Craig Yenke’s completely handmade animal sculptures bring out the most fascinating details of the animal world
Strongsville, Ohio artist Craig Yenke has been working full time as an artist for over 20 years now. He works under the business name C. Yenke Co. creating softsculpted animals.
Originally, Craig started sculpting for his sister, who started a small business while he was in high school. Now, he creates nearly every day, spending around 10-12 hours each day making armatures or sculpting. Craig’s workspace is, “Nothing elaborate. A couple work tables, lots of fans and filters, drying shelves, storage bins, and lots of supplies stacked up,” he shares with us. He works with materials such as wire, paper mache, and cotton batting. The end size of his pieces range from 5 inches for the smaller animals to 14 inches for the larger ones.
Pieces range in type from horses and deer to birds like flamingos and owls to more exotic animals like giraffes, camels, and elephants. Some pieces Craig specifically makes for a season, like reindeer and Christmas mice around the winter holidays and rabbits and ducklings around Easter time.
His own favorites are his foxes and reindeer. “Foxes because they are one of my favorite animals,” he says. As for the reindeer, “The old German mache reindeer were my main inspiration. I always loved them, but they were expensive to own. SO I wanted to make some that everyone could decorate and enjoy for Christmas.” Inspiration typically comes from receiving letters or conversations that he has with collectors who, “express the love and joy they have for my creations.”
To add to his variety of pieces, Craig is now working on including some “hanging ornaments and people such as Santas riding on reindeer and witches for riding on black cats,” to his repertoire. These new pieces are typically made at the end of the year, when Craig usually takes a couple months off to create new things.
The only thing limiting him in this art form is his imagination, which seems nearly endless. His pieces evoke a sense of realism and thought. “The comments I most often get [about my pieces] are about the faces; they all seem to be thinking or about ready to say something,” he notes.
Craig has many fans of his work, however, “my father was Ken Yenke,” Craig shares, “Who wrote for Teddy Bear Review until he passed in 2014. Several of his close friends told me he was one of my biggest fans of my work. That was one of the best compliments I have ever received.”
In addition to creating sculpted animals, Craig finds joy in golfing, a hobby which he started with his dad, “who was a great golfer,” Craig says, “Took me years before I could beat him.” His other main hobby is taking bike rides with his three year old dog, a Maltese named Daisy.
Looking towards the future, Craig thinks back on a saying someone once told him: “If there are tables, cabinets, and shelves to decorate with, there will always be a need” for the hobby.
“There will always be hobbies,” Craig says, “You can decide if you just want to dabble in the art or want to take it to another level and sell your creations. So [the future of the hobby] should be limitless.”
“If you have an idea about a creation, do it. Start it,” Craig advises, “Even if it doesn’t work out, put it on a shelf where you can see it. Eventually something will click.”