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Montana Made: Wooden carvings with a nod to MT’s political past

Courtesy: Bennion Lumber

CLANCY – Most Montanans are proud where they come from, which makes using The Treasure State as a decoration pretty popular.

A man in a small town outside Helena combines his passion for Montana’s political past with geography to create unique wooden signs.

“When I started four years ago, I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Jon Bennion, founder of Bennion Lumber, with a laugh.

But that quickly changed.

“Over time people would say, ‘Hey can you make something for me,’ so I just turned it into somewhat of a micro business,” Bennion explained.

Courtesy: Bennion Lumber

Bennion creates hand carved designs with a nod to the political history books.

“One of the greatest statesmen from Montana of all time is Mike Mansfield,” mentioned Bennion, as a matter of fact.

Montana senator, representative and longest serving Senate Majority Leader from 1961 to 1977, according to Bennion, Mansfield was, “Not a very traditional politician.”

Now, tack on inspiration to that long list of accomplishments.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke with Jon Bennion Courtesy: Bennion Lumber

“When he was asked questions by reporters, a lot of times he would answer with a simple yep, or a nope,” Bennion said.  “So I took that and thought it would be cool to put a ‘yep’ in the middle of an outline of the state of Montana.”

Montana Senator Steve Daines with Jon Bennion Courtesy: Bennion Lumber

Rooted in politics, these ‘Yep’ signs have found their way into the hands of Montana political leaders today; including Senator Steve Daines, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Senator Jon Tester, who actually holds Mansfield’s office.

Montana Senator Jon Tester Courtesy: Bennion Lumber

“What’s really cool, and a real big honor, is they’ve displayed the signs in their offices which I think is really cool and it’s also a testament to Mike Mansfield,” said Bennion humbly.

Creating political signs was never the intention. Bennion was originally influenced by a family name sign carved by his grandfather.

“He wasn’t an expert craftsman, but at the same time it’s because it was made from him, it made it all the more special. When I even thought about starting wood carving this is what I actually had in mind,” he recalled. “You could tell he wasn’t a professional, but it was from him and it was homespun and that’s what I thought was really cool.”

He uses just a chisel to create impressions in the wood that leave impressions on others.

“It’s a really good feeling when you make something and there is a story behind it and the person you know made it,” said Bennion.

Bennion has branched out to other carvings, like Montana landscapes and collaborating with clients.

Courtesy: Bennion Lumber

“It takes a lot of work because you not only have to do the carving part, but you have to do several layers of paint,” he said.

But he also has expanded the ‘Yep’ brand.

“I’ve been contacting our friends in Indian country about how you would say ‘yep’ or ‘yes’ in that particular language,” Bennion said. “This is one is Chippewa Cree, this is Crow, over here is Northern Cheyenne, and down here is Salish.”

Using hand tools can be tedious at times, but provides room for individuality.

“Even if some of them look the same, they’re all going to be unique. That’s why kind of having the rough cut, the rustic part of this, which makes really makes it something that I think shows the fingerprint of the wood and makes it completely unique from anything else that even I’ve done before,” he said.

While ‘Yep’ may have been politically driven originally, these wooden signs crafted by a Montanan, represent much more.

“The ‘Yep’ within the state of Montana is kind of a nod to the pride that we all have of being Montanans and living here,” Bennion said with honor.

Courtesy: Bennion Lumber

He sent some of the ‘Yep’ signs to be hung on the Capitol Christmas Tree, which is coming from the Kootenai National Forest in northwest Montana.

“There are no guarantees if they will make it on the tree, but it’s still pretty cool,” he said.

While he has created many wooden creations thus far, Bennion does have a day job that keeps him pretty busy. He’s the Chief Deputy Attorney General in Montana’s Department of Justice.

“I get to talk to a lot of people, I get to analyze issues and try and solve problems. Then sometimes at night and on the weekends I want to do something that’s a little more relaxing and I like to work with my hands, so that lends itself well to wood working,” he said.

Collaborating with clients is something Bennion said he enjoys; so if you have an idea for a project, reach out on his website here.

Most of the advertising is done through social media for Bennion Lumber:

-Instagram: @Bennionlumber

-Twitter: @bennion­_lumber