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#TBT: A Drop to Fill the Sacred Lake

We were granted yesterday the gift of a real monsoonal rain: long-building, fast-arriving, hard and heavy and fierce in its power. It lasted for a half-hour or more, a good length of time for this land, then moved southeastward leaving intermittent showers and sprinkles in its wake.

It was not enough, of course, to fill the pond, nor even to pool any water in it, but along with the rain came the water from upstream, coursing slowly but steadily down through the ditches. It, too has not been enough to pool water in the pond, but it is soaking the earth. If the flow lasts long enough, we shall have at least a little water in it yet.

Here, we are always acutely aware of the scarce gift that water is, and of the sin that wasting it is, by extension. It’s why everyone on the tribal side of the highway built their own ponds years ago, that the water my collect and be put to appropriate use. It’s why we keep rain barrels scattered around beneath every structure, and routed downspouts, too. It’s why Wings invested, going on two decades ago now, in a pump and hoses, so that the water could be distributed from pond and ditch to the fields, the trees, the gardens.

In this place, one of the first charges given to us is to waste no drop of water.

It should come as no surprise, then, that water forms a significant, often central motif in Wings’s work. The center of his people’s traditions is their sacred Blue Lake, giving water an elemental role in their lifeways and origin stories. In a land such as this, where life also perforce revolves around seasons and weather, and where precipitation tends to be rare but also extreme, the importance of water in their ways could hardly be otherwise. And so it happens that much of his work, whether through stampwork or through stone, summons the spirit of this fourth among the elemental powers.

And so when I came across the images of today’s featured work, I knew it was the one for this day. It dates back some eight to ten years — created in 2008 and sold around 2010, if memory serves. It was one of Wings’s simplest rings — simples works — but that was part of what made it perfect.

In this instance, I’m pretty confident in assuming that the design began with the stone, but as always, the execution began with the silver.

Wings chose a length of sterling silver half-round wire of a fairly substantial gauge, sufficient to have some solidity and mass to it without weighing down the wearer’s finger overmuch. Half-round wire is a bit of a misnomer in that, if you put two halves of it together, flat sides adjoining, it will not form anything remotely resembling a sphere; instead, its shape will look more like that of the cabochon in this ring, an oblong somewhere between a teardrop and an oval. The sides will be rounded outward, yes, but with nowhere near a sharp enough arc to create a circle.

It’s called half-round wire because the top side is arced, rounded upward in relief, while the underside is smooth and flat. It’s a good choice for certain types of small cuff bracelets and for the bands of rings: for the latter, particularly, it’s especially comfortable for the wearer. It’s also nothing more than ordinary sterling silver, melted into ingot, poured into a mold in the requisite shape, cooled and removed and then polished and filed smooth. It will take stampwork just like sheet silver, and can be polished to virtually any sort of finish.

In this instance, Wings elected to leave the band free of all stampwork, allowing silver and stone to speak entirely for themselves. He fashioned the band into the proper shape, hammering it gently around a mandrel, then chose another length of plain sterling silver to create a hand-made bezel. Often, bezels are made with saw-toothed or scalloped edges, the better to hold a stone in place while still exposing enough of it to display it well; just as often, they may be perfectly plain and smooth, with no edging of any sort. This one was almost a contradiction in terms, both plain and edged: made of smooth plain-edged silver that, once the cabochon was set, would be gently folded inward at the very edge, just enough to hold the stone securely without adding any additional design or detail.

For the moment, though, he would have left the edges plain and sharp. Once the bezel was soldered onto the top of the band, he polished the entire ring to a luxurious, velvety Florentine finish. Florentine finishes have the effect of giving a piece an instant “antiqued” appearance, but that is not their only function. Wings often chooses this finish when he wants the focus to be on the stone, or on the contrast between stone and silver specifically. There are gradations to the finish, as well — some are finely textured, other with a coarse grain that creates a brushed look, most falling somewhere between the two — and in this instance, coupled with the rounded shape of the wire (and what would become the slightly rounding of the bezel), it created an unusually rich appearance.

Finally, it was time to set the stone. It was unusually large for a lapis lazuli cabochon, and fairly highly domed. Its oval shape gave it the appearance of a perfect large water drop: a single raindrop in monsoon season, or that which splashes out of the river’s rapids. None of the photos does justice to its color and texture, but the one immediately above is perhaps the closest — a darker, richer cobalt blue than that shown in the middle image, yet not as deep a violet as the one at the top would seem to indicate. It was brilliant, intense, electric, like the sky in the west at this moment , the blue of the thunderheads advancing ahead of the lightning.

It looked for all the world like the tears of the sky, the gift of the storm: water in its purest form, the product of a desert monsoon, a drop to fill the sacred lake.

Its original name was Twilight Sky, according to my records. It’s certainly fitting, but if so, it is the sky of this season, the time of the rains, when the blue clouds and the waterdrops come and go and come again, on the afternoon light and the evening’s encroaching dark.

Every drop is its own gift.

~ Aji









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