Hoop Bramoff is soft-spoken and very modest. Still, he is pleased that the first work he has ever entered in any kind of contest won a grand prize at the Northern Gila County Fair this year.
“I didn’t know I could draw until I was 20,” he said.
Bramoff sustained a back injury during the Vietnam War and taught himself to draw cartoons while recovering in a Japanese hospital. Some of his cartoons were published on the editorial page of the Payson Roundup years ago.
He also had his own newspaper at Fort Carson, Colo. — a newsletter for his fellow members of the military police. One of his proudest accomplishments was getting the Pentagon’s authorization to have the word “Press” on his armband, he said.
His prize-winning work was a sculpture of a bear’s head made with hundreds of pieces of redwood and scrap paneling. The redwood was recycled from lattice he had lying around.
“I made a sketch and tried to use apple branches, but that didn’t work. So, I spent about three weeks trying to figure out how to do it,” Bramoff said of his bear sculpture. Once he settled on using the redwood and paneling, it took about 100 hours of work to create the piece.
It was made as a decoration for The StrawBEARy Bear Restaurant and Lounge that his wife Lisa owns and operates.
Customers at the restaurant encouraged Bramoff to enter the work in the fair, he said. Customers have also tried to buy it, but it isn’t something he wants to sell. In fact, Bramoff said he has actually only sold some of his pieces when they needed the money.
“I have never really thought about selling my stuff. It is something I do because I enjoy it and other people do too,” he said.
For a time, the couple lived in the woods while they fought with the Veterans Administration for his benefits.
“I am a 100 percent disabled Vietnam veteran with PTSD. Lisa and I bought the restaurant with my VA back pay, but she is the owner. What I do there is just to help out,” Bramoff said.
The couple first came to the area in 1986 when they moved Lisa’s father here. They have made their home here since 1997 and opened the restaurant in November 2010.
He has made gifts of pieces and on occasion has done work in exchange for materials. He has a number of paintings on band saw blades. He did a painting on a round saw, about four-feet in diameter, for a friend in exchange for the blades. The painting was of a steam locomotive on one side and its caboose on the other.
One of the pieces he gave as a gift was a leather carving of a cowboy resting on his horse, which he called “Day is Done.” He gave the work to Robert Randall for his help when the Forest Service wanted to displace him and his wife.
As with the band saw blades, Bramoff has a number of leather carvings, one is in the dining room at the restaurant. He also has paintings in his collection, many of them abstracts.
His most recent works, like the bear sculpture, are for the restaurant. On the hall wall, between the bar and dining areas, is a towering mural of a Kodiak grizzly, mouth open, teeth and claws ready to attack.
Bramoff is now working on a huge mural — 8-feet-by-12-feet — of a mother polar bear and her cubs.
The next project he is planning for the restaurant is a cartoon bear band for the area where they have musicians perform.
Bramoff’s murals generally start with a photograph. He then makes a grid of the photo and then creates a grid on the wall. He paints the image on the wall and then spends hours detailing the fur.
“Making the fur look realistic is hard,” he said. It is something he has mastered though —the grizzly in the hall is real enough to make you gasp at first sight.
Of all the media he has worked with, Bramoff said he has most enjoyed his leather carving. That favored medium might lose out to wood though. In addition to the prize-winning wood sculpture, he has made one other wood piece, an intricate mosaic table that stands just inside the doors of the restaurant.
“I like the depth you can get with wood,” he said.
Modest and soft-spoken, Bramoff feels he has been blessed with natural talent and he hopes he is creating something that will stay around for years and be appreciated.