Meet Lillian Minix, owner of Lillian Minix Pyrography. What does py-rog-ra-phy mean? “the art or technique of decorating wood or leather by burning a design on the surface with a heated metallic point”. But Lillian goes further than simply wood and leather. She also uses bones to create stunning works of art with burning techniques, and incorporates them into jewelry pieces.
You can’t help feeling inspired around her creative personality and warm smile. I talked with Lillian about how she got her start, and about finding a community of like-minded artists…
“Sarah: So how long have you been doing this?
Lillian: I’ve been wood burning for quite some time, but I had gotten into the, more or less, the bone and the oddities and the curiosities stuff several years ago. I had a friend give me a deer skull and he asked me to paint it for him, and I was just thinking to myself, I hate painting…I’ll find something else really cool to do with it. So, I took my wood burner to it and it didn’t work but I did some research and found out that I needed a hotter wood burner… a more professional wood burner. I ended up with a Colwood Cub, it’s my go-to. I absolutely love it. I actually use it for all of my wood burning projects, not just the bone. But it’s a great tool. After I started “bone burning”—is kind of how I’ve coined it—I just picked everything else up pretty naturally. Like all the bone jewelry, and the collections, buying, selling and trading. You know, the skulls and taxidermy pieces, that all just came naturally with it.
S: Is there a community of people in the world that you’ve connected with now?
L: Yeah, absolutely. So, I keep in touch with people that are working out of Sussex, England…I’m working with people that are out of Gainesville, Florida. I’m working with other companies all over Colorado, New York, West Virginia, some right down here in Bristol. I’ve actually interacted with people online that are doing what I’m doing here in Abingdon. So, it’s really neat, yeah, we kind of call ourselves the “Vulture Culture”. So, if you find the hashtag #vultureculture on Instagram and Facebook and everything, you’ll find all sorts of really cool stuff. The taxidermy, the #itwasdeadwhenwemet is kind of a new hashtag that this other bone artist has coined, so we definitely have our own culture.
S: I love that, because it brings beauty to things that sometimes are seen as creepy or that we have a fear of: the morbid. We have a fear of death, I think, in our culture.
L: We definitely do. And as weird as it sounds, I feel like a lot of the people that are attracted to my work…I’ve got a lot of people in South America that like my work, and a lot of people in Europe…I think it’s because they’re more accustomed to death. You know, once it happens we mourn and we kind of move on pretty quickly…from death. Back in the Victorian Era, people would cut locks off of loved one’s hair after they passed, or keep their teeth and make jewelry out of it. And that’s still a really popular thing today. But the memento mori in the Victorian culture was extremely important. And the memento mori is the remembrance of death in years to come…So, the whole vulture culture and all of the people that I share that with, we really are extremely passionate about that. And, I mean, it shows in my work. I use Victorian floriography in the wood burning on my skulls. I have studied the language of flowers, the Victorian language of flowers. I use these different flowers to represent these different things, and that’s why these Bobcats [shown below] are my in-laws. It’s because each one of these skulls I’ve created to represent this specific person in my life, or this specific era of my life, for this or this. They really are tribute pieces. And they don’t always have to be a tribute for someone that’s dead, but that’s a big thing with the memento mori is the tribute of someone that’s deceased. I definitely try to bring that to light in my work, and that’s actually where it started for me. It’s a really big part of what I do.
S: Especially for younger people, staying in a small area can be a hard decision sometimes to make, but what does a small community mean to you?
L: I graduated high school in 2011, graduated Emory & Henry in 2015, May of last year, and I had just fallen so much in love with this area while I was in school that it would have been silly for me to leave. The thought didn’t even cross my mind, really. My husband and I had talked about, you know, what if we moved to Colorado or to North Carolina. And the whole time we were discussing it, we were like, why are we even talking about it? We love it here. It’s a great community. Abingdon, in itself, I think is just so special. I’ve not been able to find, we together have not been able to find, anything remotely close to what Abingdon presents. The people here are just so genuine. We’re passionate about the same things, which I think is huge for a community. We’re passionate about the Creeper Trail, we’re passionate about city council, and we’re passionate about locally grown fruits and vegetables at the farmers’ market. So, sticking around in a place that’s small like Abingdon, for me, I think that a huge part of it is I want to stay here because I know that my community is going to support me and that we’re going to be passionate about the same things.
S: That’s awesome. That really is true, and I think that’s part of the reason it works. Part of the reason that a lot of things succeed here, too. What does local commerce mean to you? The importance of buying local, the importance of small business?
L: I think that it’s so important, especially for such a small community like Abingdon. It’s just really hard to go to, you know, a big town, a big city, a big anything and to find the same quality of goods that you get here. And I think that that’s the biggest part of local commerce, is the quality of what you’re getting. I mean, you know that even if it’s crafts or collector’s items, or food, I mean anything. You know that if you got it here locally in Abingdon, it is going to be quality.”
You can find Lillian at the Abingdon Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and various festivals and fairs. Follow her on Instagram @lillianminixpyrography and check her out on Facebook!
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