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#ThrowbackThursday: Drawing Down the Sun’s Medicine

Clear and breezy today, and incredibly hot. The long-range forecast suggests that the highs will begin dropping a few degrees starting Saturday, but we know better than to bet on it. Still, even with the unseasonably hot days, the nights are already growing cold as their hours lengthen and the daylight shortens perceptibly.

The links between earth and light are just that little bit more tenuous now.

Remnant summer will be with us for a while yet, trading space and primacy with the early edges of fall. But what we see around us now reminds us that, for all practical purposes, summer is done, and with it the chance of rains to supplement whatever winter snows we are lucky enough to get. The drought has the land in a death grip, and it, not seasonal change, is at the root of the turned colors and dried leaves and limbs wholly blank and bare already.

Still, this day is a stark improvement over most recent days, with the vast majority of the smoke haze either extinguished or chased entirely out of sight. And without the suffocating pall of smoke and ash and particulate matter hovering over the land, we can once more appreciate what is perhaps autumn’s greatest gift in this place: a light whose work is pure magic, drawing down the suns medicine to an earth in need of hope.

This week’s featured #ThrowbackThursday work is a manifestation of this cosmic mystery in silver and stone. It’s also that rarest of Wings’s works: a [near-]duplicate of an earlier piece, created intentionally and to fulfill a very specific purpose.

This work might be called Earth and Light II, I suppose. It’s a throwback to the very beginning of 2018, and a near-copy of Earth and Light, shown here. Almost immediately after Wings created that cuff, it was purchased by a very dear friend who lives on the other end of the country. Wings blessed it, I packed it up, we took it to the post office, and it was shipped out to her.

That weekend, the mail carrier delivered her package.

Notice that I did not say that he delivered her cuff.

No, he handed her a plastic bag, with words to the effect of “Sorry about that” scrawled on it black marker, and the padded envelope in which it was shipped, torn open, with the gift box inside, our business sticker on the top, rubber bands around it to hold it secure.

Well, a torn package isn’t the end of the world, especially if the contents are still bound . . . or so one would think.

Except that the gift box was empty.

Well, not quite “empty”: Whoever slit the outer packaging, opened it up, and stole the bracelet out of it in transit folded the tissue paper and bubble wrap back up and replaced them both in the box, then put the rubber bans back around it from both directions — not flat and neatly as I always make sure I do, but on there all the same.

Or friend let me know immediately, and sent me photos of the packaging. It was, as always, fully insured, and I immediately went to work on filing a claim.

And got jerked around repeatedly by the U.S. Postal Service. They forced me to send documentation via an online system that mostly didn’t work, necessitating starting the whole process over repeatedly every time it crashed. I followed up with hard-copy versions. I gave them every single bit of evidence they asked for and more . . . and then heard nothing. When they finally did respond, it was with a letter signed by an apparatchik, openly rude, snide, condescending, and a micrometer shy of accusing us of fraud outright, all while denying that I’d sent them what I had demonstrably sent and telling me essentially flat-out that they wouldn’t honor their insurance commitments in the slightest. By now, of course, we were approaching the deadline by which anything allegedly could be done.

And then I got mad.

I fired back, dismantling the ugly assertions in their letter one by one. Ultimately, it required getting our postmaster involved, but she stepped up in full support. [And several folks within the system also told me horror stories of firsthand knowledge of service employees with houses full of stolen packages, some of them not even unwrapped, who had eventually been arrested for mail theft.]. And a few weeks later, a slim envelope mysteriously appeared in our box, with no reference to the slanderous earlier letter and indeed no reference to anything at all, no enclosure of any kind save a check for the full amount.

In the meantime, Wings had already begun work on a replacement cuff for our friend.

But there was a wrinkle even to that part of the process.

Now, with a year and a half and more of unchecked pandemic affecting everything from mail services to potato chips to toilet paper, the rest of the country has become suddenly familiar with “supply-chain difficulties.” but the truth of the matter is that they’re not new, particularly in certain areas; only the scope and scale have changed now. And in the latter half of 2017, Wings’s suppliers for silver were already encountering shortages in specific types of products. One of these, notably, was sterling silver “wire”: the various types of molded ingot I’ve discussed here repeatedly. Not all forms of wire were in short supply, of course, but certain gauges (i.e., thickness and weight) in certain shapes had been affected that year. One of them was triangle wire, which was used to create the original cuff.

That cuff was wrought of a middling gauge: solid, substantial, but still slender enough to be considered relatively light. And during the holiday rush of 2017, it was nowhere to be found; Wings had used the last of his own inventory in that size on this cuff. We expected that that would change in early 2018, attributing the shortage to holiday demand, but instead, it proved impossible to get even months later. Wings had intended to order more of it to make our friend’s replacement cuff, but eventually, he grew concerned that it might not be possible, and he didn’t want her to wait for months on end for the new version.

So he turned to the rest of his inventory, and found more triangle wire in a far heavier gauge (probably 4-gauge or so, compared to what was probably 8- or 9-gauge for the earlier version). Had he used this weight for the first version, it would have been far more costly, but this was our friend; her cuff had stolen in transit before she ever got a chance to see it,  much less wear it; and he had this in stock already.  He also had proportionally larger versions of the same stones, and so he decided to set to work.

First, he cut the silver to the proper length. Then, using a special miniature vise with channels in it designed explicitly for this purpose, he set about recreating the stampwork. The symbol that traced either side of the “triangle” that formed the surface of the band was a radiant symbol that can be interpreted either as a sunrise motif or a crescent moon. This he stamped, freehand, all down either angled side of the apex, probably close to forty separate stamps in all.

Then he took a small, plain chisel-end stamp and scored the entire apex, minutely, deeply, consistently, in a repeating pattern that would texturize it beautifully and allow it to catch the light.

It’s a harder process than it looks, particularly with a gauge this heavy and solid; it requires a sure eye and a steady hand, and a great deal of patience.

Once the stampwork was complete, he turned it over to add his hallmark on the inner band, then turned it right-side-up again to attend to the ends of the cuff.

In point of fact, he had stamped and scored it not quite to the very end, leaving about a half to three-quarters of an inch bare. These blank ends he hammered flat, creating lovely sloping angles from each apex to widened, rounded, oval-shaped flat ends.

He filed these smooth, then turned his attention to the stones.

The original cuff was bezel-set at ether end with a small oval tiger’s eye placed along the flattened area, with a single tiny round jade cabochon placed directly above each one. These, in fact, formed part of the basis for the cuff’s name, Earth and Light: winter, with tiny amounts of remnant green having given way to  brown earth still touched by the golden light of the sun.

Fortunately, Wings had two different sizes of oval tiger’s eye cabochons in his inventory of stones. The smaller version had been used on the original cuff, but the larger size turned out to be perfect for heavier-gauge replacement cuff. He fashioned two oval saw-toothed bezels, one at either end of the cuff, then placed a tiny round one directly above each oval. He oxidized all the stampwork and scorework, buffed the piece to a medium-high polish, and then set the stones: tiny jade cabs, a deep and dusky green . . . and big, bold ovals of fabulously chatoyant tiger’s eye, rich chocolate bisected by shimmering golden-bronze banding.

Like the eyes of our friend’s cat, the association that had first attracted her to the original version of the cuff.

By this point, after all the battles with the postal service and all the delays hoping that the supplier’s delivery predictions would prove true, watching the new version come together was a welcome sight, As welcome, perhaps, as the by-now lengthening light as winter slowly began to surrender space to spring, the earth drawing down the sun’s medicine to warm and illuminate her world, and ours.

~ Aji

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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