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#ThrowbackThursday: A Fire Uncoiling In the Spirit

Wing’s preferred medium has always been sterling silver. He will occasionally work in other metals, by request or to use up materials acquired, for example, in trade: In rare instances, he’s created full pieces out of nickel silver, coin silver, and copper. He will also sometimes use other metals as an accent, such as in one notable instance when a dear friend asked him to melt down her grandmother’s wedding ring and use it in a newly designed commissioned work. Most often, though, when he works with metals other than silver, it tends to be as an accent, and most often, it tends to be copper.

It’s not especially surprising; copper is, after all, much less expensive than gold, and more easily distinguished as an accent than other forms of “silver” (even when there’s no actual silver in the alloy). But one of the other appeals of copper is its color: the shade of the shimmering local earth; of the fiery skies of sunrise and sunset and storm; even of our skin. Copper is a material that touches our perceptions, and our spirits, in deeply elemental ways.

I’ve highlighted a few of Wings’s works that feature copper accents in previous posts, both here in this series and in the galleries that comprise his recent years’ worth of inventory. And given yesterday’s two new works, both of which combine silver and copper to dramatic effect, I thought today’s featured throwback would provide a fitting complement.

It’s a pendant that was part of a small series Wings created back in 2010: pendants and necklaces featuring a hand motif, wrought in ajouré cutwork placed atop a backing as an overlay. Some were plain, nothing more than the hand shape excised from the silver and overlaid against the back; others featured a single cabochon in the palm, usually turquoise, although at least one was lapis, if memory serves, and one was definitely carnelian.

The one shown here today pointed up a different series of techniques: Instead of gemwork, the accent was formed from a small length of copper “wire” (as with sterling silver “wire,” it’s copper that has been melted and poured into a fine slender mold, then cooled and cut to the desired length), formed into a spiral and overlaid against the backing of the pendant. It produced a finished image that was a powerful testament to life itself: to the forces of identity and existence, of survival and the kind of immortality that links us to the ancestors and lives on in future generations.

In this instance, the work began with the silver, of course, but more to the point, it started with two identical pieces, each a matching oval about an inch and three-quarters or so long by probably a little over an inch across at the widest point. Both pieces would require intensive work.

It’s been too many years for to recall definitively, but knowing his process as well as I do, I suspect that he began with the top oval first. He planned to solder them together eventually, but I believe that he settled on the design for the underlay after creating the top half o the pendant. The upper half required two processes: the stampwork at the edge; and the saw-work in the middle. Again, I suspect he began with the latter, sketching out the hand’s imprint in the middle of the silver disc, then piercing it and excising it freehand in a process known by the French term ajouré, which simply means “saw-work” or “cutwork,” and which is performed using a tiny jeweler’s saw with blades that look very much like the old-fashioned leads used as Eversharp refills.

Once the hand imprint was fully excised from the silver, he would have been able to center that border stampwork around it properly. He chose a simple sunrise stamp for this, one whose internal arc, the one facing downward (or inward, as the case may be) is serrated, creating the effect of rays of light shining down upon the world and whatever stands upon it or in it. He stamped these deeply, matching these closely to each other and creating a repeating pattern all the way around the edge of the oval, so that each low point of the stamp connected with the one next to it.

Then he turned his attention to the other disc, For this, he selected a vanishingly simple stamp: a tiny circle, one that he often uses to create the image of the sacred hoop we call “life.” He stamped this in a random repeating pattern all over the surface of the oval, leaving minutes amounts of space between some, overlapping others. The reverse isn’t shown here, but he flipped it over, stamped his hallmark in the lower left quadrant of the oval, and then created a Morning Star radiating from its center. This motif was wrought freehand: He took a textured chisel, a plain and simple line, and summoned each of the star’s diamond-shaped “rays” into being by means of this stamp. It required four separate strikes for each “ray,” each held at a different angle to meet up with the next, forming an elongated diamond shape like a long narrow Eye of Spirit. At the center, he connected all four “rays” by means of the tiny hoop symbol. Then he turned the disc back over, oxidized the repeating hoop pattern on the front heavily, and left the surface unpolished.

Now it was time to join the halves of the pendant and create the bail. Carefully, he placed the overlay disc, the one with the hand symbol excised from it, over the lower disc with the oxidized surface. Making sure that the edges matched up perfectly, he then soldered them meticulously together. He then cut a small length of sheet silver, flared slightly at either end and tapering from both ends toward the center, gently hammered it into a loop, and soldered it to the top of the now-conjoined discs.

At this point, Wings could have stopped, and had a stunning pendant to show for his work. The oxidized underlay created a striking effect all by itself. But he wasn’t done.

He took a slender strand of copper wire, probably two to three inches in length, and gently manipulated it, coiling it carefully into a spiral. This particular spiral runs counterclockwise, and now is as good a time as any for a short digression: Some dealers, like some authors (non-Natives all) will try to tell you that “genuine” spirals always run clockwise, or that those shown counterclockwise are symbols of witchcraft or other evil. It’s hooey. I have no doubt that, for some indigenous cultures in some specific contexts, the counterclockwise direction, whether manifest as a spiral or otherwise, can hold negative connotations, perhaps up to and including various forms of evil. But cultures and contexts both are impossibly varied, and there is no one that applies to — or for — us all. Counterclockwise spirals have all sorts of meanings, whether it refers to the apparent movement of celestial bodies or a regression of season and time or merely an aesthetic choice on the part of the artist. In this instance, it was more the latter than any other determinative factor, and it turned out to be an inspired one, linking the center of an extant hand backward toward the Ancient Ones, even as its free end stretched upward and outward from the center of the hand, as the reaching out into the present world and the future beyond. He soldered it carefully into place atop the oxidized underlay showing in the center of the space occupied buy the excised hand. Then he soldered the stampwork at the edges and on the reverse, and buffed it to high polish.

And it did so in the colors of the sun: a fire uncoiling in the spirit, reaching for the light.

As we move into autumn, winter nearing fast, it’s a good approach to life.

~ Aji










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