Forever the Ancient One, a bleached moose skull with ornately carved antlers, greets Georgette Kanach as she enters her studio, the small outbuilding her extended family helped her build two years ago in Gray.
“I shot this moose myself in 2005. It was 945 pounds with a 53-inch [antler] spread,” said Kanach, who throughout several years had coaxed pine trees and tiny moose out of the bone canvas. Underneath the skull, a Native American village of tepees painted in acrylic decorated the length of a moose jawbone.
Kanach, a Master Maine Guide since 1983, grew up in Jackman. The eight children in her family learned to hunt for food. She remembers walking with her father, a logging operator, in the woods, and shooting birds with his shotgun. But as a child, she wouldn’t hunt larger animals. The townspeople knew her as the animal lover, “The Dr. Doolittle of Jackman,” and brought her injured animals — a black bear cub, groundhogs, squirrels.
Over time, she found joy in hunting (and eating) white-tailed deer and moose in addition to grouse and turkey. Last year, she shot a young black bear — some of which she made into hamburger sausage. She eats everything she kills, but she also hunts for art supplies.
“People know I gather antlers, skulls; I have dead birds in my freezer — and a bear hide,” she said, laughing. “I warn people.”
Feathers and bones show through the clear plastic bins on the shelves of her studios. And since bagging the moose in 2005, she has been working with its bones. Now complete, the carved skull was presented for the first time in March at the State of Maine Sportsman’s Show in Augusta.
“It took me a long time,” she said. “You just don’t take time to do things for yourself.”
Moose antlers are tough, so to carve them, she used a RotoZip, Foredom, Dremel and a high-power air tool, working through 30 burs (the tip of an air tool costing $10 apiece). She hopes that the finished piece, priced at $6,000, will be purchased by a lodge, where it can be properly displayed.
When Kanach isn’t slowly shaping bone of wild game, she’s airbrushing motorcycles, painting signs, etching metal, wood and glass, making earrings out of moose bone chips and painting oil and acrylic outdoor scenes — all self-taught. Instructional videos are stacked beside a small TV in the corner of her studio.
“You do what you have to do in a small town. You wear many hats to survive,” she said, adding that she is always finding new mediums to try — and excel at, proved by the row of sporstman’s show ribbons hanging on the studio wall. She won first place in the State of Maine Migratory Waterfowl Stamp contest in 2009, the same year that she was named Artist of the Year for the Ruffed Grouse Society and her painting “Autumn Delight” graced the cover of its winter magazine.
“My love for nature and my art are all wrapped up into one,” she said.
After high school, Kanach was accepted into Boston School of Art. Her father drove her down to the city, and overwhelmed by skyscrapers, she refused to stay. Back in Jackman, she married and raised two daughters. Eighteen years ago, after a divorce, she moved south to Gray.
Her hunting expertise comes in handy while working in the hunting section of the Freeport L.L. Bean for supplementary income. She keeps a camp in Jackman, where she brings her Brittany dogs Alex, Diamond and Lola to go on upland bird (woodcock and partridge) hunting. In Gray, the dogs keep her company as they wander in and out of the open door of her studio on warm days.
Though Kanach enjoys muscling new beauty out of bone, she also favors working with one of the most fragile natural materials — hollowed eggs. Sucking out the inside with an air compressor and sterilizing the eggs is a lot of extra work (she said from experience), so she purchases her empty finch, goose, duck, chicken, emu and ostrich eggs online. She then sets to work carving the delicate shells, sometimes forming a network of holes so compact that there is barely any shell left.
“The eggs are really fun because they come out so pretty,” she said as she hung duck egg ornaments on a carved moose shoulder bone and placed carved finch eggs on tiny gold pedestals on one of her many workshop tables. Recently, she has been carving detailed patterns into larger eggs to make them into stunning cake toppers.
Her hands have practiced egg carving for 15 years, and 81 of her intricately carved eggs have been displayed at L.L. Bean.
“It’s just a matter of holding and not squeezing,” she said as she dragged an air engraver spinning at 300,000 rotations per minute along the outline of red hearts she’d drawn on a duck egg. The sour smell of egg dust escaped the suction of her filter on the glass shield of the engraving station she built herself (so it would be long enough for engraving gun barrels).
On the worktable to the right, an ostrich egg lay in two halves. She planned to adorn it with a floral pattern and line it with velvet — a one-of-a-kind jewelry box. Beside it, a bin of emu eggs lay open to the sun streaming through the window. The shells are deep green and textured with small bumps, but when she scratches the surface, the next layer is turquoise, and the next, white — layers of color she can work with while carving relief scenes into the shell.
Because she doesn’t have a storefront or the space to display her artwork, most of it is purchased from her website or custom made. Every time she completes a job, she puts money back into equipment and supplies — a microscope for engraving tiny dragonflies onto wine glasses, acrylic paint to fill gaps on the shelves, and eggs.
This week, she’ll be turkey hunting. With a little luck, a sharp eye and a steady hand on her bow, she’ll acquire some beautiful feathers to embellish her next semiorganic creation.
Georgette Kanach’s artwork and information about her lessons on relief carving eggs, airbrushing and wood-burning canoe paddles are available for purchase online at www.mainenatureart.com.