My name is Lillian Minix and I am a pyrography artist and licensed taxidermist working mainly with bone and flora. I am originally from Salem, Virginia but moved to Emory, Virginia in 2011 where I graduated with Bachelor's degrees in Philosophy and Fine Art from Emory & Henry College in May of 2015. I currently reside in Abingdon, Virginia with my husband, Brett, and our black lab, Rixey.
Having lived in the Appalachian region all my life, I am familiar with the arts and crafts of the culture and heritage in the area. I grew up working in ceramics, wood carving, and salvage sculpture because it was a vital part of Appalachian culture. Woodburning is a common art form in Appalachia as well, among others like basket weaving, quilt making, and barn painting, and has been for hundreds of years. The craft is very popular because of easy access to many types of resources, like most Appalachian crafts. Deciduous and evergreen trees in the region like birch, basswood, pine, and poplar are easily found in the thick forests of Southwest Virginia, so woodburning is a prominent craft of the region.
Though woodburning has been recognized as an Appalachian craft for hundreds of years, it is only recently being widely accepted as a fine art form and not simply a craft. I work the way I do so that others may acknowledge the fine art principles that can be found in woodburning. I include fine detail in my works and mount them for gallery display so that they might be seen as formal fine art rather than only backcountry craft.
I have been woodburning for several years, but only recently began working on bone. I have always been very fond of working with bone in my artwork and have been a collector of biological specimens like pressed flowers, dried bugs, shells, and seeds all my life. My inspirations for my designs come from my interest in natural things as well. My designs often include floral bouquets and I use lots of real flowers and bugs as reference when I am drawing or sketching, most from my personal collections.
I work in small scale taxidermy as well, focusing on European Mounting, the mounting process that displays the skull and horns or antlers only of an animal. I am a licensed Virginia Commonwealth taxidermist and am an apprentice at Elite Wholesale Taxidermy in Abingdon, Virginia.
I use the term "pyrography" to describe the work that I do, but most people know of this art form as woodburning. The word "pyrography" literally means fire writing and is the act of using varying temperatures to burn patterns and designs into surfaces. Pyrography is just another word for woodburning, but seeing as I generally do not burn on wood, I find that pyrography fits my work more appropriately.
Please keep in mind while viewing my work that my safety precautions are extreme because the tools I use can be dangerous. The woodburners I use can reach temperatures as high as 3500 degrees Fahrenheit, so I wear a crematory-grade respirator mask and work in a concrete studio. I wear a leather apron, safety glasses, and leather gloves. My fingers are covered inside of the gloves with leather sleeves for multiple layers of protection. If you plan to woodburn on your own, please follow necessary safety precautions.
My work is strongly influenced by the Victorian Era, more specifically preservation. Victorians would go as far as to make jewelry from the teeth of deceased loves ones and to take photographs with passed family members for weeks or months before their burial. Mourning wreaths were also common in the Victorian Era and were created by tinting strands of hair from the locks of dead friends and family.
There are three ideas from the Victorian Era that play key roles in my work: Vanitas, the wunderkammer, and floriography. Vanitas, a style of still-life painting that alludes to Victorian curiosities collections, influences the way I like to display my work and enhances the concept of physical preservation. The wunderkammer, also known as a cabinet of curiosities, influences the pieces that I use in my work. The symbolism in Victorian floriography, or the language of flowers, creates lush, eerie forms that represent my loved ones or significant concepts of life and death. These concepts three-fold are what my work is based on– the act of preservation.
Vanitas influences my work and how I display it. I do not display my work as though it is part of a still-life with other objects. Instead, I display my work as though the bone is the painting the the floral arrangment is the still-life. Vanitas is also full of symbolism and helps me to better understand the Victorian age and what symbolism I would like to use in my own work.
The wunderkammer is quite literally the German translation for "cabinet of curiosities." Wunderkammern were traveling exhibits of the worlds fascinating curiosities and oddities. Sideshow and attraction companies would send out men with large cases and chests filled with wet specimens, dried plants, taxidermied animals, fossils, vintage parchments covered with biological drawings, and much more. They would charge the general public a small amount of money to see the wonders of the world. These trunkers often carried in their chests small animal skulls. I oftentimes view my own collection of work as a wunderkammer with curious skulls covered in biological drawings.
Victorian floriography is chock-full with symbolism. By using specific plants and flowers and their meanings, my work serves a purpose to idealize mine or someone else's loved ones and portray them in a physical piece of work that will hopefully last for quite some time even if the loved ones physically do not. Each one of the flowers or plants I use in my work represents a characteristic that I find in my loved ones. In floriography, pomegranate represents maternal instinct, gladiolus represents willingness to fight for what is right, canterbury bells represent constancy, and so on. Some of the floral arrangements in my pieces are tied with a bow to represent that where many characteristics come together a person is acknowledged. The floral designs in my work serve more purpose than beauty– they are designed to remember people or to tell stories.
Aside from the Victorian-era symbolic preservation, I am also influenced by physical preservation. I have a fascination with fire, and since I cannot bring the fire directly to a gallery my pieces use the closest thing possible– pyrography or fire writing. By burning these designs into bones, I hope my artwork will exist some time longer than many other artistic mediums. The combination of carbon and bone, two of the earth's strongest mediums, in my mind enhances the life of my work. While the bone my work is on might create a discomfort for some viewers, it also reminds us that we do not exist forever, but it gives hope that my artwork might last a little longer. Each of my pieces is very individual. Concepts for my designs come directly from the story of the individual piece of bone I will be working on. These bones, antlers and horns have served purpose as a part of a no longer existing animal, but I aim to repurpose them in my work to save the ephemeral nature of my loved ones.
In addition to freehand designing all of the pyrography work on my bones, I taxidermy some of them as well. I am a licensed Virginia Commonwealth taxidermist and am bettering my taxidermy knowledge by working on smaller projects for the time being.