Monday, January 26, 2009

Roadkill gets a second life as art

Would you wear a deadthing? OK, Ex-boyfriend jokes aside, it seems like a neat way to recycle and not kill a cute'n'fuzzy being for a pair of earrings... But roadkill? Read on my friends...

This article is from

VANCOUVER, B.C. - When Amy Nugent sells her line Roadquill at craft fairs, she sometimes hears snarky remarks directed at her by overzealous browsers.

The 33-year-old artist uses the parts of dead animals to create high-end key chains, jewelry and accessories: Rabbit feet and turtle hands hang off small gold key chains, and moose and bear bones are carved into feathers and used as slides for a tie or velvet necklace.

The materials aren't knockoffs.

A quick inspection of her art leaves no doubt that the parts are real. The anger from certain onlookers often turns to confusion when Nugent tells the critics her pieces are completely sustainable.

Every part was taken from dead animals scooped off the highway.

The Pembroke, Ont., native became fascinated with roadkill in 2001. She had moved to the Algonquin Park region after taking three years to hitchhike across Canada, and play music in Montreal.

Having grown up near the Algonquin First Nations reserve, Nugent was intrigued by many of their traditions and was drawn to the animals in the region. In her time back in Algonquin, she couldn't help but notice the large number of dead porcupines that lined the highway and roads.

"I started realizing, God there's all those quills and I'd heard about people collecting them up there and making art," she said.

"Not knowing what I'm doing I just stopped one day and thought 'How am I going to do this?"'

She put together a kit of Tupperware containers and plastic gloves and started taking what she could from the dead porcupines.

She wanted to "resurrect this stuff that we just pancake out there."

"This is all about honouring the animals and recycling," she said.

Soon, she started using the quills as beads for cuffs made from safety pins and elastic bands.

She was wearing one when she attended a powwow in 2003 in Algonquin. She happened across a man at a booth who had a huge bag of quills. They started chatting and Nugent soon learned that the man was known as the Roadkill Warrior - his real name is Peter Schimanski.

His mission was to collect as much roadkill as he could and use the parts in any way possible.

"I mean, I was just getting the quills of porcupines, but this guy, if he sees a chipmunk, a little turtle, hummingbird wings - from the small to bear, deer, moose, he'll take anything," she said.

Nugent gave the Roadkill Warrior one of her cuffs and the two formed a close friendship.

When Nugent moved to Vancouver five years ago, Schimanski became her supplier. Every time Nugent is back in Ontario, she apprentices with Schimanski on customs like skinning and cutting up animal carcasses.

"Throughout the years, the bond has become incredible," Schimanski said from his home in Algonquin. "Some of the work she does I just find incredible."

(Schimanski distributes his material through word of mouth. He's created a network of people interested in using animal parts, that spread from across Canada to parts of the United States.)

Nugent's future plans are as vast as the Trans-Canada Highway. She wants to start a line of fastenings - buttons, zipper pulls - in collaboration with a local designer. She's also reading up on the history of the Trans-Canada and intends to use the iconic imagery of road signs on her jewelry.

But her most ambitious idea is organizing a children's play.

"When I do a table (at a craft fair), and have all the stuff out there, (children) go crazy," she said.

"(They ask) 'What is that? What's that from?' and you get into this whole discussion about modes of transportation, highway, spirituality, death. It opens so many doors."

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