Porcelain skulls, frail yet so striking one can’t step away without noticing or admiring them. Beetle and Flor have been reproducing gorgeous North American wildlife skulls in raw porcelain from their studio in Brooklyn, and it all started when Christine Facella, owner of Beetle and Flor, started freelancing as an illustrator for the American Museum of Natural History at the Vertebrate Paleontology department in 2005.
Facella began by drawing turtle skulls for a scientist who studied the morphology of side neck turtles. “I lost count over how many I have drawn, but it’s a meticulous process involving a lot of observation both visual and tactile. After a while I wanted to recreate what I drew in dimension-after all I had been trained in product design, which is all about dimensionality. I started dissecting and casting a skunk and beaver skull I bought from a store, and continued on with skulls or animal fragments given to me by friends and family of stuff they had found in the woods. The North American Wildlife series is all a labor of love!”
At first when you look at the skulls you get the eerie feeling of them being alive and being real, as if the spirits of these animals have left a permanent imprint into a skull depicting how they used to be in their real lives. The skulls are expressive and each animal has its very own personality. For instance the beaver with its long gold teeth looks as if was a very mischievous creature, while the skunk gives the impression of being especially laid-back, flashing a big smile at you. While the deer looks quiet and serious, its antlers continue to encapsulate its magnificence. Like the anatomy drawings once made for the Museum of Natural History, the skull replicas also hold an intricate amount of detail and meticulous work. Detailing every crack, every convexity, and concavity the detail is superb, thus it isn’t until you touch them that you realize they aren’t real bone because they feel cold with a slight coarse texture like porcelain, which is a colder material than bone. Although porcelain is perceived as a fragile material when cast thick, it becomes sturdy and strong with the ability to recreate precise and intricate details. Although these skulls are the result of death, they seem to hold so much life in them. They represent the memory of a creature that once lived and thrived in the wildlife in a beautiful and elegant manner.
Though the skulls are stunning, Beetle and Flor is not just about making skulls—it is about creating an impact in the crafts world by using design as a tool to help the less privileged to economic growth. Beetle and Flor’s major goal is to collaborate with NGO artisans and to help them reach their craft to a global market. “I’m interested in utilizing design as a tool to enhance economic development, as well as a way to preserve crafting traditions either by slightly redesigning current crafts, or by integrating elements into Beetle and Flor’s own designs,” Facella explains.
While traveling in Asia and South America, Facella realized how many people around the world are entirely dependent on making and selling their crafts to survive. In some communities the craft is beautifully executed with intricate techniques often times based on local traditions, or for uses too specific to their own communities that don’t transcend to people from other countries-- making their craft obsolete to outside markets. Beetle and Flor recently established a relationship with Kokonor, a tailoring shop that provides training and jobs, paying fair wages and benefits to Tibetan refugees in Northern India. While Kokonor takes care of some stitched up samples, Beetle and Flor take care of graphic and other design aspects. When product sells, Kokonor is hired to make it, making sure they get paid fair wages. Working together with artisans overseas is costly hence the skulls’ profits are also used to fund these trips. In addition, the company plans to work with NGO’s artisans for their next project, which include some utilitarian ceramic objects inspired by Norwegian rose painting, plus adding some embellishment beadwork on the skulls.
There is an element of beauty, fun, and mysteriousness on Beetle and Flor skulls, while there are such simple figures they are ever so powerful signs of death and life.
The skulls are sold in various places in the US and in Europe. Prices range from $64.00 for the teeth pendant and chain to $400.00 for the deer skull with antlers. For more information, please visit www.beetleandflor.com.