Ivory is the rare jewel of the animal kingdom, but elk and ivory are two words that are normally not put together in the same sentence. Yet these regal animals are a source of this coveted substance. Elk ivories are the upper canine teeth in bull elk and cow elk. These canine teeth are made out of the same hard white material as the tusks of an elephant, or the teeth of a whale, hippo or walrus.
“They are a hidden treasure,” says Megan Clarke, local metalsmith artist. “Not many people think to look into an animal’s mouth when they just hunted it.”
Native Americans used elk ivories as a currency. Today it is popular to use the ivories to make rings, earrings, cufflinks, tie clips, necklaces and bracelets.
Clarke makes sterling silver jewelry using elk ivory, turquoise, and other precious stones. She is a self-taught metalsmith artist. “I watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a few blogs,” says Clarke, “but I’ve never taken any formal classes.”
The elk ivory was the first thing she set in silver. “My husband had all of these ivories,” she says. “That was the whole reason I wanted to get started.”
Most of the work Clarke does with elk ivory is custom work, and she works with the top of the tooth, although some artists will use the root of the tooth as well. Ivory is a very hard substance. “It holds up well,” says Clarke. “I’ve never seen a chipped one.”
The elk ivories come in different colors, from white to very dark. “The darker the color usually means the older the animal,” she explains. “The cow elk tend to be whiter.”
“For anybody who has hunted that animal themselves, those are their ivories,” says Clarke. “It’s about the memory and the animal.”
You can find her art on Instagram and on Etsy: mcjewelrydesignsMC.
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