Trail Blazing

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A Jill of all trades—photographer, metalsmith, writer, farmer—forging a life of her own making in the wilds of the modern West.

Written by Constance Dunn

On any given day Jillian Lukiwski rises in her Idaho farmhouse and makes a cup of tea. She  heads outdoors to feed the chickens, check on the ducks, turkeys and horses, and tend to the dogs and cats. Then it’s straight to work, whatever that is for the day: writing, metal-smithing, photography. Perhaps all three. Afterwards it might be a run, five miles minimum, mountain biking, or a swim. This is life in canyon country, near Snake River, where Lukiwski lives with her husband Robbie, a wildland firefighter.

We know this because Lukiwski shares her work and thoughts—and uplifting images of her life in the West—with a robust online following that includes her popular Noisy Plume website and 60K Instagram followers. “The culture here is one that is rooted in independence, resilience, stubbornness, loyalty, pride, and hard work that creates enduring legacy,” Lukiwski describes. “I feel all these qualities can be found in my work, and thereby me, the maker.” 

She is a creative without bounds; a modern-day frontier woman who’s consciously created a life where she thrives, grows and inspires others. Her works range from jewelry—bold, exuberant pieces made by her hands alone, with jaspers and local agates among her favorite gemstones, along with turquoise. She grows and hunts her own food, a topic that animates her. “I want people to see the beauty of food and how I am connected to it with my own life,” she states. “I want them to want that for themselves.” 

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Lukiwski is also photographer who was given her first camera—a plastic point-and-shoot model—by her grandmother when she was five or six. Many semesters of film photography and darkroom theory have passed between those days and now, where she “makes photographs” each day, and is conscious of keeping her inspiration purely hers while documenting her life and relationship with the land. Lukiwski presents her solo backcountry trips; fishing and horseback riding, cutting hay and other scenes from her life in the wild alongside her plainspoken and thought-provoking prose. “While I don't consider my work to be traditionally ‘Western’ in style,” she points out, “I do feel it represents the land in the West,” and all of that implies, from living among its natural world to the life she says she is creating here. 

Meanwhile, we are on the journey alongside her, including the magazines and brands seeking out Lukiwski’s inspired captures of the West. “What is truly unorthodox about my photography work is that I never set out to be a photographer in a professional capacity,” she notes. “I simply took photos and told the story of my life through pictures. Companies started to notice and began to ask me if I would photograph product for them within the context of the story of my life.” 

In the West individualism reigns supreme, and there is only one way to live life—on one’s own terms. In this context Lukiwski’s life is a success story wrought from her own hands, a wistful dream of many for its unity, and one with all of her creative endeavors housed under one exquisite Western sky. “It doesn't make sense to me to have a life that is compartmentalized—to be one person during the work week and then a different person on the weekend,” Lukiwski points out. “I believe in total life integration: My work is my play is my food is my work.”

It’s a life that Lukiwski and her husband have realized, brick by brick, over the past 15 years. “We married young, we left our hometowns,” she recounts, adding: “I left my home country. We started with nothing, we didn't even own our own car when we moved to Alaska, the first place we lived together.” The art of achieving her mode of success is a common question, and Lukiwski’s answer never wavers. “The truth is there is no shortcut, at least no shortcut that will make you feel proud of yourself. The shortcut is the long-cut. If you want to build something that means something you've got to bleed, sweat and cry for it. The joy of it is knowing that it means something, that it's your life work, that you did it.” 

The truth is there is no shortcut, at least no shortcut that will make you proud of yourself. The shortcut is the long cut.
— Jillian Lukiwski
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Photos courtesy of Jillian Lukiwski