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#ThrowbackThursday: When Mother Earth Meets Father Sky

When Mother Earth meets Father Sky, the result is beauty, harmony, medicine, and a near-indescribable power.

Our themes this week have explored Mother Earth as Earth Mother, but in our cosmologies, her relationship to her partner is essential for a healthy, well-rounded world.

As I was contemplating what to choose for today’s #TBT featured work, I happened across a pair of works from some seven or so years ago. And they were distinctly a pair: A dear friend commissioned them as gifts for dear friends of hers who were partnered at the time. She gave Wings few constraints on the design; she simply wanted works that coordinated with or complemented each other in some way, and that would suit the couple’s identities and selves.

It’s been a while since Wings has created one of these “spirit being” necklaces, but he has always produced work in this informal series with semi-regularity. I would refer to them by the shorthand of “kachina” necklaces, except that the people do not use that word, having instead their own private terms to refer to spirit beings of the cosmological (i.e., world-building and -sustaining) sort. For the sake of brevity, I’ll simply refer to them as “spirit” necklaces.

Wings’s most famous version of the spirit necklace is, of course, his series The Mona Lisa On the Rio Grande. And as always, I feel compelled to note here that the series was not named for the Tish Hinojosa song of similar-but-not-identical title. Wings was creating his Mona Lisas long before the song was released, and even then, didn’t know of its existence until a few years ago. It’s just one of those artistic congruities and confluences.

At any rate, he is known for the Mona Lisas, but they are, in a sense, in a category of their own. These spirits, on the other hand, while possessed of the artistically-adorned headdress and a gemstone head and face, are not always female. The spirits may be female, male, or, in some traditions, both, neither, or something else entirely. This particular small series is not confined to any of those spaces.

And a good thing, too, for this particular commission. For the people involved, he wanted something bold and earthy, something as unique as their own personalities, something that departed from the more usual style of Southwestern Indian jewelry to suit their particular spirits.

When the pieces are supposed to “match,” in some sense, that’s rather a tall order.

Looking through his inventory of cabochons at the time, we discovered that he had two nearly identical cabochons of picture jasper. both big, round, and while clearly from the same deposit, unique in appearance compared to most specimens of its kind. Picture jasper manifests, generally speaking, in rich warm browns and grays, sometimes traced with lines of blood-red matrix, producing the look of a desert landscape. The stone that forms the body in yesterday’s featured work is a perfect example of its more usual presentation. Each piece of picture jasper is necessarily unique, although it’s possible to identify more or less “matched” stones that have clearly been mined from the same source. What’s less common is the way these two cabochons presented themselves.

As I said above, picture jasper usually looks like a desert landscape, with randomly geometric blocky bands. These two stones, however, were banded with relative uniformity across their faces, with small drop-like patterns in maroon and violet hues that looked like water.

Moreover, the gray and brown shades were nearly fully blended within the bands, rather than being isolated from each other by lines of matrix. The horizontal banding called to mind planetary images, like Saturn’s rings or the corona around sun and moon. Combined, as they were, with the warm earthy colors of the stone, like hardened volcanic sand, and dotted here and there with dripping bits of condensation, it seemed for all the world — in cosmic terms, no less — as though we were witness to the union of Mother Earth and Father Sky, dancing together in perfect rotation through a darkened universe.

And so the stones chose themselves.

What remained, of course, was to fashion a setting that suited their beauty and power.

Wings never creates any two items that are 100% identical. He has always believed that Spirit intends everything he makes for a particular wearer, and that that person deserves to have it be uniquely his or her own. And so he had to create a pair of matching works that were not identical. You may have noticed how by now; if not, we’ll get to it in a moment.

Sometimes Wings creates larger settings all of a piece, but with these, as he so often does, he created two separate parts to the setting. First came the spirit beings’ “headdresses,” here a pair of solid sterling silver rectangles hand-cut, beveled at the edges, and filed smooth. These were fairly heavy, solid pieces; not such a thick gauge as to weight the wearer down, but enough to hold a big bold stone, and to make its presence known.

Once the two rectangles were cut out, it was time for the cutwork. Using a tiny jeweler’s saw, he excised a half-moon shape from the inner part of the lower edge of each rectangle, crating an open arc that terminated on either side about a half-inch from the edges. This, too, he filed smooth. This arc would form what resembled a “negative” crescent moon arched above the stone once it was set. Before getting to that, though, he turned to the space above the open arc. He punched carefully through the surface in seven places, and with an even smaller-bladed jeweler’s saw, he cut, freehand, seven stars at intervals across the arc. In some of our peoples’ traditions, seven is a sacred number, one weighted with significant meaning(s), so the combination of seven stars above a crescent moon, against a silvery sunlit expanse of sky, was powerful.

Finally, he soldered a small neat bail to the top of each “headdress,” just a simple flared loop of sterling silver. Then he turned to the stone.

These were unusually large cabochons, but they were not especially highly-domed. This meant that he needed to keep the bezels simple to show off the stones’ natural beauty to best effect. He cut two perfectly round medallions of sterling silver, each one sized to extend just a fraction beyond the stones’ own edges. Now came the point at which he made each unique from the other: For the one shown at top, he crafted a bezel hand-cut in a semi-scalloped pattern, low-profile but still high enough to hold the stone securely; for the second one, he fashioned a similarly low-profile bezel with a perfectly smooth, spare edge. These he soldered into place on the backing; then, he used the remaining fraction of space that extended beyond each bezel to solder a delicate strand of twisted silver around each one. This would highlight the stones without distracting from the patterning across their surfaces. Finally, he soldered the backing of each bezel carefully into place between the two edges of the “headdress” so that the headdress’s lower edge was about even with the midpoint of the stone. This gave each stone the proportional appearance of the spirit being’s head and face, and also lowered it between and eighth and a quarter of an inch from the apex of the arc above, so that it produced the crescent moon-like effect.

Finally, he oxidized the cutwork and the bezel, buffed each to a near-mirror polish, set the stones, and attached a length of sterling silver snake chain to each bail.

The result was a pair of earthy yet ethereal spirit beings: both so clearly embodying Mother Earth, and just as clearly manifest as Father Sky, that it became clear that each was both in one. And so they named themselves: Mother Earth/Father Sky for one; Father Sky/Mother Earth for the other.

These two works managed to be both bold and subtle simultaneously — not unlike, perhaps, the spirit beings for whom they were named. Beauty, harmony, medicine, and a near-indescribably power: As I said at the outset, that is the result when Mother Earth meets Father Sky.

~ Aji








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