Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 22

Beauty In the Bone
Lebanon carver sculpts art from antlers
by Zach Smith | zsmith@ruralmissouri.coop

O

n a shelf in the workshop, an octopus wraps tentacles around a sunken treasure chest. Nearby, a moray eel guards a pearl nestled in the
mouth of a giant clam. At the workbench, a crab devours a mermaid.
This scene is wilder than it first appears, because the creatures aren't
quite there - yet. But Lebanon artist Jim Hughes sees them in his mind's eye
just the same, lurking beneath the surface of an unpolished piece of antler.
"I'll put it up here by my workbench and turn it one way and look at it when
I have time - or turn it this way - and sooner or later I'll see something in it,"
Jim says, turning a piece of moose antler in his hands. "Until then, I just keep
looking."
Between looking, he carves. Everything from small feather necklaces to entire
underwater scenes and a variety of animals real and imagined take shape
under Jim's attentive eye and the scraping and scratching of his
homemade tools.
The native of Peoria, Illinois always loved to tinker,
once crafting a display for his father's turkey beards
and spurs on a teenage whim. He credits his parents,
Albert and Mary, and their appreciation for the wildlife around the Illinois River as a formative experience
on his craft. One pastime in particular would shape his
artistic future: shed hunting.
"My dad and I have been collecting them since
the late '80s," the Laclede Electric Cooperative

member says. "We had a two-car garage full of antlers."
So when Jim made a walking stick as a gift for his uncle, he tacked on a feather made from a piece of squirrel-chewed antler. A former machinist, it wasn't
exactly outside his wheelhouse.
"It was crude," Jim recalls. "It wasn't that good, even though I thought it was
at the time, but everybody else loved it. So, from there I just started playing with
things."
Soon, Jim was creating more feather necklaces and hat pins in his spare
time, selling them for $10 to $15 each and seeing how fast he could produce his
inventory. Then, he began focusing on the details. Small feathers became larger,
taking on minute features and curving, lifelike texture. Somewhere in the long
hours he spent sculpting new life into the antlers, Jim had found his passion. In
2013, Jim and his wife, Jane, decided to move and the artist took up his calling
full time.
"Bless her heart, she's always
been supportive," Jim says. "Not
many women would take, 'Hey, I
want to quit my job and be an artist.' "
Jim has an active presence on social
media and his website, updating followers
on recently completed pieces and those still in
the making. Those for sale start at $45 for miniature feathers and run between $2,000 and $4,000 for
more complex works. These include a hummingbird sipping nectar from a trumpet vine flower or a tiny crab riding an ornate fish. The larger
pieces sit atop a walnut base or inside a display box, also custom carved by Jim.
Working with antler means there's not a lot of room for mistakes - it's easy
to take material away, impossible to put it back. Jim has two guidelines in mind
when carving: Have a vision and know the antler's limitations. Since the porous
bone becomes harder to polish the farther it is from the base, his "sweet spot" is
within the first 6 to 8 inches of the main beam. Some of his most striking pieces
- a dragon breathing a plume of fire, a swimming salamander catching a fish in
its jaws - come from this part of the antler.
That's not to say he doesn't have ideas for the rest. The burr at the base of
one antler is perfect for crafting the watchful eye of a dragon. On one wall of the
shop is a full moose antler. In its wide palm, Jim already has put 500 hours into
a scene of fish swimming amidst branches and weeds. By his estimate this particularly intricate and painstaking work is maybe 40 percent complete.
Why deer, elk and moose antlers often turn into fish and reptiles makes perfect sense in the hands of an avid hunter, fisherman and kayaker. A love for
exploring Missouri's outdoors is one reason Jim's family made their new home
six minutes away from one of their favorite vacation spots - Bennett Spring
State Park. Jim, Jane and their kids, Hunter and Ava, spend a lot of time in the
natural world, and it's here where Jim finds many of his ideas.
"I think it goes for everybody, but I have to stay inspired," Jim says of his
Top: Jim Hughes has put more than 500 hours into a single moose antler depicting fish in a river.
Center: Among Jim's favorite objects to carve are feathers, such as this one made from elk
antler. Left: Jim added a local river stone to the base of of his creation, "Hitchin' a Ride."



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - December 2017

Contents
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Intro
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Contents
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 4
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 5
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 6
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 7
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 8
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 9
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 10
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 11
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 12
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 13
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 14
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 15
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 16
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 17
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 18
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 19
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 20
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 21
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 22
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 23
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 24
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 25
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 26
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 27
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 28
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 29
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 30
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 31
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 32
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 33
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 34
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 35
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 36
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 37
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 38
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 39
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 40
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 41
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - 42
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - December 2017 - Cover4
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