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BUSINESS PROFILE

Oregon wildlife art is big in East

Nationally known craftsman opens showroom, retail shop in Shady Cove

SHADY COVE -- Don't be fooled by the twin elk antlers on the sign or the moose rack proclaiming OPEN just outside the door.

High Country Arts isn't just about about antlers.

Don Burda's new wildlife art showroom also features birch bark baskets, bronze animal sculptures, Hudson Bay blankets, rustic pine furniture, fireplace screens and fat-wood kindling.

And don't think his new well-stocked retail store on Highway 62 is the only place the Trail artisan sells his specialty rustic crafts.

Burda's works have been featured in catalogs including Sundance, Neiman-Marcus, L.L. Bean and Cabelas. And his products are sold in many national park gift shops, furniture stores across the country and Made In Oregon shops.

Most goes east of the Mississippi, he says.

But when Burda decided to move Wild Country Arts' shipping operations from his Trail home into larger quarters in Shady Cove, he decided to add a retail shop as well.

This has been a secondary thought. It just helps pay the bills, he says.

lBurda had no thoughts of selling in catalogs or gift shops when he started carving buckles and bolos out of antler bone in the early 1970s. In those days he lived in Ashland, selling his work at craft fairs and markets.

But in 1980 John Travolta's Urban Cowboy sparked renewed interest in Western wear and a friend in New York City sent Burda an ad for a Western store owned by Yankee great Billy Martin. Burda sent Martin pictures of his work and Martin sent back an order.

Now he markets his wares through buyer-only showrooms in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Kan., and High Point, N.C. And what began as a one-man operation now employs seven sales representatives, 12 artisans and 10 shipping and production staffers.

It just kind of evolved, he says.

Part of that evolution was the opening of his retail store in May.

We thought we'd make it a kind of northwoods, rustic, wildlife art gallery, he says.

The heart of the gallery is Burda's antler art, including intricate lamps with rawhide shades priced at $300 to $1,750, carved antlers depicting wildlife scenes priced from $300 to $2,500, and candelabras priced from $600 to $8,000.

Smaller items include antler earrings, cribbage boards and kitchen and bath utensils. The current bestsellers are stag-handled knives, forks and spoons at $15 each or four-piece sets for $55 .

Not everybody knows what cribbage is or how to play it, but everybody eats, Burda says.

Burda buys one-third of his antlers from local outdoorsmen who collect the racks shed by deer and elk in the nearby Cascade woods each year. He'll pay $50 to $60 for a high quality elk antler -- one side -- and $12 to $20 for high-quality deer antlers.

He also buys moose antlers from Maine and deer antlers from New Zealand.

They're the fastest growing cell. Right now moose are beginning to shed. Their new ones are already starting to push them out, he says.

New antlers grow each year in five months, Burda says. They begin in velvet -- soft and full of blood -- but as the days shorten, the antlers harden. After the rut, bull elk and moose and buck deer shed their antlers.

Burda thinks most of his antler art is sold to Easterners with second-homes in the mountains or on lakes, who decorate in a rustic lodge style.

It's real calming, he says. Some place where they can go and relax.

The Western style sparked by the 1980 movie hasn't waned, but if it does, Burda intends to change his craft to meet the changing market.

The way I look at it, we've got the avenue to market anything in those showrooms, he says. It doesn't have to be antlers, but that's what we're doing right now.

The antler art Burda's doing now can be viewed at his new shop at 20979 Highway 62 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The phone number is 878-4006.

Don Burda sells items made of antlers, such as this lamp, at High Country Arts in Shady Cove. - Photo by Jim Craven