Like many Texas ranchers, Zesch has seen more bad times than good. It is from these experiences that the artist draws his inspiration and carves with keen comical insight these figures of wood and bronze. Misfortune seems to happen to Zesch's whittled characters, often victims of humorous circumstances and hard times. Humor is the common core running through all of Zesch's work. Like the human figures they represent, a bad situation will never get the best of them.
Gene Zesch is a descendent of one of the oldest and most prominent families of cattle ranchers in Mason County, Texas. He has managed ranches in Mexico and along the Llano River. It was in 1954 while visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico, that the artist saw woodcarvings for sale. Zesch became intrigued and decided that he could "carve that well." By the early 1960's he was carving full time and the one-time hobby changed into a new career.
The material used in Zesch's carvings is boxwood, from the Linden tree. The figures are shaped with a homemade knife, honed sharper than a straight razor. Minute details and exact scale are a trademark. Many of the woodcarvings are later duplicated in bronze. This is a process requiring a series of rubber, wax and ceramic molds to be made before casting. The artist then hand paints each one with acrylics.
Zesch first received national recognition when President Lyndon Johnson, former Governor John Connally and other prominent collectors purchased his work. Other Zesch collectors include Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, Dave Cowens, Boston Celtics, King Ranch, U.S. Steel Corp., Author Fred Gipson, Alan Hirschfield, V.P. 20th Century Fox, Eddy Basha, House Speaker Jim Wright, and many others.
Gene Zesch woodcarvings are in several museum collections, including The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio, L.B.J. Library & Museum, Leanin' Tree Museum, Las Vegas Art Museum, and others. His work has received many major awards.
His work has been featured in over twenty national publications, including Southwest Art, Art-West, Western Horseman, the most recent being a feature article in Art of the West.