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#TBT: Star Migrations and Night Spirits

Yesterday, almost immediately after posting yesterday’s all-new featured work, I was summoned outside. A couple of tasks needed doing from the shade of the front deck, and I set to work as rapidly as possible, hoping to get out of the unseasonably high heat in short order.

And then the mourning cloak appeared.

I had seen it earlier in the day; it’s been spending recent mornings fluttering around and through the stand of red willows outside the kitchen door. The more unusual aspect of its presence is that it’s present at all; these jewel-toned messengers in their wine-colored robes edged in cobalt and ivory are very much spirits of late spring and the earliest days of summer here. They are usually long gone by the middle of July; last year was, I think, the first year in memory when we had one in residence near summer’s end.

And one has returned this year.

The other unusual aspect of its appearance yesterday was that, after fluttering around for a bit, it finally settled on the beam above, directly across from where I had set to work. It sat there, seemingly inquisitive and relaxed, open and closing its wings indulgently, then settling in as though simply to keep me company.

For me, the mourning cloak has particular meaning; its identity is linked to a much-loved relative long since walked on. And so its presence yesterday was more than welcome, particularly knowing that it was here in defiance of its more usual migratory patterns, and had also seemingly chosen to spend a part of its day in company with me.

The mourning cloak is unusual among our butterflies here, not merely for its obvious associations, but for its particular blend of size and shape, and of course for the deep, intense jewel tones of its robes. It has always seemed to me to be a spirit of the night, or at least of the early hours surrounding the dawn, and perhaps those of dusk, too: wings the rich mulberry shade of sunrise and sunset, edged with ivory stars and the blues and blacks of a still-darkened sky.

If ever a butterfly could be seen to be a migrant and a messenger of night, the mourning cloak is it.

And so it is perhaps fitting that it should have joined me yesterday at my tasks, given that today’s featured #TBT work is one of star migrations and night spirits.

Today’s featured throwback work is a recent one: in fact, it dates back no more than three weeks. It was a special commission from a dear friend, intended to match two of her existing pieces by Wings: A necklace in sterling silver and black jade, onyx and Labradorite, called The Night Way; and a black jade hair cuff meant to coordinate with it, one that has not yet put in an appearance in this space but that undoubtedly will sometime soon. She also has one of his older cuffs, a giant liquid pool of onyx set on a scored and textured band, the setting giving the piece its name.

Our friend wanted long, dangling earrings, but on posts rather than wires. She also wanted the design built around glossy black stones to match her other two pieces, but she wasn’t picky about the stone itself: black jade, onyx, anything that would be the right shade of jet and with the same highly polished lapidary finish. As it turned out, Wings had some gorgeous old round onyx cabochons, like smaller pools of night — domed, glossy, full of all the vast and secret depths of night. He chose two of those to create today’s featured throwback work.

The earrings were to built around the stones, and since they were also to be set on posts, that made the design portion of the top of the earrings easy. The cabs were sufficiently sizeable that they would need very simple bezels, no extraneous silver around them, and so he set each cab in a simple scalloped bezel, enough to hold the stones securely but also allowing the domed surface to rise, fully exposed. He backed the bezels with plain silver, then edged them with a delicate strand of twisted silver. He soldered the posts to the center back of the bezels, and a tiny sterling silver jump ring to the bottom arc of each.

Then he turned his attention to the pendants. Our friend had had one other request: that they be designed, in broad strokes, like another pair of his that she owned, a pair of gorgeous sodalite ovals anchoring long, flared, hand-milled pendants. In other words, she wanted a the anchor cab/long pendant combination, although she was content to let him handle the specifics as the creative spirit moved him.

So Wings chose some lightweight sheet silver to put through the rolling mill by hand, but in a very different pattern this time. This design is one not so much of dots and dashes as it is hoops and lines, long, slender paths punctuated here and there by raised perfect circles. It’s a pattern that hints at communication, at messages and language, but also captures all the shimmer of the stars and the paths traveled by the spirits.

He cut each pendant out into a long, bold but slender rectangle, adding a couple of those mystical beings to each. He scattered tiny geometric butterflies at random among those paths and planets, little messengers at work: star migrations and night spirits coming together in the land of dreams.

Once he had the pattern set for the pendants, he trimmed off the corners, rounding the edges and then filing them into smooth, elongated shapes that were not quite oval — a little bolder, a little more graceful too. He soldered a single tiny jump ring to the top of each, then oxidized the surfaces and buffed them to a warm and glowing Florentine finish. He then attached each pendant to its bezel-set cabochon by linking the two jump rings together with a third; the extra ring provided the dancing motion of the drops, letting the animating spirit fly free.

We don’t tend to think of butterflies as creatures of the night. Their kind who inhabit the spirit realm, however, presumably have no temporal restrictions on their activity. These remind us that the messages we need to hear often come to us in the dark hours, in dreams, as our own spirits travel the night. We, too, have our own star migrations to make, and the night spirits to guide us.

~ Aji








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