A walk through Heffy’s Gallery, located in Florence, Oregon, a small coastal community that is popular and just over a three hour drive South from Portland. If one didn’t know any better, you would think you just got done walking through a gallery with live wildlife and aquatic sea creatures. Call it a Night at the Museum if you like, but in this gallery, night or day, everything is always alive.
We accidently walked into The Heffy Gallery one evening even though the sign said they were closed. We were lucky that Dan was planning on working late that night and allowed us to browse the gallery and chat with him. We were blown away with what we saw and we think you will be also.
Believe It or Not, Is That Real?
We’ve all seen or maybe heard of Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, which features unbelievable true stories and artifacts that leave visitors second guessing everything. At first look upon entering Heffy’s Gallery, each item on display will do just that.
On one display, a chipmunk stands frozen in place while holding an acorn in its hands. It’s a look we’ve all seen before, but wait, is that a real chipmunk? Nope. It’s the work of the best wood carving artist on the Oregon Coast, Dan “Heffy” Heffron.
Still frozen in place, we moved in closer to inspect the painstakingly incredible detail on this small wood carved sculpture. What’s amazing is that whether one is viewing the work from a distance or up close, you’ll still be asking the question of whether what you’re looking at is real or not.
On another display, a baby seal, looking playful with tongue hanging out and shiny nose, further begs the question, who is Dan Heffron? Just look at those eyes. How does he do it?
Who Is Dan “Heffy” Heffron?
Growing up in the Northern Michigan woodlands, at age 7, Dan “Heffy” Heffron was given his first wood burning set and jack-knife. Given as a birthday present from his parents, it was the beginning of something special. But by age 7, Heffron was already well on his way to becoming an artist. At age 2 ½, he began drawing animals, pinecones and other objects.
After high school, Dan joined the service and traveled all over the world. Of course, wherever he found himself, he also found wood. As a result, there are wood carvings that Dan created now dispersed in places around the globe. By the time Heffy turned 23, his military service had come to completion. It was then that he decided that wood carving was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Ever since, he has never looked back.
Although it would take years for Heffy to view himself as an artist, it was during those formative years as a youth and then in the military that his carving skills matured. Remarkably, Dan is self-taught, and has made and/or modified most of the nearly 350 specialized carving tools he uses, in what has now been over 40 years as an artist.
A Unique One Of A Kind Artist
A Collins Field Guide on Mammals stands propped up on Heffy’s work desk. This is where everything comes to life as many of Heffron’s self-made tools fill up the space, ready and waiting to be used in some specific, albeit special way. Today, Dan is beginning work on a small block of wood that will replicate a gorilla, as seen on the Collins Field Guide cover.
“No paint, no stain, no glass eyes within my stuff.” Heffy tells us as we watch in amazement. How else would you feel, if you too, had the chance to stand over the shoulder of brilliance?
Effortless from years and years of experience, Dan continues working. Looking up at the vast number of tools that now surround us, Heffy tells us that he had never had any technical training, read a book, or had any instruction except for, as he describes them, his wonderful shop teacher.
It was in shop that his teacher taught him how to use a rasp, how to sand wood, and most importantly, how not to cut his fingers off.
But, not all of Dan’s time is spent at the shop creating. To carve wood, one must first get wood, and here is where Heffy finds great pleasure in spending time walking along the local beaches hunting for burls of driftwood that have washed up on the shore. Once wood is in hand, it’s back to the shop to create, where Heffy, as we mentioned, also draws much inspiration from photographs.
In a recent interview with the Siuslaw News, Heffron said this about finding the right piece of wood, “A piece of wood has to speak to me and to the photo of the animal,” he said. “They have to be compatible. Then comes the imagineering.”
What Is Burl Wood?
A burl or bur or burr is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. It is commonly found in the form of a rounded outgrowth on a tree trunk or branch that is filled with small knots from dormant buds.
A Brief History Of Wood Carving
Dating back to prehistoric times, wood carving is one of the oldest crafts on planet earth. Some of the oldest known artifacts were of wood handles being carved for use with tools and weapons. In ancient Egypt, they carved religious figures out of wood and in-turn placed them into tombs to protect the dead. The early Christian church used wood sculptures to describe the life of Christ for worshippers who could not read. In Europe, wood carvings were used to decorate the panels, altars, and mantels that were found in churches, as well as mansions.
Heffy’s Gallery Has The Best Wood Carvings On The Coast
Upon leaving Heffy’s Gallery, which no doubt, does have the best wood carvings on the Oregon Coast, a full-scale golden eagle perches upon a wood carved tree branch ready to take flight. One can simply not just casually walk through this gallery and leave without asking countless times the very questions many others have undoubtedly asked, as they too, came and went.
With each and every sculpture on display, they pull you in like a Night at the Museum, begging each visitor to wonder, is that real or not? Just look at that eagle, it has to be real.
Of course, it is. No paint, no stain, no glass eyes.
Go see for yourself. Florence, Oregon is but a three-hour drive southwest from Portland and is surrounded by many fun things to do from the Sea Lion Caves, a 19th century lighthouse, the massive sand dunes, and of course, Heffy’s Gallery off Highway 101.