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#TBT: A Blue Sky Flowering Again

Morning, and our skies are barely blue. Smoke from the Sardinas Canyon Fire has seen to that: We spent a mostly sleepless night thanks to the smoke blowing our way, and now our whole small world here is veiled in a haze of silvery gray.

As we wind down the days of what is typically our hottest month here, we are experiencing summer at its worst in this place. Such is the harsh penalty of drought, and such are the wages of climate change.

Drought or no, we will see cooler days again, eventually. What is no longer certain is that they will arrive during the summer months. Not so very long ago, we would already have been blessed with the occasional monsoonal storm, with our rainy season ready to kick into high gear in time for the colonial celebrations of July fourth.

There is no longer any guarantee of a rainy season, early or late.

For now, the fires spread unchecked; the smoke steals breath; the grass burns up in the fields and none but the hardiest of wildflowers dares to bloom. There is no water, and no rain, and the earth is near as barren as today’s artificially gray sky.

It’s a good time to remind ourselves that, climate change notwithstanding, our world will renew itself, even if it does so in spite of us. It may be a while before we have a rainy season, before the grass greens and the wildflowers bloom, but there will be a blue sky flowering again, and soon.

Today’s featured work captures that gift in one compact piece, a small, spare necklace, modest in size and simple in design, from some nine or ten years ago.

It was a classic Four Sacred Directions design, one of Wings’s favorite motifs. It was also wrought in a moderately vintage style, cut freehand and allowed to show it, its outlines in no way unfinished but permitted to follow their own form and shape.

In this instance, I no longer remember whether he chose the stone first and built the pendant around it, or crafted the pendant and then selected a suitable stone. I suspect the former, but either way, the execution necessarily began with the setting.

As I noted above, Wings cut it freehand: a vaguely squarish-shaped piece of sterling silver, corners excised to produce four wide, low spokes, each one similarly trimmed by hand to create a delicately flowing design — not quire scalloped, but perhaps hinting at it — and with a single elongated tab extending from the upper spoke. This tab would eventually form the bail.

Before any considerations of bail or chain could be addressed, however, the stampwork had to be completed. By now, certainly, Wings had chosen the stone that he would use for the center of the pendant, the fairly sizeable round turquoise cabochon shown in the photo. He took the stone, traced its outer edge all the way around, and then, allowing for a dime’s-width of space to accommodate the bezel and twisted silver that would embrace it, he mentally traced another circle around it.

Net, he chose a single stamp — in this instance, a symbol commonly used to represent the sunrise, an arcing crescent whose upper edge ends in a repeating ray-like pattern — and struck it repeatedly around the outer edge of the second (imaginary) circle, connecting the low points of each set of rays to the next. It produced a radiant effect much like that of a flower, a choice that was not accidental. Then, he selected one more stamp, an arrow design, and stamped it along the center of the tab extending from the upper spoke, with the fletched shaft toward the pendant and the arrowhead pointing, for the moment, skyward.

Then it was time to set the stone. It’s often difficult to distinguish between Sleeping Beauty and Kingman turquoise, particularly among calibrated stones (i.e., those that are cut to identical size and shape in lots for commercial sale); for such stone, color is often the only distinguishing feature, and even then, it’s often so subtle that only long experience indicates any difference. My records indicate that this particular cabochon was labeled “Sleeping Beauty,” but looking at it in the photo now, I think it was more likely to be Kingman. No rules re hard and fast, of course, and both mines are in Arizona and have produced similar-looking stone. As a general matter, a rough but relatively accurate guideline with regard to color works well: Kingman is the robin’s egg; Sleeping Beauty is the western sky at midmorning.

Both, however, are the Skystone, and both hold the power and protection of the heavens and the rain.

Regardless of source, this was a beautifully clear blue cabochon, one with just the faintest hint of speckled white matrix throughout (also common to Kingman), and an even fainter hint of purpley-black near the center, more a shadow among gossamer clouds than anything else. Wings elected to set it in a plain, simple low-profile bezel, one that would allow its lightly-domed surface to stand out while still holding the stone securely. He soldered the bezel into place, then edged it with a slender strand of twisted silver. Bezel and twisted silver together took up the space between what would have been the stone’s edge and the lower edge of the stamped pattern of rays all the way around it.

Wings then turned his attention to the bail. He carefully bent it slightly upward, then turned it at the center and bent it back downward on the other side to form a loop. He soldered the back end securely into place atop the reverse side of the pendant. Then he oxidized the stampwork, the bezel, and the twisted silver, and buffed it all to a medium polish. It gave the piece a slightly vintage appearance, one that would serve the piece well once finished.

Finally, it was time to set the stone. Once placed into the bezel, it gave the pendant a whole new identity: Instead of rays of light at the center of the Four Sacred Directions, it scooped light and directions into a brilliantly-lit expanse, turning the heavens into an ethereal desert blossom, a blue sky flowering again. Lastly, he hung the pendant from a length of sterling silver snake chain, just long enough for the necklace to rest below the wearer’s collarbone.

As I write, the wind is shifting. The new fire down the road is blowing its smoke southward; the much larger one south of here is less visible plume than solid wall of haze now. What little breeze we have is driving the smoke out from our small piece of the valley, and as white thunderheads collect over the peaks, that same blue sky is flowering again overhead.

~ Aji







All content, including photos and text, are copyright Wings and Aji, 2018; all rights reserved. Nothing herein may used or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the owner.

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error: All content copyright Wings & Aji; all rights reserved. Copying or any other use prohibited without the express written consent of the owners.