Cowlitz commissioner creates whimsical antler art

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 full 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, rather than becoming a starving artist, opted to finish up trade school and start a construction business instead.

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 such as elk, fish and the mascots of local high schools. “My opponent had more money than me, so I had to get noticed,” Misner said during the gallery opening last 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,” he said. “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, though he did purchase a big caribou antler for $150 at an estate sale in Toutle.

He goes to work sculpting 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 — Bondos 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 sprayed pink as a Loompadalibby. “I did that for my daughter’s room,” he said — her name is Liberty.

Most of Misner’s sculptures resemble bright tropical fish to some degree.

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 Smithleopp is a green piscine with huge teeth (from an elk) and an even bigger top fin (elk ribs). Pieces of deer antler form the side and bottom fins while a moose antler creates the tail.

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.

He named a hermit crab creation “Alice” after his mother-in-law, Alice Chandler, with her approval. That’s because “it can be hard to get her out of the house,” Misner said.

Misner’s favorite creation is the Blue-billed Gaudy that reposes 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, fashioning grumpy fish and oddly beaked birds provides 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.”

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