Cowlitz commissioner creates whimsical antler art

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LONGVIEW — Jim Misner is equally happy in the Cowlitz County administration building and his sculpture studio.

"I have two great passions in life, politics and art," Misner said. "Why choose between the two?"

Misner's job revolves around his first passion: Since 2010, he's been a Cowlitz County commissioner.

People who visit his office can't help noticing his bright, whimsical sculptures incorporating animal bones and antlers. This month, the public can check out a wall of Misner's Farflehoogins, as he calls them, at the Broadway Gallery in Longview.

Misner is a self-taught artist. He had an opportunity to go to art school but he opted to finish trade school and start a construction business.

Misner's artistic skills are credited with helping him narrowly get elected to the commission in 2010. His bright, neon green campaign signs were cut into shapes resembling elk, fish and the mascots of local high schools.

"My opponent had more money than me, so I had to get noticed," Misner said at the gallery opening this past week.

Misner said his Farflehoogins "start out as a doodle." The next step is choosing the animal part featured prominently in each sculpture.

"Every one of them has a horn in it. The inspiration for the piece comes from the horn. I'll see a horn, and it will inspire me to do a certain thing."

Living at Silver Lake, Misner is never far from an elk antler or deer bone. Friends donate many of them, although he did purchase a big caribou antler for $150 at an estate sale in Toutle.

Misner sculpts the animal form with clay at the studio next to his house. He makes a mold from the clay sculpture, then pours one of several resins into the mold to create the sculpture's body.

"Most everything I know comes more from my construction experience (with) Bondos (construction putty) and resins," he said. After attaching the animal appendage, "it's airbrushed and hand-painted. Then, I put Clear Coat on it."

"They all have some kind of a story," Misner said.

The caribou antler ended up pink as a Loompadalibby.

"I did that for my daughter's room," he said.

Most of Misner's sculptures resemble bright tropical fish.

The Hornbacked Smithleopp is named for Mark Smith, owner of Eco Park east of Toutle.

"He gave me the teeth and ribs for that," Misner explained.

The Elk-Horned Flipflapper is a grumpy-looking purple fish with an elk antler turned into a giant tail. The Glowing Spickledoink has a big eyeball bulging out of its bright green body and a foot-long deer antler tail.

Misner said his favorite creation is the Blue-billed Gaudy that rests in the middle of the gallery display. A cow horn forms a big beak drooping out of the goofy blue bird-like creature's face. Ostrich feathers add plumage.

At the Broadway Gallery, Misner's works cost from $120 to $560. By the time he factors in materials and the percentage that galleries get for selling his sculptures, he said, he doesn't see any profit.

He does not attempt to pass them off as fine art.

"I do it for my own fun. It's nice if other people can enjoy it, too."

For Misner, making art is a welcome change of pace from his day job.

"I have a pretty darn serious job. Maybe that's my Mr. Hyde. By day, Mr. Commissioner, by night, Mr. Hyde with his weird little horn art project."