How Dirt, Sticks and Wild Turkeys Helped Create “A Mossy Oak Moment”
by Brent Rogers
There are moments in time that are forever freeze-framed in our memories. Any spring turkey hunter can recall, with clarity, those moments when we have met a grand gobbler in the turkey woods.
“A Mossy Oak Moment” by artist Dan Moreton, preserves the thrilling climax of a turkey hunt, something many of us can relate to. There are other pivotal moments in our lives, when doors are opened and decisions made, that forever change the path we tread. Dan Moreton and Toxey Haas had both walked through several of those doors by the time their paths ultimately crossed, leading to the creation of the stunning imagery in “A Mossy Oak Moment.”
Pictured: Revered turkey hunters Mr. Fox Haas and Mr. Tom Kelly in front of the "A Mossy Oak Moment" painting
Dan Moreton recalls, “I could always visualize natural scenes. Even as a youth, I brought those visions to life through scratching in the dirt with sticks, and making sketches.” He had adequate inspiration; having spent his childhood in Arkansas and Oklahoma, he developed a keen appreciation of the natural world through hunting and camping. Although not a trained artist, Dan always dabbled with art. Through taking art classes in high school and college, one can see he was steadily marching to a drum beat, leading him down the path of an artist. Dan graduated from the college of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas with an Animal Science major in 1986; interestingly enough, the same year that a young Toxey Haas stepped out of the shadow of the Mossy Oak tree to launch his dream company.
Toxey Haas similarly grew up with an admiration for the splendor of the natural world. He comes from, and carries on, a strong tradition of faith, family values and natural resources stewardship. His father, Mr. Fox Haas, had helped work to conserve southern turkey population in the 1970’s, and instilled in each member of his family a sense of duty to be a ‘gamekeeper.’ In a 2002 Holy Bible printed by Mossy Oak and adorned in Mossy Oak Original Break-Up, Toxey offers a foreword that embodies the Haas family and Mossy Oak values: “As people who enjoy the outdoors, we are all responsible every day to care for the wondrous creations in nature that our awesome God has given us.”
Toxey also saw the potential of dirt and sticks, and his creativity culminated in the launch of the beloved Original Bottomland camouflage with the founding of Mossy Oak in 1986. The pattern was designed to provide southern lowland hunters an advantage while hunting the keen-eyed wild turkey.
While spending three months in Colorado Springs, Dan Moreton responded to an advertisement in a local newspaper, which had been placed by a well-known regional artist. The artist was hosting an acrylic painting class, and Dan leaped at the opportunity. It was to be a five week class, painting the iconic Pike’s Peak out of the art studio window. After the third week, Dan moved back to Arkansas, but he had completed his painting. Dan’s day job for a pharmaceutical company introduced him to a manager who had an appreciation for art. They began to talk about paintings, and Dan’s manager wanted to see what Dan had done. He liked what he saw so much that he commissioned Dan to do a painting for him.
Pictured: Dan Moreton, the artist behind "A Mossy Oak Moment"
Newly invigorated, Dan began to paint images on wild turkey feathers, and got a booth at a regional arts and crafts festival. Selling his art further emboldened him, and, in 1992, he found himself walking through the doors of the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, MO. They had a notable art gallery, and he asked the gallery manager about having some of his art displayed and sold. Dan proceeded to lay some of his wild turkey feathers on the counter, immediately attracting the interest of those nearby, who asked if they were sale. The apt art gallery manager took note, and shortly thereafter contacted Dan, asking if he would like to be the Bass Pro Shops featured artist during their fall hunting classic. From sketching in the dirt with sticks, to painting on wild turkey feathers, Dan was hopeful he might eventually realize his dream of becoming a full-time artist.
Even as a new company, Mossy Oak was quite active in attending industry events. Cecil Carder, one of the Mossy Oak team, met Dan and was impressed with his ability. Cecil, who became a lifelong friend, asked whether Dan needed more feathers, and shortly after, Dan received from Mossy Oak a box of tail fans and an invite from them to the 1992 Texas Parks & Wildlife Exposition! “Mossy Oak had a booth at the Expo, and let me set up and sell my art from their booth. This continued for a couple years, with Mossy Oak graciously giving me booth space.” Throughout this time, Dan balanced a full time job while continuing to produce and sell artwork at trade shows. This was with the full encouragement of his employer, who also began having him do some internal artistic work for them. At one point, his manager, Dr. Raymond Plue even counseled him “I’ll be disappointed in you, if in a year from now, you are not making a living at this!”
Meanwhile, the innovation of new camouflage patterns, for all hunters, in all situations, continued at Mossy Oak. 1995 was to see the launch Mossy Oak Break-Up, a pattern with more prevalent leaves, limbs, bark, branches and natural coloration for woodlands settings. Toxey and team were once again creating with the aid of dirt and sticks. “During the development of Break-Up in the spring of 1995, Mossy Oak, reached out to me. They wanted to commission me to do a painting to be used in the promotion of Mossy Oak Break-Up.” By this time, Dan’s future was set, and with his growing success, and the encouragement of his parents, he had become a full-time artist. Painting outdoor scenes, complete with dirt and sticks, was a dream come true.
Mossy Oak sent Dan jackets and pants in Mossy Oak Break-Up, with some requests for the painting he had agreed to do. Given their strong family orientation, the painting was to illustrate a father and son, clad in the new camo pattern, on a turkey hunt. The name of the print, “A Mossy Oak Moment,” sprung from a request from Toxey Haas to use “Mossy Oak” in the title. “Mossy Oak and I tossed a few ideas around, and “A Mossy Oak Moment” stuck. It took several weeks, all-day, every day to complete the 30x20 oil painting on canvas,” Dan recollects. His process is to paint a portion of the painting, and then, over time, there are numerous additions and corrections. According to Dan, “many times, certain portions of the painting may have been painted and re-painted several times before I was satisfied. So, there are probably multiple layers of images in portions of that painting.”
Dan’s familiarity with the outdoors and hunting wild turkeys, along with the direction and support of Mossy Oak, now culminated in the completion of the original painting, “A Mossy Oak Moment” in early 1996. Years of hard work, friendship, and pursuing obsessions are evident in the final result.
Pictured: Prints of the painting of note, "A Mossy Oak Moment"
The painting's focus is appropriately on the wild turkeys; the trees in the background gradually fade away, drawing attention to a magnificent pair of gobblers in full display in a forest glade. The seasonal theme is well-captured, with newly leafing trees and the first woodland flowers. The browns of winter are giving way to the greenery of spring, and a search of the foreground reveal details familiar to us: new growth of plants and ferns, last year's pine cones, even a delicate spider-web. One might completely miss the pair of hunters leaned against a tree, just as the gobblers have done, if not for the knowledge that they are there. The youth has his shotgun raised in anticipation, and the father holds steady an old box-call. A moment of perfection and worthy of remembrance.
Mossy Oak originally did a run of 2000 signed and numbered, paper lithograph prints. They ran a promotion for people that purchased Break-Up clothing; those customers could turn in their proof of purchase to qualify to obtain a print. Those fortunate few! The original painting was acquired by Mossy Oak, and it proudly hangs in the office of Toxey Haas, at the Mossy Oak Headquarters, in West Point, Mississippi. In 2013, Mossy Oak Properties reached out to Dan, and they bought 100 prints for each of the next couple years, also using them in a promotion for those purchasing properties.
Most recently, Mossy Oak has continued to be an industry leader in conservation by releasing the first private wild turkey conservation stamp. Mossy Oak has stated that 100% of the money raised will "directly fund wild turkey research projects to ensure the wild turkey is around for generations to come."
In a corresponding letter by Toxey Haas, he says, "Without wild turkeys there would be no Mossy Oak. And it's our responsibility to do everything we can with the time we have on Earth to ensure the turkey hunting community leaves the wild turkey better off than we found them. Turkeys are a precious resource, and they're more vulnerable than most of the animals we hunt."
Dan Moreton's "A Mossy Oak Moment" was appropriately selected as the perfect representation of that vision; it is the featured stamp in the release.
The Mossy Oak 2022 Wild Turkey Conservation Stamp is available now.
Dan Moreton's art, including full-size, limited edition giclee prints and smaller open editions of "A Mossy Oak Moment" are available at www.danmoretonart.com.