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Idaho woman brings art to life through one-of-a-kind medium

December 16, 2017

In this Dec. 1, 2017 photo, Nampa based artists Peggy Cloninger cuts a feather pattern into a pelt at her studio in Nampa, Idaho. (Chris Bronson /The Idaho Press-Tribune via AP)

NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — Peggy Cloninger never thought she would be an artist.

Growing up, Cloninger said she was the musical child of her family. Her sister was the gifted painter, and she never realized she shared her natural talent. But now that she is retired, Cloninger’s artwork rakes in between $500 and $5,000 for each piece that she sells.

Cloninger specializes in a one-of-a-kind form of art that features 2-D hand-painted nature landscapes and 3-D fur sculptures of animals that are made out of pelts Cloninger collects — most of which are supplied by her husband, who is a hunter.

Cloninger garners interest in her art through its unique nature. Crystal Collier, president of Seldovia Village Tribe in Alaska, which sells some of Cloninger’s work, said she believes she is the only artist in the world who specializes in this medium.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone else do something like that,” Collier said.

She describes her fur sculpting as a similar medium to wood carving. Instead of shaping wood, she uses fur. To start a piece, she sketches a 2-D cut out of the animal she intends to bring to life with fur. Then, once she’s chosen the pelt she wants to use, she cuts the fur in patterns and dyes them in various colors to create the allusion of a 3-D, realistic animal.

Cloninger said she can use just about any fur available to her, and she can create any animal. The most common furs she uses are caribou and Dall sheep, but she has also tackled the long hairs of a muskox. Sometimes, she carves the fur down to the hide to depict smoother textures like an eagle’s talons.

She’s done a black Labrador retriever and a Jack Russel terrier for dog owners who wanted to remember pets that have died. Once, she even took on the challenge of aquatic life, using hides to create a pair of killer whales.

Cloninger created her first piece in 1980 as a gift to her grandparents while she was living in Alaska. She said she was surprised how well it turned out, and the success inspired her to continue creating new pieces.

She practiced the art form for about six years, but then took a 30-year hiatus to help her husband run a business in Alaska. She started back up again in 2013, and two years later she and her husband moved to Nampa.

Since taking it up again, Cloninger said the quality of her work has improved. She has become a more detailed painter, so the backgrounds are better. She also has added glass barriers to the front of each piece so the fur stays as pristine as possible.

When she lived in Alaska, she said most of the pieces she worked on included Alaskan landscapes and animals. Collier said her art provides a good representation of the state’s culture. But now that she is living in Idaho, she is brainstorming new ideas to depict Idaho landmarks and wildlife.

Cloninger has a website where she displays and sells her work, and she also takes personal requests. At most, she said she’s created about 30 pieces in a year, but now in her retirement she averages between eight and 10. She said she doesn’t want to get to a point where she doesn’t enjoy it or isn’t able to meet the high standard she expects of her work.

Each piece takes anywhere from a couple weeks to multiple months to finish, depending on how much time Cloninger devotes to it per day. She spends about four hours a day in her studio at least five days a week, which she said her husband doesn’t understand. But she said she doesn’t notice the time because she enjoys the work so much.

Sometimes, Cloninger said she can spend much longer than four hours a day on her latest pieces.

“One time (my husband) was gone hunting, and I went to the studio after supper,” Cloninger said. “And when I looked at my watch it was 2 o’clock in the morning. So I had been working probably six hours, and I didn’t realize the time had gone so fast.”

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Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune, http://www.idahopress.com

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