Last fall, Norwalk artist Miller Opie won the Jacobson sculpture award at the Silvermine Art Center\u2019s annual A-One show for a pair of pieces fashioned primarily from moose bone. Yes, that\u2019s right: moose, the antlered animal of northern forests. Now, as a reward for winning the A-One prize, Opie has two more animal bone sculptures in Silvermine\u2019s current new members\u2019 show, running through March 13. The smaller of the two, titled \u201cJete\u201d after the ballet leap, also incorporates moose bone. This time, Opie has used a pair of surprisingly thin ribs. Set vertically and slightly bowed on a block of hemlock wood, the ribs suggest striding legs arrested in forward motion. The impression is heightened by feathers streaming from the front leg of this bony dancer. Larger, heavier and more unsettling is Opie\u2019s \u201cAdaptation,\u201d a nearly 5-foot-long spinal column suspended from the gallery wall just behind \u201cJete.\u201d Almost pure white, it looks like the intact, sun-bleached backbone of a single animal. But \u201cAdaptation\u201d is actually an amalgam of vertebrae from three deer and a calf, according to the label. It too is bowed outward into the gallery, as if whatever creature it once belonged to had arched its back, perhaps to stretch. The bowing creates a second purely artistic effect. Under the gallery lighting it casts twin shadows on the wall. \u201cThat\u2019s something I discovered after the fact,\u201d Opie said, soon after the exhibit opened. \u201cIt\u2019s something I want to pursue. It\u2019s beautiful to have something white cast shadow. It fleshes out the piece as more dimensional.\u201d As her first vertebrae sculpture, Opie wanted \u201cAdaptation\u201d to be recognizable, but not classifiable. \u201cI didn\u2019t want to rebuild a deer,\u201d she said. \u201cI wanted people to question, What is this? Is it an animal? Is it an alien? I liked the idea to make it appear as if it was coming out of the wall.\u201d Both animal and alien work. In the two years since she made \u201cAdaptation,\u201d Opie has done a whole series of vertebrae sculptures. They may not shape shift, but they nevertheless manage to look like primordial life forms one moment and giant insect exoskeletons the next. Last fall in a group exhibition at an abandoned brewery in Paterson, N.J., she put four vertebrae sculptures in ornate picture frames and mounted them on the factory\u2019s exposed brick wall. The backbones didn\u2019t fill the frames. Rather, in photographs, they appear to dangle from them, like invaders. Opie understands the idea of working with bones can make people squeamish. But to her, bones are inherently fascinating and, though there is no reference to it in the Silvermine exhibit, her own bone is the inspiration for her lately discovered art. \u201cI hope I\u2019m not grossing you out,\u201d Opie said, telling how benign tumors, likely the result of her baby teeth failing to fall out on time, led her to have her jaw reconstructed as an adult. It was a three-year process that began with an initial surgery in 2009 at a teaching hospital. She was working in Chicago then and remembers doctors standing behind her and her family when showing them photos of the surgery. \u201cThey thought we would faint, but we didn\u2019t because we were fascinated,\u201d Opie said. \u201cTo be distanced from your mortality, or the fear of your mortality, maybe that was a seed of something, I don\u2019t know.\u201d Her actual investigation of bone began once the jaw restoration was complete and while she was still in Chicago. \u201cI had to make something. I didn\u2019t know what I was going to do,\u201d recalled Opie, a 1990 Rhode Island School of Design graduate whose personal focus had been on jewelry design and who over the years scavenged all sorts of \u201ctreasures\u201d like shells and bones. \u201cIt just struck me that I wanted to cut the bones up with a handsaw,\u201d she said. \u201cIt was just so unintentional. I\u2019m not trying to sound dramatic. But it just happened. I just started to cut things up and put them back together. I realized what it was after I did it.\u201d Her first piece, titled \u201cReparation,\u201d was jaw-like, constructed from a horse mandible, with agates for teeth and with one of her own baby teeth embedded in a sand dollar at the tip. Working with bone is \u201csimilar to making jewelry,\u201d she said. \u201cIt\u2019s about scale. You grind and sand. But bone has a warmth (that) metal does not have. \u201cIt can be colorful, too. Bones can pick up what they\u2019ve been lying on, like the stain of grass or soil. Bone is also receptive to manipulation.\u201d She admits, however, \u201cThere is a gross factor sometimes. When I grind it, it can smell like a day at the dentist\u2019s.\u201d Opie grew up in North Carolina, her mother a fabric artist. After graduating from RISD, she stayed in Providence to start her own jewelry design business. Then she held a series of corporate jobs. One of the first was working as a designer for Martha Stewart, appearing on her television show when it was produced in Westport. In 2013, lured by a job at Ethan Allen Interiors in Danbury, she moved to Norwalk with her husband, David, an author\/illustrator. They had met at RISD and he proved to be a fellow bone collector. Opie did not devote herself to sculpture full time until after leaving Ethan Allen in 2018. She now divides her time between her home in Norwalk and a studio her sister built for her on property in Shutesbury, Ma. It is surrounded by forest, where her dogs sniff out bones. Hunters also bring her material. \u201cHunting season just ended. I was just gifted a couple of deer carcasses. It\u2019s a little out of hand right now. I\u2019ve got an enormous stash of bones. I can just crank,\u201d she said, meaning she\u2019s eager to put the bones to use. Opie calls her growing bone portfolio \u201cDeconstruction\/Reconstruction.\u201d She has a second sculpture series called \u201cWhir of Wings\u201d that combines found feathers with woody roots and branches. She cleans donated bone herself, outdoors in Shutesbury. She scrapes off remaining tissue, then boils the bone in a giant pot. A long soaking in peroxide follows, drawing out the fat and leaving the bone creamy white. She said she\u2019s more comfortable working with bone than cooking meals with meat. She traces most of her bone sculptures back to her surgery. Of the two prize winners in the A-One show, one was an outlier in that it was inspired more by movement. Titled \u201cAu Repos,\u201d it nevertheless used moose bone. Snowshoe shaped, it has a moose scapula in the center connected to a frame of moose ribs by copper wire. Feathers provide a mesh. The other piece, titled \u201cChainged,\u201d looks high tech by comparison. U-shaped, it has braided wire chain leading to cylinders of moose tibia that are in turn joined by copper fixtures. Opie said \u201cChainged\u201d impresses her as softer and less linear than her vertebrae sculptures. \u201cI like the way it drapes,\u201d she said. \u201cThe chain felt almost like a marrow that belongs inside the bone.\u201d Joel Lang is a freelance writer.