Amy Symonds combines nature with artistic nurture to create beautiful hand-painted skulls and jewelry under the name Calamity Pass Trading Company. Below, she tells us about how her upbringing has influenced her, shares her work process, and teaches us what a spit bath is. Make sure to check out Amy's art, some which will be available for purchase at our new Malibu store opening on August 15!
Interview by Ally Mullen
Introduce yourself! Where are you from and what was your childhood like? Where do you live now?
Hi! I’m Amy Symonds, owner of Calamity Pass Trading Company
. I live in the Never Summer Mountains, in a tiny Colorado town, very close to my childhood home where my father was the caretaker of an abandoned Fluorite mine.
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
I am a mother, a wife, a collector and creator.
Your work uses a lot of found and recycled materials. How much did your upbringing play a part into the materials you use?
Major!! The mine was literally a ghost town on the jagged side of a mountain. We drove snow machines to meet the school bus! We were always
outside, looking for rocks, bone or arrowheads from the Ute Indians. We would snoop through abandoned miners shacks left with food in cupboards even clothes in the closets. Our favorite shack had pictures of naked ladies plastered across the wall. There were huge old mine buildings to explore made of rusty corrugated steel. This is where I fell in love with old things.
In the summer, my sisters and I would sleep outside and lay awake listening to coyotes howl. I am still so connected to nature—the smell of dirt…the wild.
Isolated and stuck together, my father (a solid, quiet, outdoorsmen,) hauled in water for bathing and drinking, and showed us how to skin an elk. My mom (an eccentric artist and free-spirit) taught us how to conserve and reuse and how to sew fabulous costumes for impromptu back porch performances. I learned to look at things in different ways.
P.S. I can also take a mean “spit bath”. (it’s not really spit, it’s using a washcloth and a very little amount of water.) Thanks mom! What are some of the materials you work with the most? Which is the hardest? The most fun?
Most materials I work with are from nature. Porcupine Quills are the hardest. The tiny bastards make your eyes cross and poke your fingers. The most fun are animal skulls. I believe they keep and radiate their amazing wild animal spirit. I love capturing that, making it something you can hold in your hand.
How many animal skulls do you think you have you ever made?
What's the process like for making them?
I hike around and find them, or local ranchers drop them on my porch. I love skulls that are old and deteriorated, the ones with half a face that look like they have been to hell and back. I also buy them from a local animal control contractor. We work together to reuse every part of the animal possible.
Then, some skulls require cleaning. This is very gross and stinky. The only one who enjoys this part is my dog. Then I paint them. I prefer to use ink as it soaks in becoming part of the bone. I free hand tiny designs into the skull, creating a folky, colorful feel.
How long do most skulls paintings take? What's the longest you've ever worked on one, and tell us what it was/what it looked like?
Most take about two to four hours. The most complicated went down like this: I had just scored a rad rattlesnake skin at a Mountain Man Rendezvous. I was stupidly inspired. Do you know how long it takes to recreate snakeskin on a cow skull!? Like six damn hours.
Tell us about your other works of art!
I make one-of-a kind jewelry pieces from spent bullet casings, porcupine quills, leather and stones.
You also work with crystals. Do you believe in all of the powers that people believe they hold? What's your favorite one?
Yes absolutely! When you feel something from this earth in your hand, it calms you, reconnects you. Fluorite is obviously my favorite by far!
You spend a lot of time collecting materials… things must begin to add up. Do you hold off on using them until you're ready to create the right piece? If so, what do you have the most of? Do you ever keep anything for yourself?
I admit I have some sheds. They’re (crammed) full of fabric and fur, vintage clothing mixed with rusty machinery parts, dirty cow skulls, old bottles and wire... some pitchforks. When creating my motto goes, “One for you, one for me.”
So you'll be taking part in the opening of our UO Malibu store. What types of products will you have for sale? Any plans for opening day?
My skulls will be featured to sell in Malibu. I am dreaming of showing up with my husband on our Harley to celebrate the opening and then cruise Highway 1 for a few days.
Why do you think your skulls are perfect for the Malibu customer?
Malibu is the west. Although I have never been there, it seems not so traditionally western. Like my work, it’s free spirited and bohemian, yet still has a rugged western vibe.
Give us your favorite quote about nature.
“To see the world in a grain of sand, heaven in a wildflower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour” —William Blake