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American Folk Art: Deer Antler Kitsch

May 12, 1992

WALTON, W.Va. (AP) _ As Jayne Humphreys searched for something different to embellish her traditional Appalachian baskets, her dog dragged in an idea from the woods: antlers.

Used as handles, antlers from deer, caribou and moose have given Humphreys’ basketry a special outdoor look that has made them the latest in $600 kitsch.

″Every basket turns out different, depending on the horn,″ Humphreys said. ″The horns affect the balance. As I’m working on a basket, it’s on the floor a million times so I can see how it’s balancing.″

A buyer from Bloomingdale’s spotted Humphreys’ baskets at a crafts show in Washington last summer and offered to buy ″as many baskets as I could make and deliver″ in six weeks, she said.

Humphreys sold 20 baskets for $3,390 and they are selling up to $600 apiece. Humphreys gets most of the antlers from hunters, taxidermists and meat processors. Some are finds at flea markets. Others simply show up on her doorstep, left by folks familiar with her work.

She bleaches the horns clean and rubs them to a dull sheen with a linseed oil and turpentine mixture. Then she weighs them in her hand and studies their curves, visualizing the forms for the woven reeds.

The finished baskets range from walnut-sized miniatures to baskets large enough to hold a henhouse’s worth of eggs.

Humphreys, 34, weaves in the evenings, listening to the radio with her cats curled at her feet. It helps her unwind after a long day as a special education teacher.

″If I’m having a hard day, I think about the work I have in mind for that night,″ she said.

She likens basket weaving to sculpture: The design is channeled from her mind, through her fingertips to the reeds. She said she feels so connected to her work that she sometimes has trouble parting with her favorite baskets.

″When I take them to a show it never fails my favorites are the first to go,″ she said. ″There are ones I’ve sold that I wish I’d kept for myself.″

Four years ago, seeking a new hobby, Humphreys bought a kit and taught herself to weave.

She was looking for something interesting to add to the baskets when her black mutt, Cinder, found a deer antler in nearby woods. Her husband, David, cleaned it up and suggested she try it as a basket handle.

He liked her first antler basket so much he encouraged his wife to enter a local craft show.

″When we put that basket out it sold, just like that,″ David Humphreys said.

″With the horns, people either love them or they hate them,″ Jayne Humphreys said. ″There’s a definite feeling with those.″

Invitations from show organizers began pouring in, including one to exhibit at the 1992 World’s Fair in Spain.

Said David Humphreys: ″I told her, someday, her work was going to be in galleries. And it’s come true.″

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