Last year I happened upon an Etsy site that made me momentarily lose my ability to talk. My jaw was hanging around somewhere on the floor and before I found it again, I knew I had to, had to had to have a piece of Amanda Langston’s work. I fell deeply in love with a deer vertebrae necklace. When I wore my necklace for the first time, I felt my back straighten out, and this wonderful feeling of pride and new found confidence washed over me.
I have an enormous amount of respect for this incredible woman and creator, and I feel absolutely delighted that she agreed to be interviewed for Wyrd Words & Effigies.
Can you please talk about the beginning of Osteal Jewelry. What gave you the idea to make and sell jewellery made from animal bones, teeth and hair, and when was this idea conceived?
I’ve always collected strange things; rusty bits, bones, bird feathers, bits of wood, dead insects and interesting flowers/leaves. When I first started my jewelry business it was much more simple, textile items – but I didn’t feel like it was very ‘me’. I wanted to create more organic feeling things, and I didn’t want to ‘make’ too much – as I didn’t want to add to an already cluttered world. Bones seemed like the natural idea. I happened upon a large bag of bones at an antique store and felt like it was a sign to move forward with my Bone Jewelry ideas!
What is the significance of the word ‘Osteal,’ and how did you come to choose it as the name for your business?
My business was originally started, officially on Etsy in 2009 and actually had the name Our Decay (taken from a circle takes the square song). However within a few years several shops began to pop up using the word decay in a similar way and I decided it was time for a change. My jewelry skills and ethics and evolved quite a bit and I wanted a fresh start to reflect that. I also wanted something related to bones to carry the theme. I turned to an old medical dictionary for help, and that is where I found Osteal :adj. 1. Of or relating to bone or to the skeleton. 2. composed of bone; osseous.
Deer Toe Bones
You are very conscious of where your materials are sourced from, and never use animal parts that have come from fur farms or hunting. Can you talk about why using cruelty free materials is so important to you?
To me respect for nature is of utmost importance. Humans tend to be greedy, wasteful and arrogant – and in doing so miss out on so much of the beauty of the natural world.
When I started working with bone I realized how much of what is for sale and what was being made into jewelry was from terrible sources. I’ve been vegetarian since I was a teenager – that’s 17 years now – and it was always for ethical reasons rather than health reasons. Humans have this illusion that we are more important than other animals and its just nonsense.
No animal deserves to live its life in a cage; no animal deserves to die simply because you think its skin would make you look fancy. Any time an animal is kept in a factory farm of ANY kind it suffers. Lots of people don’t like to think of things like this, because it makes them feel guilty for the choices they make – choices often made out of laziness.
I also want to state that I have no problem with people who hunt to SURVIVE, only take what they need, use every part – and do so with skill and compassion. This means you only eat meat that you personally caught/hunted and you are skilled enough to put the animal down quickly and without suffering.
Trophy hunting is a whole different thing, it’s an ugly, selfish, wasteful sport– only seconded by trapping. Both are unacceptably cruel.
Rat Bone Earrings
How do you prepare bones so that they are ready to be made into jewelry?
It all depends on how they are when I find them!
Sometimes I am lucky enough to find things that, due to weather, predators or time are largely decomposed and only require maceration and a hydrogen peroxide bath. Other times I do have to skin the animals and remove as much meat/fat as possible.
When I find fairly intact animals I try leaving the meat where I found it, as much as I can. I also generally bury them to let nature run its course. Lots of other scavengers as well as insects and plants depend on the decomposing tissue. I also leave lots of bones behind – because many small rodents need on the bones for nutrients and tooth maintenance.
Once all the meat/flesh/fur is removed the first step is always maceration. Maceration is simply soaking the bones to remove what bits may remain. This can take anywhere from a week to a month depending – and the water should be changed weekly.
When the bones are reasonably clean I scrub them down and rinse them (no soap is involved and I try to use the water for my garden), toothbrushes work very well for this step.
After all the tissue and dirt is removed I give them a bath in hydrogen peroxide, for about two days – depending on size. This whitens and sanitizes them, and then they’re ready for their new life!
You have a degree in horticulture and a certificate in ecological restoration. How valuable were these courses in your professional and personal development?
Learning how interconnected plants, animals and humans really are was a wonderful experience. It gave me an even greater appreciation for the natural world and the importance of respecting and preserving as much as we can.
The process of getting my degree also helped with my confidence immensely – not just in my basic knowledge but in my ability to present what I know confidently to others.
In recent years, woolly mammoths have been emerging from permafrost in Siberia, and their prehistoric bones have been used to make jewelry. What are your thoughts on this?
My first thought is “holy hell, I want some!” – Which is quickly followed by how many did they find? Do we need them for research? Would they serve us better as study aids? And, are they sturdy enough to make jewelry out of?
I think as long as we’re not destroying or wasting a valuable educational tool, or depleting the source – it’s probably okay. I know that in places like Florida they unearth hundreds of thousands of fossil deer bones, fairly regularly. Plenty have been gathered for research and study and the rest are surplus.
I suppose I’d prefer that any useful bones be used for scientific study – and as much as needed be preserved to future research. Preservation, respect and study first.
You have often talked about how wasteful our modern world is, and that we often undervalue the lives of animals, and I wholeheartedly agree. Do you believe we’ll ever ‘wake up’ or do you think things are just going to get worse as the world turns?
As humans continue to over populate they will continue to destroy. Most people are so incredibly short sighted that simple ideas like “we’re not the most important species on the planet” will always shock them. I have very little hope for most of humanity, sadly.
I am, however, very grateful that animal testing for cosmetics seems to be declining… but most of the world prefers convenience, low prices and quick fixes. People with that mind set will never take the time to see the damage we’ve already inflicted, or the importance of even the smallest plants and animals.
I suppose my hope is that, at some point, humans wipe themselves out and this planet gets to rebuild itself without human interference.
I was very interested to read about what inspires you. ‘Personal magic’ and ‘the repetitive patterns of nature’ were two subjects that played on my mind. Can you please talk a little about the significance of these topics?
I was the little kid who made friends with rocks, re-designed her own clothes, saw fairies and sang funerary songs to fallen baby birds. I’ve tried to never get to far away from those things – those bits of whimsy, of pure imagination, glimpses into your own heart – those things are magical. When I speak of personal magic I mean the ability to BE magic, to see the magical elements in yourself and everything around you. It involves being inspired by your own thoughts and dreams, and using this inspirational, magical, childlike feeling to create strength and happiness.
The repetitive patterns of nature – oh I could go on forever. I think one of the best examples is spirals ( Fern fronds, shells, horns, whirl pools.)When we start to look at simple parts of nature, like patterns and shapes, you begin to see how everything is interconnected. Everything.
I am in awe of your process of creating. From what I have read it’s very organic. Can you please talk about why a spontaneous process works best for you?
I suppose because I have an ‘artist’ mind.. I always have a million projects laying about half finished. I’m not a step by step person, hell I’m an incredibly disorganized person. As this interview may have already made clear, I tend to towards rambling, jumbled, fluid thoughts … I think about too many things and once and can’t always move in a cohesive way towards an end. It’s not always bad thing, I am never at a shortage of idea m- however I tend to be ‘done’ with an idea or design once I’ve done it… which makes it incredibly hard/boring to recreate multiples of the same design. That has probably been my biggest challenge in running my shop.
I interviewed Sarah Bartell of Nature Punk, and found that she has, in the past, encountered quite a bit of abuse for using animal skins in her work. I read in an interview that you haven’t had issues along those lines as yet. Do you think the reason for this is that people have more of an emotional response to something that still looks like an animal?
It’s really unfortunate that people can be so mean/judgemental. I think appearance is a big part, animal skins are very ‘life like’ and that can be quite jarring for people, while bones are a bit easier to think of as ‘separate’.
Whenever I am selling my jewelry in public I make sure to have signage that explains how I source my bones and why it’s important. I am quick to point out what animal it is, what bone it is and that the bones were found, already deceased.
Most people seem reassured by my immediate willingness to explain where the bones came from, and that I am a vegetarian.
I’m aware that you’re involved in numerous voluntary environmental projects. Can you please talk about these and what they mean to you, and the sorts of work that takes place?
I’ve been involved in Ecological Restoration for about 4 years now. Most of what is done involves removing invasive species, stabilizing soil and replanting the area with appropriate native plants. It’s hard work, in less than perfect conditions, but it’s incredibly important.
For me, it’s more than just restoring habitat or preventing erosion – its one more thing I can do to help counteract all the damage that has been done to the earth. Nature is king to me, and it’s my pleasure to work hard to save and repair it.
Horse Hair Necklace
How does someone care for their bone jewelry to ensure it is kept in peak condition?
I try to create my bone jewelry to be very sturdy; it should require little to no cleaning and will hopefully last for a long, long time.
There are a few general tips to remember: bone is porous and should not be worn while swimming or bathing (especially if you have dyed hair), avoid repeated impact with other objects, and don’t let wild animals chew on it.
Where on the web can we find Osteal Jewelry?
Etsy = www.osteal.etsy.com
Facebook = www.facebook.com/osteal
Tumblr = ostealjewelry.tumblr.com