Artist Kirstin Bunyard has managed to blend her two great passions – fashion and dissection – into a morbid yet intriguing art form. Kirstin makes high-end, elegant jewelry (rings, bracelets and necklaces) using natural bones. In 2009, she started her own label called Ossuaria Jewelry, through which she sells her handmade accessories. She personally selects the bones for each piece and fashions them by hand to create ‘bold and dramatic adornments’ that are meant for ‘people with a bit of an eccentric side’.
Kirstin has a background in criminology, but she was always interested in fashion as well. “From the time I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer,” she said. Her dream was to ‘take on the world of punk culture and high fashion’. She sketched all the time, waiting for the day when her creations would be displayed on the runway. But by the time she got to college, her life had taken a different course.
After college, Kirstin worked for a short while as an autopsy assistant and attended several autopsies and embalmings. During this time she developed a great admiration for bones – the structures that support the body. She found them so elegant and alluring that she began to believe that they deserved a more prominent place outside the body. That’s when she seriously began to consider shifting her line of work.
“Ossuaria came about by combining my previous interests in both fashion and dissection – taking the remains of something recently deceased and creating a beautiful, functional, wearable piece of art,” said Kirstin. “My primary source of inspiration comes from the bones themselves. The natural shapes of the material are so beautiful and brilliantly designed – they simply scream to be shown, for once, outside the skin.
When asked about her inspiration, Kirstin said that she generally starts with a blank mind, spreads out a bunch of bones on her workspace and the piece just creates itself. “I do occasionally look to modernist jewelry designers for ideas about shapes, flow and conflict,” she said. Kirstin mainly sources her materials from farms and ranches, but sometimes she goes to pet stores with deceased animals or reptiles to spare. Once she gets possession of the carcass, she uses her own process to treat the bones and make stunning accessories out of them.
“Early on, I would pick up animals in any state of decomposition and clean the bones by maceration – soaking the animal in a tub of water until the flesh peels off fairly easily,” she said. “I have occasionally used beetles and maggots to do the dirty work for me.” But the work was a complete ‘assault on the senses’, so these days, Kirstin prefers to use animals that have died recently. These are easier to clean, and the bones are also much brighter.
Kirstin starts by removing all the organs and excess flesh and slow boiling the bones for a few hours. Then she soaks the bare bones in a peroxide mixture until clean. “I can’t say that any of this is a pleasant process, but the results are worth it,” she insists. “Additionally, I find it more gratifying to know that I have done the work myself, as opposed to simply buying pre-cleaned bones.”