

He and his family have a bird hunting preserve where they have 13,000 live birds, including pheasant, partridge and quail, and people visit from all over the country, and a few foreign countries.

While Bensink hunted in high school, he doesn’t see the need to now.

“I really haven’t because I get all the dead animals I want right now and I’m out in nature every day, walking in a prairie and in the woods,” Bensink said. “And I’m not that much into firearms. I deal with dead animals every day, you know, as far as our hunters when they come back and that provides me with tons of artwork material because our hunters will shoot these 13,000 birds and they’ll usually take the breast meat off, and so the rest we dispose of. So I have an endless supply of bird bones and skulls.”

Bensink is licensed to raise, breed and sell exotic and native animals. He bought his first exotics, a pair of wild caught New Guinea sugar gliders, in 1994 and has kept some kind of living creature since from banana slugs to Patagonian cavy to mink and killifish.

Iowa artist does make bones about it (4)

“I go to someone’s home in southern Iowa and they raised elk and there’d be a baby elk standing in the living room and I met people up by Dubuque that had the last private owned zoo,” he said. “And so I was able to get the last lion. I got the lost lion skeleton. So like pet stores and pet owners and trappers and hunters and I get calls and messages all the time. Our pet hamster died. Do you want it? You know, sometimes people want something back and sometimes they don’t.”

Bensink has never done taxidermy, but mainly skins dead animals for the bones, and soaks them and whitens them for his bone-chilling pieces.

Flesh-eating beetles help

“I see a whole dead animal and I cut it, gut it all the way down to the bones and the beetles crawl over the bone. They fish all the ligaments, all the cartilage. They climb up into the sinuses of the brain and eat everything clean,” he said.

He cuts and guts animals and then feeds the skulls or skeletons to thousands of flesh-eating beetles he keeps in climate controlled boxes and then he soaks the bones for a long time until they’re grease-free and white as snow.

Bensink soaks the bones in hot water and peroxide and then whitens them with peroxide and puts them back together or creates artwork (like flowers) with them. He either glues bones together or will drill small holes and wire them together.

Bensink’s bone artwork and oddities are available in shops in Omaha, Neb., and Portland, Ore.

He also vends at art shows and teach classes on creating artwork from bones and how to articulate animal skeletons. His customers are from all across the U.S.

Iowa artist does make bones about it (5)

“Every once in a while and sometimes a few times a week I get asked, ‘So, what do you do?’ or ‘Tell me about yourself’ and sometimes, I wish I would just say what other guys do and describe myself as living a bit more normal life,” Bensink said.

“Then I sit here, holding an armload of baby skunks and red faced from cutting trees out in a prairie area of the family farm at work and I hear my son yelling at his phone about Minecraft and I hear my foxes yipping for me to get my butt outside and I don’t think I could live any other way but like this.”

Iowa artist does make bones about it (6)

“I’ll have people from Dubuque call me up and just see my Facebook and say, my cat got put down at the vet and I heard you’ll put the skeleton back together and they’ll drive the three hours from Dubuque here and hand me a cat, talk for 10 minutes and hop back in their car and go home,” Bensink said. “That just seems really cool to me. And that’s really, especially if it’s like a pet of 15 years. I always. have people like crying and handing me something. and then I’m off to do this gross thing.”

“It’s not for everyone but the people who are interested and the people who like biology and nature and bones, things like that, they’re easy,” he said.

Iowa artist does make bones about it (7)

Bensink displayed a number of his pieces at the Winterset Public Library (in Madison County) for the month of May.

For bone flowers, he sometimes uses raccoon penis bones. “Everyone’s amazed that raccoons have penis bones and they’re big,” he said. “And my last bone flower class, in Omaha, I had 15 people, 100 bucks each in like two hours. And I gave them a raccoon penis bone, some fish scales and some python ribs. And they used the python ribs to make the petal of the leaves and they took penis bone and glued the scales on top and made it look like a daisy. Everyone says like, oh my gosh, it’s so much fun.”

Class at Abernathy’s

Becca Nicke, co-owner of Abernathy’s, 432 W. 3rd St., Davenport, said Bensink reached out to her store a couple years ago.

“They’re beautiful, they’re true works of art,” Nicke said. “It astonishes me. I’m very excited, he’s teaching a class here that we are gonna be hosting.”

Iowa artist does make bones about it (8)

They’re planning to have it on Saturday, July 20, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., during Abernathy’s Weird Craft Night.

“He’s a talented bone art artist who puts together everything from full-body museum grade animal articulations to small art pieces to sell at oddities shops across the U.S.,” she said.

Bensink will be supplying pre-cleaned bones and eggs on July 20 for participants to create one bone flower and one egg mushroom mount to take home with them at the end of class.

The suggested age for participants is 15 and up, Nicke said, and the cost is $100, which includes all materials.

Iowa artist does make bones about it (9)

As an added bonus, crafters can receive 25% off any purchase made after class at Abernathy’s.

The case where his items are has a top shelf with bone art by Kiley Krause of Morbid and Mortified, who’s also one of five queer artists Abernathy’s are selling during Pride Month.

Bensink’s art really fits the quirky, original, creative vibe of Abernathy’s (which uses a skull in its logo), Nicke said. They displayed at Eclectic Market this past December, offering a bag sale, where people could fill up a bag with merchandise for $30.

Iowa artist does make bones about it (10)

“We have Halloween in our hearts year-round,” she said. “We like to think of ourselves less as a seasonal or costume shop and more of a lifestyle shop.”

Sunday’s Eclectic Market (billed as the QCA’s premier weirdo market) will include 18 vendors inside and 10 outside, with vintage, taxidermy, handmade, books, vinyl, jewelry, art, cottagecore, bugs and bones, from noon to 4 p.m.

To sign up for the July 20 class, click HERE.

Iowa artist does make bones about it (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Domingo Moore

Last Updated:

Views: 5959

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (73 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Domingo Moore

Birthday: 1997-05-20

Address: 6485 Kohler Route, Antonioton, VT 77375-0299

Phone: +3213869077934

Job: Sales Analyst

Hobby: Kayaking, Roller skating, Cabaret, Rugby, Homebrewing, Creative writing, amateur radio

Introduction: My name is Domingo Moore, I am a attractive, gorgeous, funny, jolly, spotless, nice, fantastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.