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#TBT: Finding the Warmth In the Winter to Come

First full day of fall, and it’s a beautiful one. Where yesterday’s sky was a solid expanse of blue, unbroken by even the smallest cloud, this day dawned under a delicate haze of silver and gold, a webwork of white stretching across the sky.

Now, at mid-afternoon, the clouds remain, softening both the blue and the edges of the warmer hours. Tonight will see clearing skies and a deep and sudden chill, but we have adobe and a fire to keep us warm.

Meanwhile, the trees have already begun to robe themselves in the season’s regalia. To outsiders, there isn’t much that’s visible on the near peaks, but we know that the brightening green is actually a lightening green, as the stands of deciduous trees that trace the slopes begin the process of their turning. To the southeast, there are whole patches of bright gold, aspen lines that have already surrendered to the gilding properties of autumn’s colder air.

And, ironically, as the earthy patches of the slopes expand, increasingly brown, the shades of the evergreens have deepened from a forest green to something almost blue. We are about to enter the true season of renewal and rebirth, those months of deep cold when much of Mother Earth sleeps, allowing her body to heal and her cells to regenerate for a new year of life. But some of her children remain conscious year-round, now they begin the process of teaching us once more about finding the warmth in the winter to come.

Today’s featured work is a throwback to the fall-into-winter season of 2014 or 2015, if memory serves. It was one of four works from the same category that Wings created that year for the holiday season, new entries in one of his long-running winter signature series of holiday evergreens (the other such series is of reindeer modeled after the particularly famous scarlet-nosed one). It used to be a series that he renewed every winter, but in recent years, the sheer pace of our work, including work unrelated to his art, have made it more difficult. But in that year, he produced four, all of which sold fairly rapidly.

In point of fact, this particular piece has been nominally featured in this space once before, as part of a larger #TBT post that highlighted several entries in this series. But it has never been featured entirely on its own, and given that its colors resonate with those on the mountain slopes now, and its “decorations” too, it seemed the right moment to highlight it independently.

In the earliest years of this series, Wings had drawn out a few quickly sketched templates on paper, each an evergreen tree of unique size and shape and style. Once in a while, he’ll still use one of the old templates; probably more often, he simply picks up a pen and sketches a few quick strokes directly onto the silver. If you grew up in my generation, you’ll recognize in these trees a bit of the spirit of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, and also of the gorgeous stop-motion animated trees of Christmastown in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I contemplated featuring one like the latter category today, its boughs seemingly heavy with snow, but ultimately returned to my first choice, one that embodies the blue-green liveliness of early fall as surely as it does the spangled boughs of the holiday season.

But back to the design: Once Wings has settled on an outline (and that year, all four were very different from each other), he turns his attention to the ornamentation before beginning the cutwork. In this instance, he used a grand total of four stamps to create the textures of the tree and the garlands adorning it: small arcs, forming the trunk and scattered through the branches; large arcs, with a separate stamped sunburst at the ends of each, to create the garlands; and a single pair of hoofprints beneath a small inverted arc at the top of the tree, like a bit of a star twinkling beneath the first frosting of snow. Then, using a jeweler’s saw with a filament-thin blade (they remind me of the blades in old Eversharp engineering pencils, and they’re just as breakable), he began cutting the tree free of the surrounding silver.

Cutwork like this is much ore complex than it at first appears. Wings typically does the saw-work all in one go, always moving forward, never back, never retracing lines or steps. What that means is that he makes all of those tightly-angled turns between boughs on the first try, cutting inward and then back outward from a sharp point in a very tight space. With this particular design, he generally makes sure that the base of the trunk has a flowing edge, to evoke the feeling of snow drifted around the base of the tree. Once the cut-work is complete, he files the edges smooth, then, in this instance, turns the piece over the add his hallmark and the pin assembly. The reverse complete, he then turns it back face-up and fashions the bezels, scattered randomly across the front, to hold the jeweled “ornaments.”

For this one, Wings chose three cabochons, all different and yet clearly related: on the bottom branch at the right, malachite, a rich bright banded green like piñon and fir; toward the center, denim lapis, evoking the blues of the spruce that gave this piece its name and of the juniper boughs and berries, too; and at the top, the clear olivine green of jade, like the needles of a Ponderosa pine . . . or the fading leaves of the aspens now.

I no longer remember who captured this particular pin, although I do remember that one of the four was acquired by one of our dearest friends. She and I share a birth month, and the opals in that one made it perfect for her. But I have always loved the defiant quirkiness of this tree: It reminds me a bit of the evergreens here on our land, struggling now in this drought but refusing to give up the fight. They hold a much longer view than we do, and often a broader perspective, too. As the chill deepens now, they are coming into their own, and there is much that we can learn from their longevity. Finding the warmth in the winter to come is never easy, and especially not now, when the world around us seems so arid and bleak. But the evergreens know that it can be done, and this little spruce reminds us to follow their lead.

~ Aji








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