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#TBT: Striking Up a Storm

Wide Lightning Pattern Cuff Bracelet B 2




Since we spent part of yesterday focused on fine stampwork detail by way of one of Wings’s newest pieces, I thought today might be a good day to revisit an older example of such work. It’s a piece that summoned the spirit of light of a different sort — not the steady glow of the sun, but the punctuating power of the lightning.

It’s a force we could do with now, consigned as we are at the moment to these hot, dry, dusty days on the eve of the season the world calls summer, one that for us is mostly here a full month and more before the solstice. A quick look at the extended forecast holds out little hope; whatever storms visit us today will be of a decidedly different sort, not sound and fury, perhaps, but dust and bedevilment nonetheless. Perhaps a tribute to lightning as expressed in Wings’s vision and through his hands will mollify the storm spirits enough to visit rain upon us.

Although this tribute is not so much to the lightning itself, but rather, to his own skill in summoning it in miniature and representational form. I’ve noted frequently that he works freehand: no molds or laser cutters here, although both are common in silversmithing today. They produce beautiful work, and for those for whom perfect symmetry is a selling point, they are especially useful. [Laser cutters also make it possible to work simultaneously with big blocks and small spaces, incising tiny webworks into solid, heavy pieces of metal.] There is nothing inherently wrong with such work, provided that the process is disclosed; it’s no less art, no less jewelry. It’s simply adapting to the tools of the day to create art by different means.

All that said, Wings is much more a traditionalist. No, he doesn’t often melt his own silver and start from there anymore, although he has been known to do so even now when the creative urge strikes in that way. But for the most part, his preferred mode of expression comes through his facility with stampwork. It’s a skill that seems, on the surface, as though it should be spectacularly simple.

Try it, and you’ll see immediately how deceptive that impression is.

Producing good stampwork requires a combination of innate talent, learned and long-practiced skill, patience and meticulous attention to detail, and plenty of hard work. Over the course of decades of work, Wings has become attuned to the silver itself, as well as to the tools he uses to summon spirits and shapes from it. Developing a feel for the metal is a must, because the force required to call an image out of fine-gauge sheet silver differs from that required for a heavier gauge, which is different yet from producing the same image out of silver wire, and even more so from ingot. The tools one chooses will vary, too: From the size and depth of the stamp to the weight and material of which the hammer is made, long practice is what tells the silversmith which to use in any given circumstance . . . and how to use it.

Today’s featured work, a [relatively] plain silver cuff that Wings created in 2008, was wrought out of sheet silver in the detailed pattern you see above. He used a grand total of two stamps to create the entire piece — or, to be pedantically precise about it, one stamp and one chisel. The one stamp isn’t evening the lightning image.

But it produces it. In that regard, it’s a little like the weather itself, the way heat and cold collide to produce the storm.

First, though, the design began with the sheet silver. Wings cut out the band, some six inches in length and probably something just shy of two inches in width, flattened it, then trimmed the corners so that each end of the band would be rounded slightly for comfortable wear, and filed the edges smooth. Once this embryonic band was laid out flat on his workbench, he took a chisel — nothing fancy, nothing specialized; just a plain old ordinary chisel with a blade perhaps a quarter-inch long — and began scoring the lines that run the cuff’s full length.

Scoring is a very simple process, at least in theory: You place the chisel blade flush against the silver, then strike the end of the chisel’s handle with hammer to produce an indent in the form of a short line. To create a longer line, you match up the end of the chisel to the end of the line, and strike it again, then continue repeating the process until you’ve scored a line to the proper length. Seems simple, yes?


It’s incredibly easy to score a line that wavers all over the place; one where the ends don’t quite meet, producing a dashed effect; one that drifts to one side or the other. To score a straight line, one struck consistently deep that travels straight and true? That’s another skill set entirely.

And for this cuff, Wings scored six of them, one a fraction of an inch in from either edge; four down the center. Six scores produced seven raised panels in the band’s surface: three narrow ones at the center, flanked by two about twice as wide as each of the center ones, and a final pair at either edge that fell into a middling width between the size of the others. That alone would have made for an elegantly simple cuff, but Wings wasn’t done.

The only true stampwork (i.e., as opposed to chisel work) was that on the two widest of the raised panels. And the whole complex design was produced with one stamp.

If you look closely at the photo, concentrating on the spaces between the zigzags of the lightning bolts, you’ll see an unusual pattern. It consists of three prongs, or spires, standing upright, the center one higher than the two flanking it, all encased within an upper border like the top two angles of a triangle, with tiny lines arrayed from its top to its bottom, which serves as the line directly above the spires. It looks a bit like a lodge symbol: the tipi angles at the top opened to show three poles inside. It also looks a bit like the rays of a nascent sun reaching up to a ribbed sky. And it’s all on the end of one tiny stamp.

Wings took this stamp and repeated it all along the first edge, one after the other in a chased pattern, probably some twenty strikes in all. That produced an inner panel with a jagged edge — less like lightning than like the teeth of saw. He then turned the cuff over, and on the straight side of that same panel, he repeated the whole process, another twenty or so strikes . . . offset by one point, so that the vertical point of the stamp was centered between the lowest points of the adjoining two stamps across from it.

And this produced the lightning.

One side, done, Wings flipped the cuff around again and repeated both steps of the process on the other side, creating a perfectly symmetrical pattern of dual lightning bolts surrounded by long cascades of silvery rain. Stampwork complete, he shaped the cuff on a mandrel, then oxidized all the stampwork and score work, and buffed it to fairly high polish, just off a mirror finish.

Over the years, Wings has created a number of cuffs with simple, powerful, deeply-struck stampwork designs. Some are like this one, perfectly symmetrical, and intentionally so; others are purposely more random, his hands following a less-clear path as Spirit lays it out for him. They’re all beautiful, but this one was one of my favorites.

There’s a lot to be said for striking up a storm.

~ Aji







All content, including photos and text, are copyright Wings and Aji, 2018; all rights reserved. Nothing herein may used or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the owner.

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