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#TBT: Setting Fiery Hearts Adance

RedHeart Earrings

On this day, we need a little fire.

In point of fact, we have two: Flames are dancing merrily in both woodstoves, proof against the cold gray damp outside the window. The mercury has not yet quite reached the freezing mark, and while the light dusting of flurries we received overnight have long since melted, the grass heavy with the water that remains, that portion of the peaks that is visible beneath the gray veil is dusted with white.

The first week of May, and a little snow arrives at last.

The weather began yesterday evening, gray clouds driven overhead by a high chill wind, the temperature dropping nearly thirty degrees in the space of a couple of hours. With light now still visible in the western sky until nine o’clock, we were able to watch the changing skies and weather from our seat on the couch, safe and warm in the glow of both fires. The newness of this warmth is something that, I suspect, will never wear off; we find ourselves commenting on it daily. Last night, it made for an evening simultaneously cozy and comfortable, romantic and inviting, and as the clouds linger this morning, so, too, does this feeling of warm contentment.

We talk of fire as a symbol of passion, of the wild abandon that accompanies the emotional extremes of new love. It’s natural, of course: Fire itself is often wild, not easy to control; once it gains the upper hand, it goes where it will, consuming everything in its path. But there is another kind of fire, the kind of home and hearth, that represents love, as well — fire that smolders rather than rages, that emits a steady, sustaining warmth without sparking a conflagration.

That, too, is the role of love: to sustain life rather than to consume it.

And it reminds me of one of Wings’s works from nearly a decade ago now, an extraordinarily simple pair of earrings in the shape of the heart and the color of flame, wrought from the tempering shells of water spirits.

It’s not often that Wings creates stud earrings; his tastes run to long, dangling styles dancing from silver wires. But every once in a while, he crafts a few pairs of the stud variety, usually designed simply, their form and shape driven by the stones (or “stones”) that most often serve as their focal point. Some eight or nine years ago, he came into possession of a few pairs of matched heart-shaped cabochons: what are known in this business as “earring pairs.” A couple of them were turquoise, bright clear light blues that found their way into similar (although not identical) pairs. Two of the pairs were cut not from actual stone, but from flame-red spiny oyster shell. One pair he set aside; they eventually became this pair of dangling wire earrings. The other, slightly larger, he elected to turn into a pair of stud earrings resembling those he created from the turquoise pairs.

Today’s featured work, entitled RedHeart, was the result.

The name, on the surface, was a slightly wry recognition of shape and color, of course. At a deeper level, it was a tribute to their fundamental indigeneity: the color associated with (and reclaimed by) our peoples, and the passion, fire, and essential, elemental love at the heart of our identity. And as befits such a work, the red hearts themselves were accorded pride of place, the silverwork so essential to their framing kept deliberately subtle and low-profile.

In this instance, of course, the design began with the cabochons. The execution, as always, began with the silver.

First, Wings cut the settings, freehand, out of sheet silver, light-gauge yet sturdy. These would form the backings for the bezels, and thus needed to extend fractionally beyond the perimeter of each cabochon. Once cut, he filed the edges smooth, turned them over, stamped his hallmark into the reverse, and then at the top, soldered a single jump ring at the center, so that half of the ring extended atop the backing. We’ll get to that in a moment. Lastly, he soldered the posts into place

Then he turned them right side up again to craft the bezels. In this instance, he chose to fashion scalloped bezels; the cabochons were relatively thick for the design, and these would hold them more securely than a plain edge. The scalloped pattern would also draw the eye to the edges just enough to make the cut, color, and texture of the cabs stand out.

Once the bezels were soldered carefully into place, a bit of the backing remained visible around the edges. This was by design: Wings used the space to support the twisted silver that he chose the edge each earring. The twisted silver added a little mass and depth to the studs, and worked in concert with the scalloped edge of the bezels to highlight the beauty and texture of the cabochons. He oxidized the earrings, and buffed them to a sheen just a shade off Florentine.

Finally, it was time to set the “stones.” I put the word in quotation marks because these are not stones in the traditional sense, but rather, pieces of the shells of once-living organisms. Spiny oyster shell is popular among traditional Native jewelry of this region, partly because of its longstanding availability, but also because of its gorgeous range of color. Spiny oyster manifests in shades of white and ivory, gold and olive green, peach and coral, crimson and purple. They are all beautiful, but I have always found the fiery scarlet shades to be the most spectacular. This pair certainly met that standard: two heart-shaped gradients, blood-red in some areas, ranging to scarlet and crimson and dusty rose, thence to white — on the left, a natural gradation; on the right, a stark small patch at the lower-right corner. The colors of this pair embodied the symbolism of the heart in all its guises: the center of the body, suffused with its lifeblood; the center of emotions, in the colors of passion and fire; the center of the spirit, and the embrace of its sustaining warmth. Once tapped into place, the bezels closed around them, the earrings were ready.

I said above that we would return to the jump rings that formed the loops at the top. I also said, earlier, that Wings’s tastes in earring tend to run toward dangling drops suspended from wires. That preference was manifest here, because he made this pair convertible: The purpose of the jump rings was to allow for the later attachment of wires, if the wearer chose. What here are studs to worn against the earlobe can be easily converted to dangling drops, setting fiery hearts adance.

Because sometimes, love’s task is to embrace in gentle warmth . . . and sometimes, to dance in the flames of an elemental passion.

~ Aji








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