Jewellery Made of Bones

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Silver Galah claw and smokey quartz. Sterling silver, smokey quartz. 23 x 15 cm. Photograph: Jasmine Van Der Byl.

Olivia Dryden has been making jewellery since she was 13 years old. She started up making beaded costume jewellery and selling it at markets. This year, she is travelling to London to spend three months establishing connections and developing her skills in taxidermy and jewellery making. Pretty incredible, right?

Olivia is an up and coming Adelaide-based jeweller. Between those early days at the markets and now, Olivia has studied at Adelaide College of Arts where she majored in jewellery making and she has been exhibited at a long list of galleries, most notably the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, the Adelaide Town Hall, and Hill Smith Gallery.

Olivia says that creativity has always been something that has come to her pretty naturally and she has always been interested in making things. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that she creates such stunning and unusual jewellery. Olivia’s primary focus these days is taxidermy, and she makes jewellery with a combination of taxidermied bones or animals, metals, and jewels.

While she has been learning skin preservation for the last three years, but Olivia has only been sincerely doing taxidermy for about a year now.

“Death is such a taboo subject, we tiptoe around it. … [a few years back] I made a necklace out of chicken bones for a project. People were horrified and confused that I would use bones in a necklace to wear, yet they would not hesitate to eat the chicken meat off them. They just couldn’t see the beauty in the bones.”

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Clutching pearl studs. Sterling silver, AAA fresh water pearls. 2.5 x 1.2 cm. Photograph: Jasmine Van Der Byl

There aren’t a lot of places that offer to teach these kinds of courses locally, and in 2015 Olivia received the first of her Helpmann Academy grants, the Artist Residency at Sanskriti Kendra, India. Over this time she spent two months attending workshops, festivals, and museums and working hard. Looking back, this experience was vital for Olivia, not only because of what she learned practically, but also with regards to her priorities.

“When I came back home I had new exciting ideas and techniques I was eager to try. The residency helped me not only develop my skills, but taught me to prioritise my art.”

Since then, Olivia has been a machine. She was fortunate enough to be awarded the Helpmann Academy Fellowship, supported by the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation, in 2017. This has given her the opportunity to spend 3 months in London, working in the industry and learning new skills. Currently part way through her residency in the UK, Olivia reports that she has been working with staff at museums across the city, and this has developed her taxidermy skills.

“Over the past 6 weeks I have already learnt the art of taxidermy [with] birds and reptiles, and perfected my skills on larger mammals. I have… learned the art of Victorian hair weaving and volunteered at the Museum of Life Sciences restoring a gliding squirrel skeleton.”

After this experience, I am positive that Olivia will be creating more beautiful things than before. If you’re big on jewellery, especially the unusual kind, she is one to keep an eye on.

Follow Olivia via her website or on Instagram.

Natalie Carfora

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