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Friday Feature: The Fire at Winter’s Heart

Spiderweb Alabaster Bear Family 2013

The Solstice has come and gone, Christmas now fewer than three days hence. In the old way, the new year is already here.

And it brought snow.

At long, long last, on the first official night of winter, the snow arrived: large dry flakes began drifting gently down shortly after full dark. As the mercury fell, it finally began to collect on the surface of the ground some three hours later. And when we awakened this morning, two inches of loose dry snowfall blanketed the earth.

It began melting as soon as the sun reached a decent height, of course, high enough to transcend the repeated incursions of cold gray fog that hovered close to the ground. But by mid-afternoon, the temperature began to fall again, and what snow remains on the ground now will likely be there for the days to come. It’s a blanket rather tattered now, full of holes through which the brown earth shows, but where its fabric remains whole, it gives the impression of a robe warm enough for a slumbering world.

For humans in much of the world, of course, there’s little sleep to be had right now. This is the winter holiday season, after all, and the watchwords seem to be less “peace on earth” than “hurry up.” But it is also a time for family, and in our own small world here, our family includes the wild spirits with whom we share this space.

It also includes moments to remember those who have walked on, and I am saddened to have to report that we learned only a couple of weeks ago that the artist who created today’s featured works, Mike Schildt, walked on suddenly last summer.

Mike was a talented artist across the board, but he was best known for his sculptural works, and I suspect that carving was his great love. He was a genius at it: spare, simple lines that summoned an animal’s spirit directly from the heart of the stone, highly expressive facial features created with a few seemingly short strokes and a bit of inlay work, a sense of motion and power in angles and the occasional curve of limb or muscle. We once had one or two of his horses, long since sold now, but his favorite subject was Bear. Large bears, small bears, mother bears, bear cubs, rose-colored bears wrought in pink alabaster, Spirit Bears summoned from its spiderweb counterpart.

In recent years, he crafted a couple of bear families for us, both out of the latter material: spiderweb alabaster. The second, which sold a few years ago, consisted of mother, adolescent cub, and baby. The first, which remains and is the subject of today’s post, was a four-bear family — a mother and three stair-stepped Spirit Bear cubs. They were, of course, designed to be sold as a set, but each can certainly stand wholly on its own as a small but powerful spirit. We begin with the mother bear, a symbol of fierce protection and healing. From its description in the Other Artists:  Sculpture gallery here on the site:

Spiderweb Alabaster Mother Bear 1 Right Side 2 Resized

Mike Schildt (Taos Pueblo) created this Bear Clan matriarch (and her three cubs) in 2013. Coaxed from one of the most spectacular examples of spiderweb alabaster we’ve ever seen, this Mother Ghost Bear is solid and substantial, and she stands on full alert. Snowy white with an incredibly rich brown spiderweb matrix, simultaneously delicate and bold, she has inlaid eyes of sky-blue Sleeping Beauty turquoise.  Mother Bear stands 8″ long by 4-1/8″ high by 1-7/8″ across at the widest point (dimensions approximate). Another angle shown immediately below; top view shown in lower left of group photo at bottom.

Spiderweb alabaster; Sleeping beauty turquoise
$450 + shipping, handling, and insurance
Requires special handling; extra shipping charges apply

The first of the cubs is an older adolescent, sufficiently mature to help watch the younger ones, but not yet old en ough to leave its mother’s side. From its description:

Spiderweb Alabaster Juvenile Bear 1 Left Side Resized

This adolescent Ghost Bear Cub is the eldest offspring in a family that arrived here in 2013, given form and being by Mike Schildt (Taos Pueblo). Carved of hauntingly beautiful spiderweb alabaster, soft white with a stunning spiderweb chocolate matrix. This responsible little elder brother looks on closely and carefully with bright blue eyes of inlaid Sleeping Beauty turquoise. Cub stands 6-1/8″ long by 3.5″ high by 2″ across at the widest point (dimensions approximate).  Top view shown at lower right in group photo below.

Spiderweb alabaster; Sleeping beauty turquoise
$300 + shipping, handling, and insurance
Requires special handling; extra shipping charges apply


The second cub is only slightly younger than the first, or perhaps merely smaller — likewise old enough to watch over the youngest, but not old enough to do without the mother’s guidance and protection. From its description:

Spiderweb Alabaster Juvenile Bear 2 Right Side Resized

This Ghost Bear Cub is the middle child in a family of bears midwifed from spiderweb alabaster in 2013. Mike Schildt (Taos Pueblo) brought form to this little family from a truly fine example of the stone, nearly pure white, with incredible delicate matrix lines in gold, bronze, and a deep chocolate brown. She gazes solemnly through sky-blue inlaid eyes made of crushed Sleeping Beauty turquoise. Cub stands 5.25″ long by 2-7/8″ high by 1-5/8″ across at the widest point (dimensions approximate).  Top view shown at enter right in group photo below.

Spiderweb alabaster; Sleeping beauty turquoise
$300 + shipping, handling, and insurance
Requires special handling; extra shipping charges apply


And finally, the baby bear, the smallest cub — still young enough and vulnerable enough to require not only a mother’s protection, but help from older siblings, as well. From its description:

Spiderweb Alabaster Bear Cub 1 Left Side Resized

This little ghost bear cub is the baby of the bunch in this family created together in 2013 by Mike Schildt (Taos Pueblo). The color of new snow, with a delicate spiderweb tracery in rich golds and browns, he stands gazing upward, happily, expectantly, through inlaid eyes of bright blue Sleeping Beauty turquoise. Cub stands 5-3/8″ long by 3.5″ high by 1-3/8″ across at the widest point (dimensions approximate).  Top angle shown at center left in group photo below.

Spiderweb alabaster; Sleeping beauty turquoise
$225 + shipping, handling, and insurance
Requires special handling; extra shipping charges apply

I’ve written at some length before about the Spirit Bears (also known in some regions as Ghost Bears), and I won’t revisit their history here today. But for a deeply spiritual season, one in which the gathering of families often plays a significant role, and one in which the veil between this world and the spirit world is unusually permeable, a Spirit Bear clan seems especially well-suited to the day.

All the more so given that in this season, the bears of this world will now at last be entering their long winter’s sleep.

In our way, Bear is a symbol of protection, but also of Medicine; it is a spirit of healing. In the deep cold of winter, though, Bear must heal herself by entering what we loosely term hibernation, the long slumber that allows her body to survive until spring by drawing on stored fuel for only the most basic functions of her autonomic nervous system. It means, of course, that a metaphorical fire burns deep within her body and spirit, a mass of energy fueled by the food she has stored in her cells over recent months sufficient to keep heart beating, lungs breathing, body alive and spirit bound fast to it.

It strikes me as an especially apt metaphor for the season, too — all the more so in the form of these specific bears, as summoned from stone by Mike. They look like the winter world into which their real-life counterparts blend so well: snow-white robes webbed by veins of rich brown earth, and beneath their cold surface, the fire at winter’s heart that keeps them all alive.

For us, these are melancholy reflections; our friend no longer walks this earth with us, and there will be no more Spirit Bears wrought in his inimitable style. But these are, perhaps, a final lesson with which he left us: The fire at winter’s heart is the same one that holds the worlds together. It is cold now, and dark, and just a little more lonely. But just as that fire keeps the world alive until the warm winds come again, so does his art keep his spirit vibrant in this world, too.

~ Aji









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