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Hunting of a different sort

Phyllis Rieppel carves another northwoods scene into the palm of a moose antler on the bench of her workshop Tuesday in Appleton. The "hunt" for moose antlers can be difficult if not expensive, but the beauty of the works that can be created on the antlers makes it all worthwhile, she said. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

APPLETON -- Finding a set of moose antlers worthy of decorating a wall has led many hunters to remote, northern woods.

Phyllis Rieppel does most of her hunting for moose antlers at flea markets, garage sales and the occasional auction.

Shoot a moose?

"I don't think so,'' said Rieppel as she carved away on the palm of a modest-sized moose antler.

Rieppel, of Appleton, has turned her new-found love for carving into a rare pursuit. She is among a small number of crafts people who make moose antlers their favorite medium on which to create detailed, and eye-grabbing wildlife scenes.

Rieppel, 70, and her husband, Marlin, like to stay busy. They operate Edina Realty in Appleton. Marlin also operates a secondhand store and is a regular at auctions where ever so often, someone might just put a pair of moose antlers on the sales block.

Rieppel took up woodcarving about eight or nine years ago, but was no stranger to the craft. Her grandfather, Ludwig A. Larson, used only a jackknife to carve small, wood figures that stand today as compelling evidence of his talents.

Her father, Lester A. Larson, served as the first park ranger at Monson Lake State Park near Sunburg. He enjoyed woodcarving as well.

Her father was not a natural at carving, and could have benefited by having taken classes, said Rieppel. With that in mind, she decided her foray into woodcarving would begin in a classroom.

It was a gnarly start. Her first instructor looked at one of her early woodcarvings and declared: "It's a good example of a bad example.'' But she persisted, and continued to take carving classes, many of them at the Milan Village Arts School.

A few years later, instructors were praising her work and expressing disbelief that she was a relative newcomer to the art.

That's about the time she decided to try carving moose antlers, and took classes with Nancy Sager of Princeton. Sager's reputation in the art attracted the cameras of the "Minnesota Bound" television crew. Rieppel was among the students to make the airwaves.

Carving antlers can be challenging and messy. It creates a lot of foul-smelling dust that limits Rieppel's work to the confines of a work bench in the garage.

The results of that work are cream-colored scenes that transport the viewer to wild locations where boreal forests hold moose, wolves and bears.

Rieppel enjoys the work and the results, but admits that the hunt for antlers isn't always so great. They tend to be expensive. People part with trophies from their walls or shed antlers found on hikes in northern woods only for a price, she said.

Yet speaking of the money she invests in her passion for carving, she laughed: "It's my smoking, drinking and gambling money.''

She has no real plans to sell the carved antlers that are displayed in her home and downtown real estate office as proudly as hunters' trophies.

Nor has she made plans to take up moose hunting to bring home her own set of trophy antlers, but don't rule out anything in her case. She has no qualms about taking classes to learn what she wants to do.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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