Hickey specializes in carving and painting animal skulls. Most of his work has been on buffalo skulls but he has also created art out of various animal skulls such as elk, cow, ram, bear and coyote.
Hickey claims he cannot paint on a flat surface; he needs the valleys and ridges of a skull to inspire his carvings and paintings. While he often has an idea of what he wants to depict, for the most part, he lets the contours of the skull determine the design.
He started buying buffalo skulls from antique stores and garage sales when he moved to Eureka in 2004. Before long, several skulls were collecting dust in the garage and Hickey’s wife, Rita Mae, gave him the impetus he needed to get to work.
Hickey’s life is as fascinating as his artwork. He is originally from Philadelphia and worked in the steel industry for 35 years, played semi-professional football for five years and served as a football coach for 12 more.
Work kept him on the road and moving around the state for years but now that he is at his home in Eureka, his art-making productivity has increased dramatically. He said he’s worked on more skulls in the past three years than ever before.
Hickey buys about 20 buffalo skulls each year and has recently found a local source for steer and ram heads. He has them cleaned locally by a man who boils the skulls before allowing a team of beetles to eat the remaining flesh from the bone. The skulls are then bleached, providing Hickey with a clean slate upon which to work.
“Buffalo have a tremendous history in our world; we’ve worked so hard in the past to destroy them,” he added. “One of the concepts from the Balinese artists is you can never waste any part of an animal. Instead of throwing the heads in the trash bin, it’s my way of giving these things some life and showing respect.” - Joe