Bare Bones Beauty
Visiting artist Luci Jockel MFA 16 JM transforms bits and pieces from animals into wearable art that points to the fragility of nature.
Artist Luci Jockel MFA 16 JM often makes jewelry using animal bones.
As a girl growing up in the woods of western Pennsylvania, jewelry artist Luci Jockel MFA 16 JM began collecting found objects from nature: feathers, stones, bark and bones from deer and mice. “My parents are antiques dealers, so there was a constant flow of objects passing through the house,” she recalls. “I think I started collecting as a way of picking my own things to keep.”
As an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Jockel began transforming such objects into wearable art—focusing at first on mushrooms and other fungi. “I was initially nervous about working with bones,” she explains. “I didn’t want the work to be off-putting.”
Inspired by the jewelry of Swedish artist Märta Mattsson, who uses the process of electroforming to coat insects with copper, Jockel applied to RISD’s Jewelry + Metalsmithing program, which Mattsson had attended as an exchange student. “Once I got to RISD, I just dove in,” Jockel recalls. “The grad program is a great opportunity to explore concepts and to think about your process as an artist.”
Through pieces like Royal Mourning (squirrel skull, lichen, mushrooms, insect pins, steel) and Seven Sorrows (muskrat skulls, silver, 24k gold foil, honeycomb, honey bee, lady bug, lichen, allium seed pods) she explored notions of the ephemeral and reflected on historic art forms like Victorian mourning wreathes and hair jewelry.
“But more recent work using bees’ wings expresses exactly what I’m trying to say about the fragility of our environment,” Jockel says. She connected with Rhode Island beekeeper Paul Whewell, who appreciates her concern for at-risk honeybee populations and provides her with bee remains from hives that have died out.
Jockel’s focus on repairing our relationship with the environment led Department Head Tracy Steepy to invite her to teach a Wintersession course called Repair: Making Connections. Offered in conjunction with the RISD Museum’s current Repair and Design Futures exhibition, the studio investigates processes of repair using found objects and metalworking techniques such as riveting and soldering. The visiting artist also spoke about her work as part of the museum programming associated with the exhibition.
“Watching non-J+M majors discover this medium has been really exciting,” says Jockel. “They bring such a fresh perspective to jewelry making.” Furniture Design major Lucy Freedman 21 FD, for example, is making a necklace using upholstery foam. And Architecture major Ian Kienbaum MArch 21 is creating wearable art using a jeweler’s saw to shape a found circuit board.
If students in the Wintersession class wrap up with only one takeaway, Jockel hopes it will be about using materials for problem solving. “That’s an important lesson I learned as a grad student working with [J+M Senior Critic] Noam Elyashiv MFA 94 JM,” she says. “It’s so important to allow the materials to guide you—to become what they want to become.”
Jockel has been working as metals shop supervisor at University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia since 2018 and says that she’s happy to be back in the world of academia. “It provides an amazing sense of community,” she says, “and the students’ energy definitely influences my own practice.”
The idea for her ongoing Linked series, for example, seeped into Jockel’s subconscious, she says, watching UArts students learn to make chains out of silver and brass wire. By slicing found deer bone, she creates loops that she then connects using beeswax mixed with damar resin to form bone chain.
Jockel has also found a nurturing creative community as a member of Philadelphia’s JV Collective, a group of women jewelers that includes fellow alumni Leslie Boyd MFA 13 JM and Mallory Weston MFA 13 JM (who share a studio and exhibit their work together). “I’m so lucky to be part of such a supportive group,” says Jockel, “and I have RISD to thank for those connections. In fact, RISD changed my life completely.”
—Simone Solondz / RISD studio photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH
Jockel’s work (and her thesis book) are on view through February 17 in Jewelry + Metalsmithing’s triennial exhibition at Woods-Gerry Gallery.
Repair and Design Futures, a multidisciplinary exhibition at the RISD Museum, investigates mending as material intervention, metaphor and call to action.
As a Jewelry + Metalsmithing major, junior Anthony Anderson 18 JM is discovering new ways to speak through art.
An interdisciplinary exhibition on view this summer in RISD’s ISB Gallery brings artists and scientists together to promote conservation.