Antun Penezić Combmaking

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Antun Penezić was born in 1938. In 1954, he started a three-year general school for production and crafts, and afterwards continued working with the last master craftsman as an apprentice first, and later, after passing a three-day exam, independently. In the 1960s the craft of comb making completely disappeared due to mass industrial production of plastic combs. Ironically, Antun found his new job in a polyethylene production factory OKI, where he worked for the
next 31 years. After retirement from OKI, in 2006, Antun returned again to his initial calling in order to make a comb collection for the Ethnographic Museum in Zagreb. Museum’s intention was to make the craft and production process visible to public before it sinks into oblivion. However, due to a renewed interest in his horn-made products and general shift in preference from plastic to natural materials, Antun restarted his production of combs and jewellery 46 years after closing his first workshop. Today, he is participating in many fairs and exhibitions around Croatia and abroad and is appreciated for his approach to to material processing and high quality of making. Several years ago, his work was recognized by the Old Village museum in Kumrovec. The Museum initiated the reconstruction of the comb making workshop in one of the houses in the ethnic village, with all the necessary tools and equipment. Antun was asked to pass on and teach the crafts to younger generations. Unfortunately, this project never came to life, because it was impossible to find potential apprentices. Now the house serves for presentational purposes only.

Since 2006, Antun and his wife Danica who helps with product sales, are work-ing from their home and trying to revive the traditional ways of production of everyday objects made from animal horn. Antun is probably one of the last comb makers in Europe, retiring later this year.

Antun and Danica live in a picturesque house on the slopes of Medvednica, a mountain above Zagreb, surrounded by a garden, a vineyard and a forest. Their living space is also a working place. A small workshop of approx. 20 m² for production of horn objects is located in the backyard, so Antun can work at several intervals during the day, between eating breakfast, lunch and resting. There is also a small showroom space, where all the products are on display for visitors. All of the materials, including the horn dust ,produced as a byproducts while sanding, are used up, whether for fertilising plants in the garden or in the household. The whole system the couple has organised for themselves is almost self-sustainable, from food and wine production to utilitarian objects made of wood and horn.

The production of a single comb is a complex process; thus, the aim is to produce combs in serial batches. Firstly, one needs to find a good quality horn. The best horn material is from Istrian cattle Boškarin, but others, such as Simentalac and Buša, are fine as well. There is a significant difference in quality of the material harvested from the cattle that are raised on industrial farm and the ones that are grass-fed and die a natural death. This difference can be spotted at first sight. Then, the horn needs to be cooked for an hour in boiling water to separate it from the bone. After that the horn is cut and tailored in smaller pieces, which need to be cooked in water for another hour to become more elastic. After cooking, the horn pieces are cut, spread open with the pliers into curved tiles and straightened under a cold press. After this, the material is cleaned with the sanding machine and placed between metal boards in a hot hydraulic press on 100 °C. After this whole procedure the material is ready for fine sanding and cutting with a machine or shaping by hand. Production of combs requires special tools that Antun often makes himself.

The special property of the material is that it never ages; it has distinctive character and colouring, which makes each object unique. It is very hard and has special sound quality as well.
Products made of horn, according to Antun, resonate with a unique vibration, each having its own signature energy field, which attributes them with special healing powers.
For example, unlike the plastic combs, a real horn comb, does not produce static electricity. This is why the combs of all kinds, for brushing baby hair, hair and facial hair are still much appreciated. Besides combs, which are the main focus, Antun also produces jewellery, small utensils such as cutlery and shoe horns. His wife often helps him in the production process and sales.