Have you ever picked up a shell, rock or feather and marveled at its beauty? Its intricate, detailed structure? Its subtle color and almost decorative patterns? I sure have. All the time. Since I was a kid—and even this afternoon. Bones also hold the same beauty and amazement for me. Each one has its own special color, whether white-bleached

by the sun, or stained dark by the forest floor. Each has its own strong complex shape. Sometimes the bones have been nibbled on by mice and other small animals. These teeth marks create a pattern and add another layer of beauty to the bone. Finding these natural treasures has always thrilled me and filled me with such wonder. I’ve been collecting my entire life and am still mesmerized by my finds. 

While my art is inspired by my multiple surgeries, it is also inspired by the beauty of these found objects and materials. My practice is not limited to only creating something; it includes the experience of searching, finding and processing these objects and then combining the shapes in a new way. I don’t know what I will find, so every new object can direct my work down a different path. 

I am fortunate that my studio (Rumpus Studio) backs up to a dense forest, with logging trails, waterfalls and several beaver dams.  Our meditative hikes and walks are good for the soul, but also can offer up supplies for my work. Our big dog, Django, was a fantastic bone hunter—she would bound back to the trail with various parts and pieces in her toothy grip, happy to carry the bones back to the studio if allowed to keep one to chew in the grass. I’d have to hide the others until I could clean them. Djangie would always find the hiding spot,

sit in the grass looking up at it and try to will me into giving the whole stash over to her. 

My sister built Rumpus Studio on her property. And once her friends found out what I was up to, they became great resources for bones and other natural treasures. Hiking and hunting is what people do here. To appreciate nature, to be healthy and to provide food for their families. Now most of my materials are given to me by these supportive folks. Perhaps sometimes as a challenge—like that day last fall when my sister’s hunter friends dropped off 4 deer carcasses for me. And other times when small femurs and mandibles are left on the porch by friends dropping off these items like treasured offerings.

I treat all bits like the precious objects they are. I excitedly add them to my collection, and dream of how to combine them with other bones. 

My process for cleaning the bones is arduous but simple. If any soft tissue is still on them, I cut as much off and then boil the bones outside in a giant pot, over a blasting propane flame. It can be a bit of

a gruesome affair and the smell can be unpleasant. So my sister set up a station for me: a table to dismantle and remove meat and a platform for the blaster and pot­—at the forest’s edge far enough so the smell doesn’t permeate the house. Still she will claim she can smell the “stew” for days…. I take all the meat and organic material deep into the forest to give back to the animals. The week of the 4 deer, every time

I would go out to the offering spot, I would find absolutely nothing left—the leaves seemingly licked clean. Yes, a little creepy indeed. But

I think it’s lovely how the forest provides for its animal family. Luckily none of the forest inhabitants came close to the cooking. Only a few crows would fly over me, calling to their friends. I’d imagine them getting excited about the feast they would soon share with the coyotes, maybe bears and other animals.

 

After I boil the bones, I soak them in peroxide for a week or so. The peroxide draws out the fats, leaving the bones a creamy white, smell-free and ready to be used. I dry them on the floor in front of our wood burning stove in our studio and then lay them out on a rolling table.

I like to have them visible so my brain can start to imagine combinations and ideas as I work on other pieces. Sometimes I will spend days just admiring the shapes and playing with ideas before figuring things out. 

I have always enjoyed process, craft and a fully encompassing creative existence. All steps are important to my practice. But perhaps the most important part is hunting for supplies—finding that perfect

sun-bleached mandible—and knowing this amazing object will offer endless creative possibilities. 

Miller
Opie

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