As the tale goes, jeweler and sculptor of contemporary memento mori Julia deVille, apprenticing under a handful of the greatest and most formidable masters ever known, honed and refined her talismanic skills over the course of several centuries and quietly emerged from her draconian education in the mid-19th century as a master alchemist–with soul almost all intact!
A fanciful origin story perhaps, but one only need briefly glimpse her extraordinary work to fast believe that, as the fabled records note, Queen Victoria did indeed employ deVille as her principal goldsmith, becoming both her supporter and beloved friend. Rumors whisper that with the her majesty’s patronage, deVille was able to create “the most exceptional and heartbreaking regalia” and together, they made mourning a fashionable devotional trend.
It is said that, over the course of time, deVille continued to cultivate her skills and unceasingly reinvented her approach, but however many millennia pass, and whether the medium is jet, obsidian, precious stones, or precious creatures, each jewel has a story to tell, and, by deVille’s hand–very amulet and adornment she creates is first built upon a foundation of utmost love.
And now, dear readers, the facts as they are known to this scholar: Julia deVille’s work is informed by a fascination with the acceptance of death expressed in memento mori jewelry of the 15th to 18th centuries and Victorian Mourning jewelry. Characterized by the use of memento mori symbology from past eras, as well as the methods the Victorians used to sentimentalize death with adornment, deVille uses traditional precious and semi-precious metals and gems, and (on occasion) materials that were once living, such as jet, human hair and taxidermy.
In examining our mortality, her work incorporates motifs that “encourage viewers and wearers to identify with their own fate and challenge a prevalent culture that obsessively plans the future: forget an unknowable tomorrow and instead embrace the present.”
deVille studied at Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE and has, in addition to those credentials, completed a taxidermy mentorship. Her haunting works are characterized by the elegant combination of these fields and ideas, and has been extensively exhibited in Australia as well as in the USA and Europe.
She employs taxidermy as a celebration of of life and sees it as the preservation of something fragile and beautiful; “…my work celebrates the preciousness of life and the power of each and every life,” the artist declares.
And such wondrous celebrations they are! A winsome piglet, swaddled in lace and beads sits sweetly atop a bed of feathers. A gothly mummified feline reclines in dark dignity; a luminous, diamond encrusted corvid skull shimmers and sparkles in avian afterlife. But do not fret, sensitive souls–deVille, a vegan, animal lover, and animal rights champion who ethically sources her materials, further notes on her website, “no sentient (or sapient) beings were harmed for the making of these works.”