Picking for pieces
Items found in nature become works of art in Craig Krzycki’s Gallatin Canyon cabin
Big Sky Antler owner Craig Krzycki’s art studio is a one-room cabin likely relocated from the Twin Cabins trailhead and now situated against the hillside just north of Big Sky in the Gallatin Canyon. This is a fitting space in a fitting place—It’s where Krzycki makes his art and useful items out of antlers.
The interior of the old cabin smells of years of wood smoke and earthy odors from seasoned logs and the pine forest outside—much like the sappy, musky scent of a freshly dropped elk or deer antler.
Tools of the trade and boxes of smaller antlers and pieces of moose paddles line the cabin where Krzycki makes things visitors to the area love to take home. There are keychains, bottle openers, cocktail servers, belt buckles, home décor, dog chews and his most popular seller, elk antler salt and pepper shakers with smooth wooden tops.
Nearby, a plastic shed and a horse trailer are both stacked to the roof with hundreds more sheds waiting to be made into works of art. Many are relatively recent finds, but some, like the ones gifted to Krzycki, date back to the 1930s. He hasn’t decided what to do with those quite yet.
Nearby, Krzycki’s faithful companion, a two-year-old hound German shepherd mix by the name of Elmer keeps a close eye on the yard. Elmer has yet to start doing the work of finding sheds for his owner, but he’s definitely got a taste for the antler scraps, which he finds readily in his own backyard.
“But we’re working on it, you know,” Krzycki said.
Krzycki started selling his antler art about 20 years ago.
“I can’t say why I started doing it, but I already had antlers I’d find all over the house, and I wondered, ‘What am I going to do with all these?’” he said. His first pieces, salt and pepper sets, were sold at the Big Sky Country Fair behind the Golden Eagle Lodge. Now his products can be found all around Big Sky from his art at Creighton Block Gallery to Lone Mountain Ranch, Horse of a Different Color, Roxy’s Market, the Conoco and more.
“I think I’ve always loved art, in whatever form,” he said, recalling his favorite classes growing up as being welding, woodworking, pottery and photography. “To make that switch to do it professionally has been great. I always wanted to be my own boss and have my own thing going. It kind of just led into antler art.”
He wholesaled the popular salt and pepper shakers for a while, but has since taken a break from that to try new things.
“I wanted to do more unique pieces that are less mass-produced, and have more love put into them,” Krzycki said, motioning towards his current work in progress—a set of antlers accented with metal adornments. “Trying to find that balance of producing things that help me pay the bills, but hopefully I can get to the point where time and money aren’t the issue and I can just be happy and work on a sculpture for two months or something like that... I like to challenge myself, and that’s where the metal has come in. It’s new for me but really fun to explore.”
A good shed hunter never tells where he searches, but Krzycki did say he stays in Montana, and “travels to Northern Notell Crick.”
He still antler hunts around Big Sky, always carrying binoculars to aid in the search. But in recent years, he’s found fewer antlers in this area.
“You used to able to find these huge sets of antlers laying right next to each other, and you didn’t think much of it, because you didn’t think it’d go away,” he said.
Now many of his scores come during fall and spring hunting trips he guides in the state. Krzycki said as he gets older he gets out less, but during his earlier shed-hunting days he spent a couple of months at a time searching.
“You’re a picker. You love to explore and just find things in the woods,” he said.
To see more of his work, check out Big Sky Antler’s Instagram account.