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Nature's workshop - Art with a Native American Flair

September 02, 1998

Art from antlersBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Gary Akers brought 600 to 700 pounds of moose, elk and deer antlers with him from Canada when he returned to the Chambersburg, Pa., area three years ago.

Many of those antlers have been transformed into pieces of art and will be on display and for sale at Cumberland Valley Craftsmen 19th annual Arts and Crafts Market at Renfrew Park in Waynesboro, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 5.

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Some of Akers' art is useful, some is merely decorative. It was inspired by museum pieces he saw and couldn't afford during mission work in Ontario and Saskatchewan, Canada, where Akers and his wife, Esther, were house parents to more than a dozen Native American children in residential schools.


It was their faith and their belief that they have a duty to evangelize and help others that took them there. Akers came to appreciate the art and philosophy of the Native Americans - using everything, wasting nothing.

He's humble about his skills, believing they are God-given.

When he sets up his booth at the dozen or so Cumberland Valley and Pennsylvania Guild Craftsmen crafts markets through the year, Akers wears the buckskin leather pants and center-seam moccasins of a 17th-century pioneer. Although he says the Civil War gets more attention, Akers is fascinated by the early history of this region and believes it's important to share crafts of the period.

"We don't want to lose it," he says.

He teaches an annual class for about six to eight people in the York, Pa., area and occasionally speaks in local schools and libraries.

Akers' art derives from the nature of his raw materials. With his detailed carving and painting, a moose antler becomes an eagle in flight.

"You can't take credit for what's there. You just fill in the blanks," Akers says.

His basement workshop is not fancy. There are bins of antlers, turtle shells, even buffalo skulls. Sturdy branches with scars left by honeysuckle vines will become elegant walking sticks when topped with handles crafted by Akers. His primary tool resembles a dentist's drill. Another connection to modern technology is Akers' spot on a crafters' Web site at Search for "antler" to view his handiwork.

Akers makes antler-handled baskets, wing-bone turkey calls, earrings, buttons, knives and turtle shell pouches. Ivory from a boar's tusk - he's quick to point out that it's legal ivory - becomes an eagle-headed key ring.

Akers is one of approximately 30 exhibitors chosen for the crafts market, a juried show. A panel of three jurors - one of whom has expertise in the artist's field or a similar field - reviews the work for technique, design and originality and style, says Joanna Calimer, publicity coordinator for the event.

All the work at the market is produced by the artisans. Some will demonstrate their crafts. There will be pottery, hand weaving, woodwork, pressed flower designs, ironwork, dolls, basketry, folk art, jewelry and paintings.

Music will be provided by Mountain Sounds, performing on fiddle, guitar, mandolin, harmonica and washtub bass.

Rich Adkins, president of Cumberland Valley Craftsmen, calls Renfrew Park a beautiful park. The market area is not too large, and it's shady and flat - manageable for older people or those in wheelchairs.

Cumberland Valley Craftsmen fall arts and crafts market

When: Saturday, Sept. 5, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Renfrew Museum and Park, 1010 E. Main St., Waynesboro, Pa.

If you go: From Hagerstown, take Potomac Avenue, Md. 60 north, to the traffic light at Main Street, Pa. 16, in Waynesboro. Turn right, going east on Pa. 16 through the square, past Waynesboro Hospital on the left and YMCA on the right. Turn right at traffic light at Welty Road. Renfrew entrance is a couple of hundred yards down the road on the right.

Information: Call 1-717-762-5021.

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