Clockwise from top left: Cow skull $950, Coyote skull $550, Goat skull $650, Block prints $25 each, Hand-stamped notebooks $10 each, Mandala vinyl stickers $5 each. Photograph by Douglas Merriam.
WHEN CHELSY SPICER GAZES OUT her Las Cruces window, she sees raw materials for her artwork. She paints desert hues and wildflowers onto cow, coyote, and other skulls as homages to New Mexico and the cycle of life.
A self-taught artist, Spicer moved to the Land of Enchantment from a small town in Pennsylvania to pursue a relationship in 2015. Although it eventually ended, she developed a deep connection to New Mexico. “I was so captivated by all the brown tones,” she says. “It opened my eyes in a way they had never been opened before.”
On a trip to Santa Fe the next year, Spicer purchased her first cow skulls, attracted by the life they once held. “I’m a sentimental and reminiscent person,” she says. “It feels like I’m meant to carry on this everlasting respect.”
Spicer sits with a skull before she paints it. As she meditates, an image comes together in her head. “I’ve always been very intuitive,” she says. “So when I see something, I go with it.”
Good word of mouth has meant skulls find their way to Spicer. Ranchers and hikers contact her when they find something interesting, like a mountain lion skeleton. Her home studio doesn’t have enough room for cleaning the bones, but Spicer hopes to expand so she can manage the entire process herself. Depending upon her creative mood, painting can take hours or days. “Last weekend I painted a longhorn skull and I finished it all in one day,” she says. “It was so refreshing, because I haven’t done that in months.”
Spicer is branching out and painting more than skulls these days. She recently completed a mural in the honeymoon suite at the Desert Compass, a boutique hotel in Albuquerque’s Old Town. She also carves rubber stamps featuring skulls and flowers to adorn small journals.
“In the last few years, I have experienced a lot of loss and heartache,” says Spicer. “I want to transmit love through my work.”