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#ThrowbackThursday: Upon Wings of a Warming Sun

Today’s featured throwback work does not throw us back so very far at all — only to last September or so, summer’s end, when our world was facing the prospect of colder winds.

We have had such colder winds again today, despite the fact that summer itself is not only just over two months away. But the forces driving the newest winter storm have blown through here with a vengeance, delivering themselves of only the most minute of flurries, but cutting through the air of spring with a scalpel’s blade. It’s the kind of ice that is also fire, so cold that it burns the skin even as it steals the breath and threatens to cast you off your very feet.

It will change again, of course, and soon; next week is projected to be a mix of summery temperatures and intermittent snows. Such is spring at Red Willow. But for today, we’re looking back at another red, one adorning a small spirit of the summer season, upon wings of a warming sun.

Today’s featured work was a gift for a very, very dear friend: one of a pair of items, actually, that Wings conceived and created for her. He felt led to make a piece in the form of a small wingéd spirit, but could not decide between a hummingbird and a butterfly. In the end, after I spoke with her, we settled on the butterfly . . . but in the end, he felt that he was meant to create the hummingbird, as well. And so this piece came to be hers.

At the time, because he had been contemplating this particular hummingbird but had instead (he thought) decided on the butterfly, he crafted a pair, intending that they should serve as inventory. Instead, of course, one flew into inventory while the other traveled a distance worthy of migration. But it’s a point relevant to the design: Usually, he creates left-facing hummingbirds (that is to say, facing the bird’s and wearer’s  left and the viewer’s right); this time, he flipped the second one, so that the pair, on his workbench, faced each other.

If memory serves, he had already chosen the stones for the pair: one amber, one carnelian; fiery wings, fitting for sunrise and sunset. The “fire” metaphor would turn out, for various reasons, to be simultaneously inapposite and altogether too on point, but the notions of freedom of movement and illuminating light, of the dawn of a new day and the safety of a warm red twilight, would all remain apt.

But the execution, of course, began with the silver. Wings cut sketched out each hummingbird on sheet silver then cut them freehand with a tiny jeweler’s saw. It’s much more complex than it sounds, particularly with regard to the details of this design: While a pointed beak may  not be too difficult, nor a flaring end of paired wings, nor even perhaps a slightly rounded head, the pointed tailfeathers and scalloped underside of the wings required smooth, tight turns of the saw in very small spaces. Such work can easily come out looking rough and irregular, but in Wings’s hands, they were graceful, the scalloped wings particularly flowing with a sense of motion.

Once the outlines were set, he turned to the stampwork. It was simple in the extreme — indeed, a virtual mirror image of the other one: a single tiny hoop for an eye; a simple score line to separate the wings; a rounded crescent to accent the outer edge of what would eventually become the bezel; a thin sharp point to define the long beak; a trio of peaked designs, what can serve as an arrowhead point, a mountain peak or lodge symbol, or, conjoined as they are here, a lightning bolt to bring the tailfeathers into focus; five small sunrise symbols lining the scalloped lower edge of the wing; four larger sunrises dividing wings from body; and three wavy lines placed end to end, usually used to symbolize flowing water, to draw the eye down the tiny creature’s body and imbue with a sense of spirited, hovering motion.

It was, as I say, very nearly a perfect mirror image of its counterpart. Placed on his workbench, facing each other, they seemed literally to hover slightly above the surface, paired, perhaps, over some imaginary flower. Once the stampwork was complete, he turned it over and domed it very slightly, just enough to give it a sense of depth and allow it to lie properly when pinned to a garment. He then soldered the pin assembly securely into place, turned it back right side up, and fashioned a tiny round sawtoothed bezel inside the crescent at the base of the wings. He then oxidized all the stampwork and buffed it to a medium-high polish.

Buffing complete, he was then faced with the question of which hummingbird should receive which cabochon. I’m not sure that it played any conscious role, but they became very much a sunrise/sunset pair, perhaps in part due to the nature of Wings’s workspace. His anvil sits beneath a window overlooking the peaks to the southeast. In the morning, the sunrise is to his left; in the evening, sunset is to his right as he works. Ultimately, the leftward-facing hummingbird received the amber cabochon, as though carrying the golden glow of the rising sun from the east; the rightward-facing bird, the carnelian, the color of the western sky at sunset. It felt as though one bore the dawn and the other dusk, inward toward the center of our world, as though each carried with it the warmth and light and protective power of the sun itself at the bookends of the day.

And then, it was time to choose. Because while in process, it became clear to him that one of these was meant to belong to our friend. But which one? The butterfly he had created for her provided no guidance; it contained both amber and carnelian stones, among other gems in other colors.

We eventually decided that the uniqueness of the right-facing one was key: It was the first either of us could remember him making that faced in that direction (and, as it turns out, from that same spot above his anvil, it reflected the direction she would be facing were she to look in our direction. It seemed to speak of connection across miles, of the ability to be in touch despite the geographic distance between us. And so it was that the carnelian hummingbird found its place, with a person very dear to us: a symbol of the western skies and the safe inviting glow of sunset, traveling upon wings of a warming sun.

~ Aji







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