I still remember the exact moment it clicked for me how special sacred jewelry can be. Seventeen years ago, I sat uncomfortably on a bus traversing a high pass in the mountains of western China. I was traveling along the ancient Silk Road caravan route on a shoestring. I had planned for three months of backpacking but ended up on the road for an entire year plus. My route snaked overland through western China, Tibet, Nepal and India.
On this bus I heard the creaking of the old seats, inhaled the strong smell of engine oil and cigarette smoke (Chinese men would chain smoke even throughout entire overnight bus rides with the windows shut tight) and felt the old junker jolt as it trundled over dirt and stones and periodically veer alarmingly close to the edge of the canyon as it passed other vehicles, honking.
All the seats on the bus were almost full. I sat next to a Tibetan woman with a weathered face covered in wise lines. She wore a sort of striped apron with a faded red smock underneath. She sat unperturbed as the bus swayed and rattled us with its nonexistent shocks as we cranked up the pass. Most strikingly, her earlobes were weighted down with giant gold earrings: intricately figured and crafted, set with blue turquoise and dusky coral.
At every turn and creak of the old bones of the bus, these earrings swayed. They were so big and heavy they pulled her ears down but she also looked supremely comfortable, like she didn’t even notice their presence, as if they had belonged to her and her family for generations, as if they were simply a part of her.
I noticed them, though, in my half-dozing travel-weary dream-like haze. They were magnetic. They were magical. They were mesmerizing. They were glorious.
Much later, I began to notice the resonance and power of jewelry. The culture. The tradition. The intention. The beauty. The personal talismanic meaning. The everyday specialness.
In that moment I only felt struck through by a strange fascination and kept looking at her, and them, throughout the entire ride. Even when we finally crested the top of the pass and all the Tibetans on the bus let loose bloodcurdling cries and celebratory yodels as they let icy high elevation air flood through the bus tossing fluttering prayer flags through the windows and sending a chill of elation through my body, I was aware of them.
Those earrings grounded me, held me. They commanded my attention.
After that, I began to pay attention.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The rest you see before you, in a decade-long (and counting) passion and dedication to the loving creation of the sacred jewelry in this shop, captured in my portfolios, and in the collections of my dear friends and clients.
This state is not a mystical state. It is not the state of immensity or specialness. It is a state of naturalness and ease. On the human level, it is experienced as deep ease and deep naturalness and deep simplicity.
I hold that life is bliss. In essence life is not a struggle. Man is not born to suffer, but to feel joyful; he is born of bliss, consciousness, wisdom, and creativity. Once the flower of life has bloomed in a man, then consciousness, wisdom, and creativity are ever-present in him. When the inner, or spiritual, and the outer, or material, glories of life are consciously brought into harmony, then life is integrated and becomes truly worth living.
– Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Transcendental Meditation with Questions and Answers
I have steered away this evening from talking about many of the positive aspects of enlightenment, but there is no way you could really see the truth and not be giggling in some way for the rest of your life. There is no way that you couldn’t just love this world to death, even though you know it’s not half as real as you thought it was. There is no way that you could not love people a hundred times more, even though you know they’re not what you thought they were. But I don’t want to speak too much about that because the mind starts to think it’s being handed candy when it’s not. It’s being handed a sword.
One thing I love about this material is its allusiveness.
First it reminds me of scales – lizard scales, or dragon scales – cool at first then warming to the touch; next those shimmering flakes of sunlight that dance upon a lake when the light dazzles one’s eyes on a summer afternoon or clear, moon-lit night.
There is a sense of delicious, sensual weight. I can’t help but think of Milan Kundera’s words in the beginning of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The densely-woven silver feels so pleasurably heavy and at the same time gleams and flows so fluidly, utterly responsive to the slightest dip, hollow, or bodily movement.
I weave this metallic fabric weaving one bead at a time into every other bead, yet it acts as a whole: Many into One. The meditative attention spent in this manner infuses the material with a kind of energetic resonance so that it becomes a sort of aesthetic armor with the feel of elemental Fire, Water, Metal and Earth.
When I patinate the silver the fabric takes on a wondrous dark hue with great depth and a subtle gunmetal shine. Left bright, the facets catch the light with purity and read bright white.
I then match my hand-woven silver fabric with the earthy brilliance and sparkle of natural druzies so that they really come alive: Modern Talismans for this age of challenge and change.
An excerpt from an article called “Life’s Work” by Rich Fernandez.
When I was a young child I spent several years living with my extended family in the Philippines, where I learned to speak Tagalog. The language contains a beautiful expression for work – hanap buhay. When literally translated this term for work means “the search for life.” I have always liked this way of thinking about work – that it is an inward journey towards discovery where the things that make you feel most alive become your life’s work.
During childhood there is often a certain moment when a well-meaning adult asks you the big question, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” What I like about this question is that it embraces the idea that work is an expression of who you are as well as who you want to be. Yet that familiar question takes an odd turn when you actually become an adult. “What do you do for a living?” becomes the question we typically ask each other. Gone is the inquiry about what you aspire to “be.” This shift in emphasis from “being” to “doing” focuses you solely on the external activities and behaviors that you perform for your work, rather than on your intrinsic values, strengths and motivations.
“Most of us think too much about what we should do and not enough about what we should be,” said the fourteenth-century mystic Meister Eckhart. “If we would pay more attention to what we should be, our work would shine forth brightly.”
I read something today written by Michelle Skiba, whose finely crafted and presented hand-bound journals with beautifully organic wooden covers I have admired for several years. It is:
Craftsmanship is something that develops slowly over time through years of steady practice. It is about showing up everyday and doing the same thing over and over.
I especially love the part about doing the same thing over and over, every day. It is the zen beauty of simple repetition that builds the hand skills and mastery of tools and techniques so that something effortless can flow from the beyond and illuminate one’s craft and art in those moments of non-effort.
Really, it means making things isn’t difficult. All you have to do is have passion, and show up.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your children, inside and outside of the industry?
Always make your work be personal.
And, you never have to lie. If you lie, you will only trip yourself up. You will always get caught in a lie. It is very important for an artist not to lie, and most important is not to lie to yourself. There are some questions that are inappropriate to ask, and rather than lie, I will not answer them because it’s not a question I accept. So many times we are asked things in our work or in life that you want to lie, and all you have to do is say, “No, that is an improper question.”
So when you get into a habit of not lying when you are writing, directing, or making a film, that will carry your personal conviction into your work. And, in a society where you say you are very free but you’re not entirely free, you have to try. There is something we know that’s connected with beauty and truth. There is something ancient. We know that art is about beauty, and therefore it has to be about truth.
Writers, and the books they write, have always been like friends to me.
Sometimes close friends.
It is an intimate thing – to listen, imagine and yes, converse – for hours and hours – sometimes weeks and weeks – days and days.
Imagine talking on the phone for that long. It’s a long time to live in another person’s world.
Books, also, have great depth. They take time, attention. Unlike the shallow, schizophrenic world of television and other media that tells you what to think and hear and see as you sit in a passive trance – bombarding you with music, underlining each action with sound effects and laugh tracks, preempting any effort on your part besides dazed acceptance – reading a book requires a meeting of imaginations – a very vibrant act.
The author imagines and presents the world he or she imagines, and invites you to step into it and join him or her in the exploration. The rest is up to you, the reader.
If this is so, then Haruki Murakami must be one of my best friends.
Again and again, he offers the belief that a person like him must be hard to like; that people like him are so stubborn, so different and so unexceptional – or inward, or somewhat un-social – that no one would easily be attracted to him, or them.
Perhaps this is precisely why I like him.
I was struck, while reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, that Murakami – out of the blue – decided to write a novel, indeed began his career as a writer in the same year I was born – 1978. And further, he took up seriously running again, an event which has shaped much of his life, at age 33 – my current age upon reading this memoir.
Mainly, however, when I read his books I feel like I am talking to a good friend, an old friend who is always interesting, who always has peculiar insights and poetic ways to express them, who feels deeply and completely the mystery of life. His companionship is easygoing and comradely, though we delve at times into difficult or frightening themes. Reading Murakami, to me, is a little like having an intense, meandering conversation in a dream that goes on and on and makes perfect sense when you are asleep but merges with your consciousness so that when you wake up you don’t doubt a thing.
In this casual wonderful memoir there were certain what Murakami calls “life lessons” that he learned or observations that he made which I find particularly relevant to my own life. For instance, there is the strong vein of what other people believed he should or could do, and what he wanted to and ultimately, did. Whatever Murakami set out to do – open a jazz bar, become a full-time writer, close the jazz bar – people opposed his actions strongly. Being Murakami, he went ahead on his own anyway.
This reminds me of my experience on giving up the academic world, giving up the corporate path, giving up “success” as success – to work with my hands, to own my own business, to become an artist.
The whole society – and certainly members of my family – and friends – and random people on the street – all opposed this move. My father, a company man, couldn’t understand how I could possibly make a living. Becoming a professor or professional white collar worker was his idea of procuring a steady and successful living for oneself. It is what he did, and did well. Friends and acquaintances looked upon my work and my endeavors with incomprehension. Society, at first, was no different. “Starving artists” were rampant, according to the word on the street. I really had to dig to find examples of successful artists, metalsmiths, colleagues.
I also felt a sort of inferiority about not studying metalwork in school. With a degree in literature and only a few art classes under my belt, I started my real metalworking apprenticeship in Western China, Nepal, Tibet. I have taken some excellent classes, but I have never worked under a master and never completed any degrees. I am mostly self-taught, and without the luxury of time and resources to explore this new medium that students take for granted (and inheriting the respect for education my family and culture instilled in me) as well as the technical know-how years of study can impart I always felt a little behind the times.
I never disliked long-distance running. When I was at school I never much cared for gym class, and always hated Sports Day. This was because these were forced on me from above. I never could stand being forced to do something I didn’t want to do at a time I didn’t want to do it. Whenever I was able to do something I liked to do, though, when I wanted to do it, and the way I wanted to do it, I’d give it everything I had.
This is how I feel about my metalwork.
I’m giving it everything I have.
Murakami also speaks of closing his jazz bar and taking up full-time writing and changing his and his wife’s lives and schedules. Getting up early, going to bed early. Only seeing people they wanted to see. Going from a more open life of welcoming any and all customers – to a more closed life, of getting by more privately. And how some people also couldn’t understand this and even got mad at him.
Running your own business is damn tough and dealing with people is probably the toughest part of it. I’ve often torn my hair out negotiating custom work, or politely receiving rude, insensitive treatment, or introducing my work to a dismissive or indifferent crowd, so I know what it is like to deliberate over how to present oneself. I can be quite charming in my outward moments, but I am, like Murakami, essentially a person who “doesn’t find it painful to be alone. ” I enjoy it. That’s why I can spend hours and hours at my workshop, playing and working away.
So working with people as an artist and business owner is a worthwhile challenge, and it was nice to hear from Murakami his take on the matter.
In his words:
I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance. I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not all the people around me. I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person, but with an unspecified number of readers. As long as I got my day-to-day life set so that each work was an improvement over the last, then many of my readers would welcome whatever life I chose for myself. Shouldn’t this be my duty as a novelist, and my top priority? . . . In other words, you can’t please everybody. Even when I ran my bar I followed the same policy. A lot of customers came to the bar. If one out of ten enjoyed the place and said he’d come again, that was enough. If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive. To put it the other way, it didn’t matter if nine out of ten didn’t like my bar. This realization lifted a weight off my shoulders. Still, I had to make sure that the one person who did like the place really liked it. In order to make sure he did, I had to make my philosophy and stance clear-cut, and patiently maintain that stance no matter what. This is what I learned through running a business. After A Wild Sheep Chase, I continued to write with the same attitude I’d developed as a business owner. . . There’s no need to be literature’s top runner. I went on writing the kind of things I wanted to write, exactly the way I wanted to write them, and if that allowed me to make a normal living, then I couldn’t ask for more.
I took these photos a few days ago.
Glorious autumn. Glowing months when the world is cold and aflame.
Every last nerve itches with the fantastic hunch that everything is alive, alive alive.
This autumn is flying, but so very intense. Days of billowing storm cloud with sun-dazzled trees in the foreground.
When I walk, the pine needles so slippery. The smell of pine;
When the wind whips through!
You hide your boat in the ravine and your fish net in the swamp and tell yourself that they will be safe. But in the middle of the night a strong man shoulders them and carries them off, and in your stupidity you don’t know why it happened. You think you do right to hide little things in big ones, and yet they get away from you. But if you were to hide the world in the world, so that nothing could get away, this would be the final reality of the constancy of things.
You have had the audacity to take on human form and you are delighted. But the human form has ten thousand changes that never come to an end. Your joys, then, must be uncountable. Therefore, the sage wanders in the realm where things cannot get away from him, and all are preserved. He delights in early death; he delights in old age; he delights in the beginning; he delights in the end.
It is said that every good artist must have her obsession.
Mine, right here and now, is Druzy. Drusy. Druzies. Drusies. Specifically, natural colored druzies – The stones with ripe, berry hues and crisp, glacial heavenly blues – Unreal, ghostly grays – Rich rare emerald greens of endless grasslands – Deep night-sky true blacks with the gleam of stars – And all a-glimmer with every movement of your body – Completely natural colors and textures but beautiful almost beyond belief –
Druzies: Natural minerals that – over aeons – form sparkling beds of even crystals like sugar-coated gemstones.
Each stone has its strong and unmistakable personality. Each tells me what to make with it, of it, around it, for it. Tiny landscapes, they are to me the natural world concentrated into the miniature realm of the jeweler and the jewel; the wearable and symbolic object; the beautifully deliberate together with wilderness incarnate.
Druzies fulfill my need for contrast in my work – Something willed, something wild. Something bright, something dark. Something polished, something very rough, ancient and barbaric.
Womankind [and mankind’s] age-old fascination with gems and precious stones – I have always skirted the edges of it, preferring the clean forms and direct workings of metal itself – but druzies have seduced me with their brilliant + color-rich character.
Watch with me. Let’s see what happens.
Smoke Ring : Hand-Sculpted Ring with Sterling Silver, Chalcedony Druzy, White Sapphire. US size 6.5-7. One of a Kind.
It had been raining that day from morning to night – the kind of soft, monotonous, misty rain that often falls at that time of year, washing away bit by bit the memories of summer burned into the earth. Coursing down the gutters, all those memories flowed into the sewers and rivers, to be carried to the deep, dark ocean.
Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right.
It lands left.
I ride after a deer and find myself
chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want
and end up in prison.
I dig pits to trap others
and fall in.
I am finally getting the hang of this jewelry photography thing.
I used to think
a) It’s too difficult
b) It’s too time-consuming
c) I’m bad at it
d) I don’t like it
e) It doesn’t like me
f) I’d much rather be doing something – ANYTHING – else
g) Please someone – ANYONE – help – and take this responsibility out of my hands!
I now think
a) It’s getting easier
b) It just takes time
c) I’m decent at it
d) I’m enjoying it
e) The result are improving [concurrently with my attitutude; fancy that!]
f) Photography is its own art
g) It’s time to step up and own this part of the process. Taking good photographs is an important aspect of presenting my work to the public both clearly and stylishly – as I’d like it to be presented. It’s time to take responsibility.
Of course, a good setup, an open mind and an endless well of patience for myriad miniscule adjustments and trial-and-error shots are also KEY.
Salman Rushdie. I had tried to read his novels before, with little-to-no success. They were a jumble, a mishmash, a no-good concatenation of syllables – a literary fury – a grandeur of meaningless and intriguing language – which were completely nonsensical mystery-junk to me at the time. That is, until we reached Calcutta. Or Kolkata, as the city of 15 million should now be called: Land of the Goddess Kali.
We did, in fact, visit a large Kali temple in Kolkata. But that is another story.
When we reached Kolkata – overland from Nepal – the cacophony of India inundated us from every direction and every dimension like a myriad converging freight trains of the senses. Enveloped within that mind-destroying noise and crush of sensory phenomena I happened upon a copy of The Satanic Verses. It proceeded to grip me by the the throat. Without the experience of being in India, Rushdie might seem nonsensical; When in India, he creates perfectly excellent, well-constructed arguments for the coherence of chaos.
It’s lovely to take a hiatus from reading fiction. You begin again, and it’s like all your old friends are back with all the latest gossip. The Enchantress was there waiting for me on the shelf in her bright red cover art like a seductive future mistress.
It is a story which includes the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great, partially set in Fatehpur Sikri. Fantastical – magical realism, they call it. It is Rushdie at his most lyrical in an irresistible story-telling trance that sucks you from one scene to another. Sleep, in this grip of this kind of fiction, is irrelevant.
It is also a story of story-telling.
I feel a special connection with Fatehpur Sikri, and with Akbar. Akbar, Akbar, Akbar, you hear in India. And Jehangir, too. And we visited those red sandstone walls, some falling into ruin, others with giant wasp or hornet’s nests in their great entrance gates. A beautiful, beguiling city. Fifteen years in the building, they say, and only occupied for fourteen years thereafter, as a sudden drought drained all the life-sustaining water away and even an emperor is a slave to water.
Here is Fatehabad when we saw it.
And that’s not all. After admiring the eloquent red sandstone architecture, delicate stone pierced screens and silent mosque we emerge from wandering the deserted ancient capital and – bewildered, exit the Buland Darwaza – the gigantic central great gate – and find a flood of sari rainbows and chequed shirts, sassy street girls with heavy eye makeup shoving at us and demanding rupees, performers with fire wheels, jugglers, gaily decorated fake palanquins swaying through the streets, and gangs of youths and adults shouting an aggressive, joyous, celebratory war-like refrain over and over again with raised fists marching, dancing, prancing through the streets. When we ask we were told brusquely, Muharram.
I still don’t know what it means, and it may be hard to explain, but it felt – and was – powerful. We caught up with Muharrem celebrations later in our travels as well, but Fatehpur was where it was most heartfelt and startling. Yet surely fitting.
I’d often admired those great honking wooden earrings that seemed they would gauge a big hole in your ears with a wooden stick that you pushed through your earlobe to attach the two parts making it look sculpturally-fantastic and painful all at once. I’d also often wondered how they’d look in metal, being a metal-head myself. Wonder no more.
These babies look so slick and ultra-modern with their hole-y gold and their gunmetal-blue patina you can’t wait to stab them through your tender lobes. All sterling silver and 23 karat gold, and the modeled little silver spear-points are a nice touch. I guess I was thinking about javelins along with stabbing and wearable weaponry. I had also been itching to use the gorgeous scraps left from other, more rigidly controlled Keum-bo projects – Thus the hole-y gold, which I love. Since they are irregular, the hoop/posts are reversible and present differently from each angle.
It does take a bit more mindfulness and presence to put these pieces on, one must admit. And for that reason they are not for everyone, but for those who don’t mind tweaking their jewels/armor/adornments and like that bitter edge with their morning coffee. But once they’re started they’re easy to finish fastening and the nicely-finished metal posts must feel so much smoother and sleeker than their wooden counterparts. Maybe: Pistol meets bow-and-arrow?
I covet and collect handmade functional ceramics with a PASSION.
I see it, I feel it, I love it, I buy it.
Later I get a little chuckle of glee and a sparkle of wonder whenever I drink my coffee or tea or eat that piece of homemade gingerbread brownie from my delightful mug/cup/plate/bowl.
Here is my latest favoured vessel:
Spotted Grey Cup – handmade with great artistry by Janelle Songer. In her words: “It is wheel-thrown porcelain which is then altered to achieve an asymmetric, organic form that looks as if it’s rising up/growing.” See more of her work here: Janelle Songer’s Ceramics
It looks and feels different from every angle and the saturated colors are simply exquisite. It is perfectly perfectly perfectly imperfect . .
Drool all you want at those glowing conceptual art pieces floating in a white stratosphere in nanospace somewhere . . . .
Last night fusing gold to silver at my bench I had the most delicious feeling of being in kindergarten or first grade.
Keum-bo can be detailed, almost tedious work. And yet it isn’t quite repetitive; to reach every little nook, corner and hidden crevice of a tiny textural landscape it takes a certain sensitivity and focus – not pressing too hard, wrists loose and tools held lightly, like a violin bow.
My contact lenses dry out as I hover intently above my kiln; I am careful not to burn myself as I tweezer miniscule objects to and fro. I trace approximate shapes and trim them with fanatical care via miniature scissors; I quench my burnishers often to keep them from sticking to the hot metal and breathe subtly so that I don’t blow the fantastically fragile gold foil into kingdom come. Sometimes, I get impatient.
Mostly, though, it is peaceful, solitary, meditative work. I turn off the music; anything is distracting in this raw late night space. Delicate, specific work; like a surgeon’s or a child’s.
And it reminds me suddenly of that beautiful time I had almost forgotten – a lost long-ago world of concentration and bliss in the coloring of a shape; cutting a twist, a curve and a brutal angle with plastic-handled scissors to join all the other twists and curves; submerging completely into the rich waters of a single, intense pursuit as simple and as and pure as the marking of a line – then another, then another line.
It’s a funny, endearing feeling; to re-remember these beginnings, these sources. I feel completely a child-me as I cut, and place, and burnish, loving the waiting, loving the silence, loving the sweet melting of gold into silver.