LEWISTON, Minn. – Troy Lang started with a quirky hobby, using a stick and whittler's knife as a kid.
Today, his work has grown and branched into something much more.
Lang, of Lewiston, took up the art form of making furniture out of antlers about five years ago after his wife, Vicki, kept bugging him about the chandelier in their house she wanted replaced.
Lang had a collection of antlers sitting around in a small shed in his yard, so he figured he'd arrange them into a chandelier, complete with lights.
The chandelier was a hit — and just the beginning of a pursuit that's led him to sell his work to people ranging from his co-workers to Minnesota Vikings coaches and players. He has also donated it to people he's never met who are fighting cancer and other diseases, he told the Winona Daily News.
Lang's work, which he still creates out of his shed, consists of lamps, knives, coat racks, wine racks, and more. He even carves replica morel mushrooms out of antlers. He's done special requests for clients and has worked from his own visions.
He works full time at Badger Foundry in Winona and puts at least 20 hours of work a week into his furniture on top of that. Lang said his co-workers support his work by buying it, and some donate antlers to him.
He's not exactly getting rich from his creations, but that's how he approaches his work: Just as often as he sells a piece, he gives one away, donating them for benefits to raise money for people who are battling illnesses.
"I'm just a benefit guy," Lang said. "A person's smile on their face to me is worth more than getting a thousand in cash in my pocket."
He doesn't keep track of the good his work does as he sends it out into the world to raise money, he said. He only knows his donations have helped raise a lot of money for people and benefits over the past few years.
His propensity to give his work away even extended to that original chandelier. Someone asked for it, he said, and he couldn't turn them down.
"It's just hard for me to say no when people ask me," Lang said, adding: "and I always make sure to thank them."
Lang's work is also more than just a business: It's a family affair.
The hands-on help comes from his 5-year-old daughter, Raylyn, and 14-year-old son, Carter. When he's in the shed working, his daughter never leaves his side, and his son assists when he can.
Vicki Lang offers her husband constructive criticism when he feels there's something missing from the piece. He said she just has a knack for making suggestions on what he could do to make the creation better.
"It's awesome because not only do I get to do something I love, but I get to spend time with my family while doing it," Lang said.
When asked what she enjoyed most about working with her dad, Raylyn shyly summed it up with one simple word — "everything."
Lang may be pursuing an old-world trade in a shed in a small town in southeast Minnesota, but he's also living in 2015, and taking advantage of it. He created a Facebook page this summer to promote his work — search for "Critter Creations Antler Art" — and his business has taken off even more. He has sold (and donated, of course) his work to folks from all over the country, he said, and has more requests than he can keep up with.
"Social media and the Internet can do some pretty amazing things," Lang said.
Some of his pieces have gone to high-profile places in Minnesota — a lamp to Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, a fillet knife to defensive end Brian Robison.
Lang isn't sure what the future holds, only that he'll continue making his antler art.
His ultimate dream is to make a piece for his house that has an antler from every single animal in the U.S. — which, he said, he'll "probably end up donating anyway."