Photos by Hillary Ehlen and Next Level Creations
Bryan Vidger and Tom Hagen have lived next door to each other for going on 18 years. What started with a casual conversation between two neighbors in their front yards has become a mission to combine sports with art. The tricky part? They’re doing it all in their spare time.
Two Guys Talking Over the Fence
Vidger and Hagen gave us an exclusive tour of their garage-shop and described how Next Level Creations began. “It started with a random conversation in the front yard. Bryan had an idea and I thought it was pretty darn cool. It was just two guys talking over the fence-line, really. We decided we’d build this machine and, after doing some research, we developed a sculpting process that is unique to us,” Hagen said.
The two neighbors have been refining their 3D-relief-sculpting process on-and-off for the past few years. “We’ll put in a good amount of time and then take a break. That’s the cool thing about this because there really is no pressure on us. It’s something we’re doing that’s fun and that we’re excited about,” Hagen continued.
The Sports Direction
Vidger and Hagen started experimenting with sculptures of local landmarks and have even collaborated with a local artist. However, in the Fall of 2017, they decided to take their signature sculpting process and run full-speed-ahead in a new direction. “Last fall, we determined to take this in a sports direction. We both like sports and art, so that’s why sports sculpture interests us,” Vidger explained.
For them, that meant commemorating historic moments in Bison football. To do so by the book, they became officially licensed through Collegiate Licensed Properties (CLC). Now, they can create memorabilia for any university or fans of any college team. “We wanted to take photos and create art pieces that mean something to people,” Hagen said. Because of this, they also look forward to making custom sculptures using clients’ own personal photos.
The 3D-Relief-Sculpting Process
Vidger and Hagen came up with their process in a garage-turned-shop. “We start with just an image and build a model in the computer,” Vidger said. Then, they use a machine to carve the model into a piece of wood. Next, they hand-finish the wooden, 3D-relief sculpture and use it as a mold. Finally, they add an antique-metallic finish.
While Hagen enjoys making noise and creating sawdust, Vidger likes adding fine details that make each piece one-of-a-kind. “Tom does a lot of the carving out in the garage with the machine, and I do a lot of the finishing in my basement, but we crossover at times,” Vidger explained.
“We dabbled with different materials, but we wanted something that was timeless. Bronze is timeless; it can fit in with any décor. Our sculptures look like they’ve been around for 50 years, and the nice thing is that they will be around 50 to 100 years from now,” Hagen elaborated.
Where are they Now
Vidger and Hagen have displayed their work from Next Level Creations in Underbrush Gallery. Though they have not gone to other lengths to make their work known to the public, the two neighbors have relied on word-of-mouth to spread their mission.