VEST, Ky. — Genevieve Combs walked across the field outside the Beckham Combs Community Center and knelt over a pile of elk dung.
“That should have been a good one,” Combs said, looking at the composting dried pile of doo that looked like oblong Milk Duds. She picks only the freshest and best "duds." They look prettier — to her at least. Wearing a latex glove and carrying a cardboard tray, she continued her search.
“Oh, here’s some,” Combs said with disappointment as she kicked another dried pile with her foot. “But I wouldn’t use those.”
Combs, 62, is a retired post office worker looking for more jewels to add to her unique line of trinkets – Elk-Doo Jewelry. An elk's "business" is her business. It was an idea formed a year ago while she was taking a community jewelry class. She made some jewelry using elk antler, and the teacher suggested she try her hand at crafting jewelry with elk poop.
Combs liked the idea. She is constantly looking for ways to make money to keep the county-funded community center running. Elk-doo jewelry would be another source of cash on top of weekly bluegrass dances.
Combs solicited the help of her friend Virginia Deck, who helps scour the community center fields for poop left behind by elk who wander from the mountains and valleys into the tiny village.
Combs said she and Deck often receive puzzled looks from others.
Once collected, the droppings are left to bake in the sun. Then Combs and Deck apply a coat of polyurethane to harden and sanitize the droppings before decorating them with beads.
Combs said most people thought they were crazy. The idea of using elk poop made most people queasy.
“They would be like, ‘You have to be kidding, you handle that stuff?’ or, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you make jewelry out of that and expect people to wear it,’” Combs said.
Inside her small office at the community center, the jewelry is draped over a four-foot elk antler and displayed in trays for potential window shoppers. Maroon, purple and turquoise beads contrast with the poop — aka nature's pearls. Combs and Deck’s prices range from $5 for earrings to $25 for necklaces. It hardly inspires the romanticism of diamond earrings and emeralds, but it does serve well as a gag gift.
They began with earrings and cowboy hatbands with two pieces of dung connected to the fabric. Their first attempt to peddle the trinkets came during a trail ride, but rain and gusty winds that blew away their hats ruined the venture.
“It was a disaster,” Combs said.
Then, a reporter from the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote an article about the jewelry. The publicity brought people from across Kentucky to the community center to buy the novelties. As the popularity spread, Combs said people from Hawaii to North Carolina have called to order their own elk doo bracelets and earrings.
The proceeds, and money from other fundraisers, help provide Christmas baskets of fruit and candy for the children of Vest.
“Some kids wouldn’t have much at all,” Combs said. “If we hadn’t had the gifts this year, those kids wouldn’t have much.”
The pair’s creativity doesn’t stop at jewelry. Christmas mugs line the shelf beneath the jewelry, each featuring a shiny piece of glittered dung glued to the bottom. When Combs looks at the mug, she began her sales pitch.
“It’s the gift for a person who has everything,” she said, giggling like a high school girl. “I have weird ideas.”