Dem Bones, Dem Earrings
Steve Sorensen (This marks The Everyday Hunter's 100th newspaper column.)
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, November 29, 2008.)
“What the heck is that thing?” That’s just one of the exclamations people make when they see Cheyenne Tussel’s handcrafted jewelry. They also say positive things — “It’s beautiful!” Negative things — “It’s gross!” And neutral things — “It’s unique!”
Bones are interesting. Bones get people’s attention.
What are they talking about? Bones — as in, “ankle bone connected to da… ear lobe.”
Man has always had a fascination with bones. Bones are cool. Bones are interesting. Bones get people’s attention.
Cheyenne is eleven years old, and bones got her attention. An enterprising young lady, Cheyenne attends a Montessori school in New York State. (Montessori schools seek to foster creative and self-motivated students.)
We all know that dry bones can’t live again (except for the story in Ezekiel 37:1-14), but this creative young lady has found a way to give bones a life after the death of the critters they belonged to.
Cheyenne’s father Ron is a hunter and trapper, and he’s been taking Cheyenne out on his trap line since she could walk. Hundreds of excursions into the wild nurtured Cheyenne’s appreciation for nature, and did something we don’t expect a connection with nature to do. These walks in the woods created an eleven year old entrepreneur who makes the bones of various animals into some of the most interesting jewelry pieces you’ll find.
I met Cheyenne at the fall Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers conference. She attended with her father, and she showed me some impressive pieces — including a pendant made from the jawbone of a muskrat, and a pair of earrings made from the canine teeth of a raccoon.
Cheyenne started out making jewelry with beads and wire. But she didn’t want to make what others were making, so she started using what few others might think of — bones. And you thought conserving and using every animal part possible was only a Native American ethic.
Her whole family is involved in the outdoor lifestyle. Trapping is an activity that especially fascinates her, and it supplies her with lots of material. She has thought of ways to use so many things, from teeth to turtle shells.
Of course, bones don’t come all nice and white, clean of any flesh. She has to clean them herself. Sometimes she boils them. Sometimes she places them on an anthill. Ants do very good and very thorough work while dining on animal flesh, so nothing is wasted.
After the bones are clean, she washes them and soaks them in peroxide to whiten them. Then, they become rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and pendants.
She has used muskrats, coyotes, turtles, pheasants, deer, raccoons, plus beavers, bears, turkeys and other animals.
Besides bones, she sometimes uses claws, antlers, feathers and hair. And sometimes she has to cut or carve larger pieces to make smaller ones.
Other adornments can also be added. She sometimes paints the bones, and plans to begin adding scrimshaw artwork. Soon, she hopes to have a website, and maybe a brochure.
Cheyenne is a busy young lady, so her jewelry is limited by that. If you want a piece, you can email her father at RonTussel@ltis.net. She welcomes your suggestions, or you may ask what she currently has for sale at various price points. Prices range from $10 to $100, depending on the rarity of the bone, the materials used with the bone, and the difficulty of fashioning the bone into an attractive piece.
Ultimately, Cheyenne wants to earn a degree from a good college, and continue being creative in a successful career, and in raising a family. Until then, she’ll be bringing bones to life.
Me? What do I really think? I think I have the perfect gift idea for my medical student daughter, so you can count me on the side of those who say they’re beautiful.