Angela, the mermaid floating in the photo, looks as if she is made from ivory, or whale bone, but her origin is more unusual: Val Hoff carved the intricate pendant from the leg bone of a moose.

The mermaid takes “weeks and weeks” to carve, and the delicate figure carries fond memories for Hoff, who shares a Mount Vernon studio with her husband, Gerry. It reminds her of childhood summers on Great Pond in the Belgrade Lakes, where she swam with friends and they all pretended to be mermaids.

The couple started carving moose bone in the late 1980s after a trip to New Zealand, where they discovered the beauty of Maori bone carving. (They still spend half the year there.) The moose bone comes from two custom butchers, who save the Hoffs a year’s supply after hunting season is over. They use the leg bones of just five animals – and sometimes fewer – in a year.

Once they get the bones, the Hoffs remove the soft marrow and whiten the bone with a hydrogen peroxide solution. The marrow goes to the hungry crows who live outside their studio. (It’s good for making suet as well.)

Not wanting to waste anything, the Hoffs take the dust that’s a byproduct of the carving process and spread it in their garden as fertilizer.

Their moose bone jewelry features animal forms, birds, fish, shells and abstract symbols. Their most popular design, “Within,” sells for $78.


“It’s a very simple circular carving that looks like the crest of a wave breaking,” Val Hoff said. “The symbolism of the carving is about where we get our strength from.”

Val Hoff says their work is a guilt-free, legal alternative to ivory. They have made moose bone top pieces and clasps for Nantucket baskets, which traditionally were carved from ivory.

But beyond occasional repairs of old ivory pieces, “our company refuses to ever work in anything threatened and endangered,” Val Hoff said. “We have people come to us all the time and say ‘Oh, I have a piece of ivory that’s been in the family for 100 years,’ and we say no.”

Their moose bone jewelry takes anywhere from three hours to a year to complete, depending on the design. The average price ranges from $75 to $90. (The mermaids, because of their intricacy, cost $425.)

The Hoffs used to go to arts-and-crafts shows and sell their jewelry in shops. Now, though, they have their own showroom, next to their studio, and they also sell online.

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