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Dartmouth artist finds charm in creepy crawlies

Justin Arbuckle creates resin-based jewelry with almost anything he finds

4 min read
caption A few of Arbuckle's creations.
Olivia Malley

Justin Arbuckle turns a lot of different things into jewelry.

Owner of Embedded Treasures, he takes an array of items and adds them to resin, creating things like pendants, earrings, bookends and paperweights.

caption Justin Arbuckle adds a layer of resin mixed with a hardening agent to one of his creations.
Olivia Malley

“The spark that got me playing around with resin and stuff like that was actually my partner showing me something she really wanted, which was a piece of breast milk jewelry,” said Arbuckle.

Breast milk jewelry can be made by combining breast milk and resin.

While he no longer makes breast milk jewelry, making those keepsakes led him to something now commonplace in his work.

“An earwig kind of like wandered along,” said Arbuckle, “and I figured I don’t like earwigs and it was a place to put it.”

Bugs, Arbuckle explained, normally find him.

He recalls how one time, his workplace had to be exterminated and he collected all the flies left lying on the floor. Another time, he got a ton of bees from a research facility doing ecological testing.

“At the end of that testing they (bees) unfortunately were not still alive and would have just gone to waste,” Arbuckle said. “So, I saved them from going in the garbage can.”

Instead, he traded some of his creations for them.

caption Some of the bees that Arbuckle got from a laboratory.
Olivia Malley

Carrying containers in his pockets, Arbuckle collects bugs that he finds while he is out. Plus, his young son has a penchant for turning over rocks when playing outside.

Arbuckle said there are really two kinds of people who buy his bug jewelry.

“For some it’s because it is the kind of thing they are not going to be willing to interact with while it is alive crawling along,” said Arbuckle. “But it is that opportunity to really inspect it frozen in a moment of time.”

He said many of his customers buy them as gag gifts.

“I had someone bring me some of the bugs from the apartment they shared with somebody to give them back,” said Arbuckle.

When it’s time to make a piece, Arbuckle starts by picking an item and a mould that complements it. Then he mixes the resin with a hardening agent to create a mixture.

Resin and hardening agent
caption Arbuckle mixes the resin and the hardening agent.
Olivia Malley

Once combined, he pours the mixture into the mould, and after it settles, he carefully places in the object he is encasing. After the item is placed it may need a few more layers to completely cover it.

Arbuckle’s shop is full of things he can add to resin, ranging from flowers to cannabis leaves to small gears. Sometimes, he also works with things that were once much more lively.

“I don’t know how much I really wanted to do it, but I have done blood,” he said. “One of them (customer) was actually trained to withdraw blood from people.”

He has also created several cremation pieces. In fact, someone’s grandmother’s ashes are still sitting in his basement workshop. He said the customer was planning on getting more pieces done but never did. That customer never came to collect the ashes either.

As for future projects, Arbuckle has drawers, bags and cupboards filled with things he can use. Among the many oddities in his workshop, he has a bottle of beetles. It was given to him by a friend who found the bottle on the side of the road while travelling through the U.S.

caption One of Arbuckle’s finished creations.
Olivia Malley

Arbuckle primarily sells his wares at local markets, but started showcasing them at a different scene.

“Music festivals are one of the best places for that kind of thing, as odd as it is,” he said. “People like picking up unique things from their weekend.”

Debbie Stultz-Giffin has bought a few of Arbuckle’s plant pendants, including two with cannabis leaves.

Living in Bridgetown, N.S., she met Arbuckle as a vendor at a festival she organized for medical cannabis patients.

“Taking bits and pieces of nature and capturing them so uniquely so you can wear them as jewelry, I think it is just wonderful,” said Stultz-Giffin.

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About the author

Olivia Malley

Hailing from Dartmouth Nova Scotia, Olivia is a journalist passionate about the HRM. Outside of reporting she enjoys singing in King's a capella...

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