Working with Bone

I have never had any formal training as an artist. In my thirties, I began to read about Native American culture and went on a bit of a spiritual quest. I began to look at my surroundings and my relationship with nature in a new way. I was always curious about the fractals in natural objects, and eventually I tried to capture them in abstract photography. This progression led to an ever increasing interest in 3D. I painted, sculpted clay, and then I began to carve wood. At the onset of winter, I would close up my landscaping business and begin to explore. I started to collect bones until it seemed like an obsession. One day, while examining how pieces of bone fit together, I invented “Ghost Dancers”. I’d transformed tiny muskrat jawbones into what looked like three ghosts dancing on a boom-a-rang.

Eventually, I put the bones aside and began to work with metal. I took some classes and learned the basics. Complex metallurgy seemed to come naturally to me; I don’t why. I developed a line of metal jewelry, and I really thought I was destined to be a metal smith. Along the way, I developed a design for a mixed metal Navajo Yei mask. When I held one of the masks up to a deer jaw bone, I knew I had stumbled onto something unique. It was something that satisfied my passion for minute details, my interest in fractals, and my love of form. It was both enchanting and symbolic, and I have been refining that mixed media concept ever since.

etching
Carving into the bone with a dental tool.

Working with bone is a lot like working with ivory: it’s harder than wood, but softer than most stone. It picks up the light in a beautiful way; the inner material is porous and can be used to accentuate shading.  Discolorations from the soil it laid in stain its surface and can create different tones. It requires a lot of sanding to rid the exterior crust and reveal the luminous ivory beneath. Because bone is a living material, no matter how old, the bacteria that was in the bone still exists. The dust can be quite toxic, so I have to wear a mask and use a downdraft system. I use a variety of tools such as Dremels, dental tools, and bone saws. Some tools I’ve made myself, and some I’ve modified. I primarily work with deer, moose, and cow jawbones, but I’ve also worked with horse sacrum, and cow vertebrae.

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