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#TBT: Finding Promise In Fall Skies

It is blustery here today, high winds driving massive banks of violet clouds before patches of bright turquoise sky, the process repeating itself over and over since dawn.

It looks like autumn, certainly, and winter, too. If the darker clouds descend low enough on their journey eastward, there will be snow on some faces of the peaks by tomorrow.

Still, especially in the west, the large expanses of bright blue predominate. They will likely be what rules tomorrow, too, at least for a day or so. More rain is forecast for the latter half of the weekend, and thence into the following week.

We can only hope.

This day is warm, but the wind holds autumn’s edge . . . and with it, perhaps, the promise of a real winter to follow, a gift we have not been granted for a couple of years. We need it badly; even locals more usually inclined to lament the snow and season are giving voice to wishes for precipitation measured in feet.

Such are the wages of drought.

While my own inclinations are to follow the path of the stormclouds with joy, I know that most people prefer their skies clear and sunny. And this is usually the sunny season, when the skies are the perfect clear blue of unmatrixed turquoise, the kind found only in material from certain old deposits in the land most now call Arizona, places invaded and colonized and extractively mined, given names like Kingman and Sleeping Beauty.

Royalty and fairy tales.

Our own ways are a bit more down to earth, our connection to the stone more of the earth, and of the sky as well. It’s why it’s called the Skystone: bits of the heavens themselves, fallen to earth as the rain we so desperately need and hardened as it hits the ground.

And today’s featured work is built around just such a stone — or, to be precise, five such stones, all of the same materials from the same ancient earth.

It’s a piece Wings created, if memory serves, in 2009, although I believe it sold in the latter half of 2010. It is now worn, and regularly, by one of the people most dear to me, to both of us, actually, along with several others among Wings’s work. This, however, was the first, one of two initial cuffs that she purchased, and so it holds singular status for that reason alone.

It was wrought in what was one of Wings’s most popular styles, and one of his most traditional ones, too: a slender, straight, heavy-gauge band topped along the center of the band with five perfectly matched cabochons. It’s a design he’s produced, each time in unique form, for many, many years, with widely varying stampwork and fairly broad assortment of stones (the latter usually five in number, but occasionally only four, as his creative vision and stone size and shape dictate.

As always, though, it began with the band.

This one, like most of them, was wrought out of heavy solid silver, most likely nine-gauge or something close to it. Once cut to the proper length, Wings set about the stampwork. Normally, he chooses one overarching pattern repeated down the length of its surface. What a lot of folks don’t realize is that he also commonly chooses a secondary pattern to follow suit on the inner band — a small secret between him, the work, and the eventual wearer.

He began with the top motif — in this instance, a thunderhead symbol that, inverted, evokes the “kiva steps” imagery popular in Pueblo pottery motifs. If the symbol is stamped back to back, however, with its open base conjoined to the next one, it becomes a symbol of the Sacred Directions: spokes reaching to the cardinal directions; corners aimed at the ordinal points. It this becomes a powerful motif of guidance and direction, one that Wings uses frequently in his work.

This time, he chased the conjoined design down both outer reaches of the band, from about the one-third mark on either side (leaving the upper, central third blank). Then he turned it over and scored either edge of the inner band, using a single plain chisel stamp matched meticulously and struck repeatedly to create a pair of straight borders. In between the two borders he stamped an unusual diamond shape in a repeating pattern down the full length of the inner band — a diamond centered by a radiant “starburst” image that rose in sharp relief from the middle of the shape around it. It was an Eye of Spirit in unusually powerful form, one in which the “iris” held the power of the stars, and perhaps of fire, too.

Once the outer and inner bands were complete, he turned his attention to its sides. This is not something he does with every such cuff, but those of unusually heavy gauges present a relatively wide surface on the sides, and that tempts the creative spirit. In this instance, he chose a very simple pattern to repeat down the length of each other edge: a pattern of three lines, the center one straight, flanked on either side by a single line bent outward, like a plant in flower. Edging, as it did, two surfaces filled with symbols of wisdom and guidance, direction and protection, it felt like a promise.

Those were not the only nods to flowering life that the cuff would bear, either. Once the stampwork was complete, he turned it right side up once again, and set about solidifying the arrangement of the stones. He had already settled on a pattern of five large round cabochons of Sleeping Beauty turquoise, big half-orbs in the perfect clear shade that Crayola labels “sky blue.”

But they were, as noted, large — slightly moreso than most of the round cabochons he typically used for such purposes. But when a work, and the craft involved in producing it, is measured in millimeters, “slightly” makes a visible difference.

And so he set about splitting the band across the top — cutting a single incision all the way across the central third of the band. The point was not to make a big, highly visible opening that would alter the design significantly; it was merely to provide a little creative flexibility. You see, once cut, the two sides can be gently pried apart — in this instance, only infinitesimally; just enough to widen the base available to hold the bezels for the cabochons, making it solid and secure.

Once this was accomplished, Wings soldered five plain low-profile bezels securely into place, each centered across the breadth of the band, one at perfect center, the others flanking it evenly. Then he melted a tiny bit of sterling silver, turning into ingot, and poured it into a pair of small repoussé molds used to create ingot beads and balls. In this case, the mold was carved in a flowering design, with lines radiating like rays, or petals, out from a starburst center. Once cooled and removed from the molds, he soldered each of these into place, one at either end of the line of bezels. Then he filed the ends of the band smooth, rounding them off for comfort, and formed the arc of the cuff by hammering it gently into shape around a mandrel. Finally, he oxidized all of the stampwork and the ingot beads, buffed the entire band to a medium polish on the outside and a soft, velvety Florentine finish on the inner band. Last of all, he set the stones.

The effect was one of extraordinary power: of seeming to capture bits of the sky itself, brought down to earth and held fast in the embrace of the sacred directions, the hidden Eye of Spirit watching over it all attentively while life flowered at the top and sides. The Skystones were the turquoise of today’s autumn expanse, bits of bright color making their presence known beneath and behind, around and among the darker clouds of the day. Whether the gray of the storm or the blue of a clear and seemingly weatherless day, we are finding promise in fall skies now.

Works like this one remind us that the promise is always there; we need only remember to look for it.

~ Aji








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