The Noisy Plume
Jillian Lukiwski | Idaho
Photography by Jillian Lukiwski
Jillian Lukiwski, or as some may better know, "The Noisy Plume," is the emblematic representation of a modern American frontierswoman. She makes her living as an independent silversmith, photographer and writer in the interior West, but she is so much more than that. Jillian blurs the lines between being a creative prodigy, teetering on the edge of celebrity status, and a rural farm girl, satisfied with the simple necessities in life. She has the ability to make the elusive slow-paced ideals in our modern achievement-based society not seem so far away. Her work has stretched far and wide, inspiring the masses, but she doesn't do it for the glory. This is what fills her spirit. We were blessed to get to hear more of her story.
To the person who hasn’t met you or doesn’t follow your work, who is Jillian Lukiwski.
Jillian: Jillian Lukiwski was born under the maple leaf and now lives beneath the stars and stripes. She’s an outdoors woman — a hunter, a fisher, an explorer, a friend to the wild things in the wild places. She’s connected to life and death cycles in meaningful ways. She is introverted but gregarious in social settings. She spends a lot of time alone but she’s rarely lonely. She is a farmer and a gardener. She is a silversmith, a photographer and writer. She’s a child of God. She is drawn to investigating the smaller pieces that build the whole. She holds creative process in high esteem and is, at times, uncomfortable with accolades. She is terrified of fame. She is a horsewoman but not a cowgirl. On good days, at her very best, she’s a poet.
Give us a little bit of your background.
Jillian: I grew up outside. My dad worked as a park warden in Canada’s national parks and all my best childhood memories revolve around being outside, riding horses, backcountry horseback patrols with my dad, family excursions that carried us deeper into whatever park we were living in, gardening, handling wild creatures, being barefoot, being tortured by high school boys on the school bus…and there was a lot of figure skating, too.
My life path has been unconventional. When I was eighteen, I met an American in New Zealand. When I was 21, I eloped with him and I came to America. I was in and out of universities and colleges and eventually I dropped out completely to chase my passions and interests. I wound up being self-employed as a silversmith, writer and photographer. Now my husband and I own a small, working farm on the Snake River of Idaho so I’m a farmer, too. My life is beautiful and very hardworking. I have made my living by telling the story of my life as honestly as I can. I embrace all the ways I am changing as I grow and live and age. I cannot imagine who I would be if my life was different, had I chosen a different path, had I stayed in Canada, had I not married the man I married. I become a better version of myself with every moment of every day of this life of mine. I’m so thankful for every aspect of it, every moment of it, and especially for the suffering I have endured in life. In this life, it is our suffering that polishes our souls.
You are a ridiculous silversmith. Tell us how you got into it.
Jillian: I came to the US 13 years ago when I married my husband. By way of Alaska, we wound up living on a remote satellite station for US Fish and Wildlife on the middle of the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation outside of Parker, Arizona. It was a very isolated location, and Robert was working as a fish biologist, while I was waiting for my green card paperwork to process. While it was processing, I couldn’t work, and had a ton of free time on my hands. I was also lonesome and looking for a sense of community. I was snooping around one day and noticed that a college in Lake Havasu was offering an introduction to silversmithing. Since I had nothing else to do with my time, I signed up for the course. In that class I learned to roughly solder, saw metal, and bezel set stones with extremely primitive tools. Anyone can make jewelry, but not everyone is good at designing jewelry. I was good at both. Once the class finished, I slowly began to collect tools for my workspace, which was located in a quonset, along with 10,000 endangered fish at the facility we were living at (and Robert was managing). That’s when I really began in this medium. I had one hammer, one small anvil, a rusty vice, some moth eaten files, a torch, and a black widow infestation. But I began small with a big dream, which is how all self-employment or small businesses should begin. I added tools to my space as my profits allowed. My green card came through, and I worked two other jobs in town — as a librarian at the elementary school, as well as at a tiny sandwich and coffee shop upriver of Parker. When I wasn’t at my official jobs, I just kept chipping away at building a dream in my little workshop. I opened an online store, and within two hours had sold my first piece of jewelry. Three months later, I quit my other jobs, went full-time with silversmithing, and the rest is history. There aren’t any distinct differences between how I work now and how I worked when I first started. I set about it with curiosity and dedication, and my designs evolved as my tool collection grew. I did my very best to find inspirations from the world around me, from my personal experiences out on the land, and from life lessons. I did my best to be honest in my work. At some point in time, I might have been romanced by the term “artist” and everything that goes along with that, but these days, I hesitate to call myself an artist. There can be something pretentious about the word, and I prefer to view my work as the pursuit of a craft, and storytelling. I’m trying to build an interconnectedness in my life with my studio time, writing, gardening and farming. I recently told someone that “there is elk on our dinner plates and there are elk on my cocktail rings.” I’m seeking to live a life that is directly reflected, echoed and honored by my metalwork, writing, and photography efforts, so that everything is true to the context in which my inspirations are received and decoded.
Your Business name is “The Noisy Plume”. Where did that come from?
Jillian: I always wish I had a wonderful answer for this question but I don’t. I didn’t want to do business with my real name, mainly because nobody can pronounce it or spell it and I thought it might be un-google-able. I’m a writer. I simply strung a few words together and, voila! As it happens, all my closest friends think “The Noisy Plume” suits me well, it’s simultaneously loud and quiet which is how I tend to be. There are some days when I think I would like to revert to simply being Jillian Lukiwski all the time in all real world and interwebular spaces but I’ve been The Plume for over a decade now and I think that business name will be with me always.
Do you make jewelry pieces based on your inspirations, or are they mostly commissions?
Jillian: I try not to do commissioned work, but make exceptions from time to time for friends or family. Sometimes I bump into a person who simply won’t take no for an answer, and I wind up working for them, but I try to keep my schedule free of commissioned work. It’s not that I don’t like creating specifically for an individual, but I often end up recreating older designs that I feel I’ve moved past, and it takes the momentum out of whatever direction I am headed in. Additionally, my life is split between farming, photography, travel, writing and metal work. When I finally find myself in the studio, I just want to make what I want to make.
I want to feel free to follow rabbit trails, to explore and engage my curiosity. Most of the techniques I employ in my work are things I learned by simply messing around in my medium. The metal has been a wonderful teacher to me. For me, the point is not to make as much jewelry as possible as quickly as possible. The point is the process behind the work; slowing down to notice my inspirations, to notice beauty in life and death, and translate those details into a wearable format (or to photograph and write about these things). The point is to take a handful of materials and change them into cohesive and contextual beauty that is aesthetically lovely and meaningful to me, the maker, as well as the individual who ultimately wears the piece. This isn’t my job, it’s my vocation.
How much do the outdoors & wildlife influence your pieces?
Jillian: It’s a total influence. I don’t identify with new age philosophies or animal shamanism — which is to say, I don’t want someone to tell me what everything means, what a snake can teach me or an elk symbolizes. I want to discover those things for myself. I’m pretty headstrong that way, and like to find my own way and inspirations. When I’m outside I learn a lot from a landscape by noticing things and asking WHY — engaging my logic and deductive skills — simply finding a question and then discovering the answer to it. There’s a ton to learn from animals and plants by simply watching them, and I find all of these lessons can be metaphors for the human condition; for the growth or decay I see in myself, or for what needs working on in my own heart and life. I don’t always spell those lessons out for people when I go to share a new piece of work, but the lessons are there, embedded in the molecules that build the metal and stone. If I am doing good work, it’s an echo of everything I brush up against outside, or in my daily life. It is true to my life, and it is just true.
Who do you admire?
Jillian: All my friends who are mothers. My husband. Pretty much anyone who works hard, maintains a rugged individuality in this crazy world, rejects mediocrity, practices honesty with others and self, seeks truth, creates and promotes beauty in all its forms instead of fostering destruction...people who are kind. That’s who I admire. That’s who I want to be.
Are you a bourbon or rye gal?
Jillian: For the record, I seldomly consume adult beverages, but if I’m going to choose between bourbon or rye I’m going to choose bourbon. My husband has mastered an exquisite beverage that involves local raw honey, freshly squeezed lemon juice and Oak & Eden bourbon -- shaken. It tastes like sipping on the edge of a sunset.