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#ThrowbackThursday: To Lead the World Into the Summer Light

Amethyst Crescent Overlay Cuff Resized

Spring continues to confound us.

That’s an ordinary state of affairs here, of course; the issue now is that even its very arbitrariness manifests in increasingly odd ways. Normally, the season is a sunny affair, especially by this point: too bright, too windy, warm but not hot enough to withstand the wind’s chill.

This year, we’ve had less wind than usual, although that which has visited has been unusually destructive to us personally. But like last year, we have had an unusual number of cloudy days, so far out of the norm that they have begun to remind me of my own home, where at least half the days of any given year are likely to be overcast. And while the aspens have gone utterly rogue, some fully leafed while others have barely begun, a number of other plants have already flowered in a riot of color.

Yesterday morning, I discovered that the lilacs had budded overnight, each twisted branch terminating in fuzzy amethyst tips that look like miniature bunches of grapes. The bush outside the kitchen is in full flower now, too; instead of three or four small scarlet buds, its green robes are beaded everywhere with bright magenta blossoms.

And still, beneath the violet clouds that move in every morning, the air remains intractably dry, no rain in sight for weeks to come.

Still, this week we seem to inhabit a world robed in shades of purple, a color that cast my thoughts back some ten years to one of Wings’s works adorned in similar shades, a band of hammered silver beneath a royal amethyst.

This work was a bit unusual, in that its genesis lay not in either band or stone specifically, but in a work from Wings’s own personal collection. It was a necklace made of looping curved links, joined together with amethyst cabochons. He has always had a fondness for the stone, and he at one time held back three or four such works, instead of putting them up for sale. At one point, he began to eye the necklace in a whole new way — and he took it apart.

I think at the time he had visions of creating a number of separate overlay works with the links and stones. A decade ago, however, studio time was hard come by, and I suspect that after creating this first new work, he set the remainder aside to complete end-of-year commissions, and simply never got back to it.

And so this piece began with the accents — indeed, began, in a very real sense, with a whole other work — but the physical creation began with the band.

Amethyst Crescent Overlay Cuff Side View Resized

It was not, as such cuffs go, made of a particularly light gauge — probably sixteen or so, just flexible enough for the wearer to adjust it, but heavy enough to resist bending or distortion of shape. Wings cut the band freehand, filed its edges smooth, with a slight rounded beveling for comfort, and then laid it out flat upon his anvil. On one side, he chased hand-stamped patterns down its length: long slender diamond shapes to form Eyes of Spirit in the center of the band; smaller diamonds at either edge, alternating between a horizontal and vertical presentation to create, in effect, a series of conjoined Morning Stars made of Eyes of Spirit. It was a powerful design . . . and one that he would reserved solely for the wearer, a small spirit-infused secret that would eventually form the inner band.

Turning the band over, he hammered the surface from end to end and edge to edge with countless small strikes of a jeweler’s hammer. He frequently creates such vintage-style hammered designs; it’s one of my personal favorites, and he has done several pieces for me in this old traditional style. But very often, those are hammered with relatively heavy force. This one was different: light strikes, just enough to shift the surface of the silver slightly so that it would catch the light. It provided a faint texture, but no deep denting in the surface. Ultimately, it would produce an effect much like the light glinting off an antique mirror, or the faint ripples on otherwise-still waters.

With the stamping complete, he shaped the band using mandrel and mallet; when the proper arc was formed, he clamped it in a small vise. Then, he chose two of the links from the necklace, long curving arcs brought inward at either end to loop upon themselves. These links bore a vague resemblance to the traditional Diné naja, but they were not designed as such; they were merely fashioned in an old-style scrollwork pattern, one of many similar patterns common to old Native and Southwestern silverwork, spurs, and tack. Originally, those loops at the ends held jump rings that permitted their attachment to each other and to the extended settings holding the amethyst stones. Wings had removed the rings and buffed the links smooth. He measured them against the spaces on the band he wanted each link to occupy, intending them to open toward each other, as shown, with a single amethyst cabochon set between them; then, he carefully bent them into position so that their bottom surface would follow — and thus adhere to — the arc of the band itself. He then soldered each one securely into place.

Next came the stone. It was, in truth, a fairly spectacular specimen: larger than most calibrated amethysts found in most Native jewelry, ever so slightly oval in shape, and with an exceptionally high-domed surface. More than that, its color was phenomenal — a deep dark purple somewhere between plum and violet, changeable in the light to pick up shades of garnet and hints of midnight, only slight fragile inclusions visible in its hidden depths to catch the light. Wings knew that such a stone needed nothing to detract and distract from its beauty, and so he settled on a simple, spare, low-profile bezel, set against a slightly-extended backing. He soldered bezel and backing into place in the center of the band, then oxidized the whole cuff, front and back, and buffed it to a high polish. Lastly, he set the stone and gave the cuff a final buffing by hand.

Once complete, it produced the effect of a new monsoonal moon, deep and dark in the storm-tossed summer sky — or a tiny sacred scarab spreading its wings, or, perhaps, of one of the royal purple wildflowers of this warming season, an amethyst center blossoming into petals touched with silver, filaments of light spread wide above the waters. They say that purple is the color of royalty, of leadership; if so, this was a cuff to lead the world into the summer light.

~ Aji









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