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#TBT: Dreams of the Wind Spirits

Dreams of the Wind Spirits Tobacco Flask

Today’s throwback will take us not far into the past at all: only about three weeks ago, just about the time the first small summer wind spirits began to show themselves here, far later than usual. It was a striking bit of serendipity, and perhaps synchronicity too, not only here but in some of the lands of the Midwest.

Today’s featured work is a very special commissioned piece, requested by a dear friend who fell in love with a flask that Wings created a couple of years ago. That flask, called Dawn Horse Carries the Morning Star, was also an exceptional piece, but a bit on the large side; sized much more to Wings’s own hands, say, than to mine. It now resides with another dear friend, a man whose hands it no doubt fits perfectly. The name derived from the spirit of the piece, expressed in part through the celestial imagery on the stampwork, and also in part through the horse-hair tassel that Wings fashioned from the tail hair of one of our own horses. The friend who commissioned the work highlighted here today loved the piece, but it was sold, and she also had reason to want one that was specially tailored to her size and spiritual requirements.

Our friend was, at the time she first began to contemplate commissioning this piece, initiating rather significant changes in her own life, all very necessary, but nonetheless daunting at times, especially when the road ahead is always unsure. She wanted something that would serve as a guiding, centering piece for her, one that she could hold in her hand, drawing strength and courage from whatever talismanic properties it could be made to possess.

Like us, our friend is a horsewoman, and for her, that includes the term in the professional sense. Many years ago, she owned a champion red roan whose nickname was Dewy (his registered name was longer and more elaborate). Her family had owned other horses, but Dewy was the horse of her heart. When he walked on, she saved a long braid of his tail hair and hair from his mane, something many of us do. It’s a bit of a prophylactic measure, a bit of a memorial, and sometimes an anticipatory act, as well.  A lot of us think that someday, we’ll get around to having a piece made that incorporates the horsehair to serve as a memorial to our four-legged friend. Our friend who commissioned this piece? She actually did it.

At any rate, after taking the necessary time to ponder what sort of work would best suit her needs, she settled upon a flask, one made expressly for her in size, shape, and spirit. She knew that she wanted incorporate Dewy’s horsehair in a similar fashion, but she was not initially sure what other imagery should be included, or what stone she preferred for the cap. She and I talked semi-regularly about form and detail, and that meant taking the time to make sure that it would be exactly right, that it would fill her specific needs and preferences. With works of the heart such as this, it’s important to allow plenty of time for flexibility in the design, and so Wings created it in stages, beginning slowly so that she could contemplate the various options that appealed to her and have time both to settle on one, and to have the time and means to change her mind about any of it if she so chose. As it happened, as she and Wings worked together to bring it into being, it ultimately changed relatively little, but she had the flexibility to take her time on certain decisions of both style and substance. And in the meantime, her mother went to work finding old photos of her beloved horse. She sent them to us with a beautiful note, so that we could see exactly who our friend’s spirit horse was.

Wings began with the size: He needed to cut two identical circles out of sheet silver to form the sides, but they needed to be sized properly for our friend’s hands. It needed to be large enough to hold whatever she wanted it to hold, but not so large as to be too bulky and heavy for her to carry. Ironically, this smaller flask wound up being about as the same weight as the earlier, larger one, thanks to the heavier-gauge silver that formed its sides.

Before doming the sides and soldering them together, he had to settle on a stampwork pattern. We had spoken with our friend, and the day she decided on the thematic imagery for it, she had ventured outside and witnessed a swarm of dragonflies just in front of her. They were , as I recall, slightly out of season for their numbers in that region, and it was unusual to see so many together anyway. But the feeling of motion, of freedom of movement by such tiny, fragile-looking creatures who nevertheless have such muscle control over their own bodies that they can move in six separate directions or hover effortlessly, captured her spirit. It felt like a sign. I would eventually look up what the collective noun is for a group of dragonflies, and it appears that much of the world has settled upon “cluster” or “flight.” Flight seemed especially apt, and not merely for the fact that they are wind spirits able to fly.

Once the dragonfly motif was settled, it fell to Wings to bring it all together. Our friend wanted an overlay design of sorts, similar to the Morning Star overlay in Wings’s previous flask, but she was open to the form it might take. Ultimately, Wings felt that Dragonfly itself, should be represented independently, and so he created two matched small spirits out of sheet silver, with articulated wings and antennae curling gracefully over their heads. Once they were complete, he stamped a single stylized heart on each at its own symbolic heart, where head and body meet.

Then he turned his attention to the rest of the flask’s body. He played with a variety of patterns and images in his head, but he began with a single stamp consisting of three lines stretching upward: a single straight center line flanked on either side by a line curved gently inward. It’s a design that calls to mind a flower, opening to the sun — perfect for such a pollinator as Dragonfly, the link made more explicit by Wings’s addition of a water drop, a single tiny sacred hoop above each “blossom,” all in a pattern chased around the edge of each side.

Once the stampwork was complete, he domed the sides by hammering them gently on his anvil, then carefully soldered them together all the way around. At the top, he cut out a small round hole, inserted a very short tube-like length of sterling silver wire just inside the lip, and soldered it into place as well. Then he filed the join smooth and polished it. Then it was time to set the dragonflies, once and for all. Wings toyed with the idea of adding additional stampwork in the open spaces, but in the end, he felt that it would distract from the dragonflies’ power and message, and so he left the open spaces as they were. It made for an extraordinarily simple, spare, elegant design. Once he soldered them into place, it was time for the detail work.

First, he edged the entire flask in delicate twisted silver. Then he constructed a cap, made much like a ring in miniature, beginning with a flat rectangle of sturdy sheet silver. He stamped it in a chased pattern, opting to acknowledge our friend’s desire for symbols of guidance and wisdom by repeated a simple Eye of Spirit stamp down its entire length. Then he hammered it into shape, soldered it carefully together, added a plate to the top and soldered it into place, and then added a bezel to its center.

Our friend had considered the possibility of a flame-red stone, one to match Dewy’s red-roan coat and fiery spirit, but in the end, she settled on her first love: bright blue lapis lazuli. Wings had exactly one such stone of the right size and shape in his inventory, and it was a truly brilliant blue. He set it carefully in place, affixed with jeweler’s glue to prevent it from being jostled loose and falling out of its setting.

Once the cap was complete, he added a pair of strong, substantial jump rings, one on either side of the neck, to hold the chain or thong in place. He made these by hand out of hand-cut sterling silver links, then soldered them into place. Then he ransacked his supply of bolo tips in search of a matched pair that might be of suitable size to hold the horsehair tassels. Bolo tips are perfect for this purpose; they have a tony opening at one end that can be crimped around the hair as an anchor, while the locks are fed through the flared end to hang as tassels. The flared end is still relatively small, which helps them hold their shape even as it keeps them secure. And in this instance, we found a pair, long since tucked away in a drawer, that were curved, with an arc that was a perfect match to the upper curve of the flask.

Our friend had sent us a handful of Dewy’a mane and tail hair, most roughly about three inches long but a little of it longer yet. Because he was a roan, his mane and tail hair were not a single color, but several colors and with substantial shade variation within each, and Wings wanted to make sure that he got a little of every shade incorporated in the tassels. The lighter, brighter reds were in longer strands, and so Wings gathered them gently, pulled them into position, and then stepped outside the studio with a sharp pair of scissors and trimmed them to equal length, facing in the direction of our friend and her late horse. It was a warm, sunny afternoon with a slight breeze, and as he cut, the winds lifted the shorn parts of the strands and sent them spiraling north and eastward, as though Dewy’s own spirit had come to collect it . . . or perhaps the dragonflies were tasked with carrying it to him. He then fed the strands through each tip, anchored and crimped them securely, and added jump rings by which to fasten them to the larger, stationary jump rings on the flask itself.

Only one thing remained: to choose how the flask would hang. I asked her whether she wanted a thong or a chain. As it turned out, I misread her answer as having already chosen a chain, when in fact she was still trying to decide. But by the time she saw my response, she had decided on a chain instead of leather, and so once again, synchronicity prevailed. But there was a problem: Wings thought (as did I) that he had a substantial length of heavy chain left over from a previous project; it turned out to be only three or four inches’ worth. We looked at the various suppliers’ offerings, all of which were extraordinarily expensive even at wholesale prices for chain that was relatively flimsy in size and weight.

So Wings decided to make his own. He cut roughly two-dozen slender-yet-substantial lengths of silver, freehand. He forged and shaped and polished until they were they right form, then bent each on inward and soldered its ends together. Once the links were made, he attached them to each other and to one stationary jump ring at the neck via small silver jump rings, and to the ring on the other side via a lobster-claw clasp, so that she could unhook it any time she wanted. He then buffed the entire piece, blessed it, and withdrew a piece of very, very old traditional tobacco that he has had for decades: the sort of old tobacco our peoples have used both for smoking and for offerings, rolled into a hook-like shape and dried. He broke off a small piece of it, and I wrapped it carefully and tucked it into the box to send to her, along with the photos of her beloved horse. She asked us to let the remaining horse hair go to Spirit, by way of the various places on our land where our matriarch horse, Cree, and our dogs are buried.

The day our received the flask she messaged me in tears, the good kind. It fit perfectly in her hand, she had already put some of the tobacco in it, and she felt that it captured both Dewy’s spirit and her vision perfectly. That message was a great gift to us, because we knew that she was embarking upon a new adventure, with new dreams to bring into being. It fit perfectly with the animating spirit and symbolism and identity of the work, too: Dreams of the Wind Spirits, the tiny pollinators who renew life and the world itself as they seek to fulfill their own visions.

And she told me something else: On the day she received it, she went for her daily walk . . . and the dragonflies joined her, the real-life wind spirits, seeming escorts and guides.

That’s a gift, too.

~ Aji







All content, including photos and text, are copyright Wings and Aji, 2017; all rights reserved. Nothing herein may used or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the owners.

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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.