Neighborhood artist David Hickman has always worked with his hands, whether he was baling hay on his childhood farm, repairing motorcycles in his shop or sculpting a statue to adorn a church.
You can see his work in the Dallas Arboretum’s Ultimate Treehouses exhibit. Hickman designed and built “Flight of Fantasy,” one of 10 whimsical constructions suspended between trees on the Arboretum’s grounds, 8525 Garland, through Sept. 2.
Hickman built tree houses as a child, but says he didn’t have the artistic skill he has today.
“My tree houses were one or two plank boards and some baling wire,” he says. “They were not very fancy, but when you got in them, you could imagine all kinds of things. We were usually flying or sailing.”
Hickman tapped his boyhood dreams to design his Arboretum tree house, which looks like a giant butterfly.
Other Hickman sculptures also have been displayed in our neighborhood.
He designed and built the processional cross used at St. Bernard’s Church. And for about five years, one of his sculptures sat on the roof of Barbec’s Restaurant: six wood bicycles with wheels that worked like weathervanes. The bikes moved based on the direction of the wind.
“It was kind of like a bicycle ballet,” Hickman says.
The Barbec’s bike piece was a prototype meant to deteriorate, Hickman says, but he is creating similar sculptures for clients from painted steal.
Hickman works with wood, stone, glass and fabricated metals. He supplements his income by restoring art and antiques and by crafting custom light fixtures. He also teaches a stone carving class at the Creative Arts Center.
He says he is able to afford sculpting full-time because his wife, Linda, is an executive assistant at Schepps Dairy.
Before becoming a full-time artist, Hickman raced motorcycles and owned a motorcycle shop in Arlington. He says the mechanical skills he used in his shop, such as welding, come in handy in his art.
His upbringing in Gainesville also contributed to his sculpting ability.
“I grew up on a farm building fences and repairing tractors, so I have a lot of technical skills that help,” Hickman says. “It gave me a good understanding of physical work and a high tolerance for it.”
In his 20s, Hickman studied sculpting at a now defunct school in Oak Cliff. Today, at age 53, he says he works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, on pieces he has been commissioned to complete.
His clients are churches, private collectors, corporations and parks, he says. He has even designed gates for a cemetery.
Hickman sells his work for a few hundred dollars up to tens of thousands of dollars, he says, depending on the size and details of a piece.
He says sculpting is tiring, but rewarding work.
“I wouldn’t tell anyone this is a good way to make a living,” he says. “You better be passionate about it and enjoy doing it.”