24 February 2010

Ming Mariposa

I am a little behind on my Etsy Wire Artisans Guild theme challenges, but even though I am a month behind on this one, I could not pass up such a cool theme! The theme for January was "Ming Dynasty", and as soon as I thought of it, my mind went to the fantastic hair ornaments you see in old Chinese period movies and operas. I was lucky enough to live in Eugene, Oregon, home of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, where they have an amazing collection of Chinese art, including a rich assortment of court garments and accessories. The elaborate hairpins, with their exquisite designs immediately came to my mind, and I decided to try my hand at making one.

As I researched my design, I came across some interesting information about hairpins and hair ornaments. In ancient China, engagement was an important social rite where a man and woman confirmed marital ties. It was next only to official marriage in significance. Marital ties were made by following “parents" order and on the matchmaker's "word”. However, maidens in the age of adolescence had the tradition of pledging in love with tokens of love. Under the pressure of the society, young men and women would deliver tokens of love in private. Others just could not tell.

There were ten traditional tokens of love: bracelets, arm-wrapped gold, finger rings, earrings, perfume satchels, jade pendants, true lover's knots, hairpins and twin hairpins, and silk skirts. No matter what they were or how valuable they might have been, tokens of love always became closely associated with the people giving and receiving them. Presenting the tokens of love was just like submitting one’s aspirations, showing the other person they will be loyal for life.

During the Ming (1368-1644) period, hairpins featured multiple styles, featuring a diverse number of designs at the tip of the hairpins. The most popular forms included flowers, birds, fish, insects and beasts, as well as flowers such as: plum blossoms, lotus flowers, chrysanthemums, peach blossoms, peonies and lotuses.

I chose to make a hairpin, also known as a buyao, which literally means "shake as you go". The elaborate "buyao" hairpin was an exquisite hair ornament denoting noble status, which was often be encrusted with jewels and featuring carved designs. An intricately wrapped butterfly sits on the end of the two-prong, sterling hairpin, which I hand forged. The Chinese animal symbol Butterfly represents love, specifically young love, and legend has it that the Butterfly symbolizes an undying bond between lovers. I imagine the piece I made as part of a bride's elaborate hair dressing, as a beautiful addition to her most special occasion, but it would look stunning for any special event.

To give my piece that dancing movement so prized in ancient hairpins, I suspended clear blue sapphire briolettes from the edges and bottoms of the butterfly's wings, and swags of delicate silver chain in the upper wings. I wrapped tiny red and pink tundra sapphires along the edge of the upper wings, and suspended two keishi pearls in the apex of each wing. The body of the butterfly is a marquis briolette of iolite, wrapped so it also moves, and dots of brilliant red rubies shine from the center swirl of each lower wing. Hours of time and love went into making this piece, and I plan on exploring hairpin designs quite a bit more in the future.

Before I go, I want to share one link with you with some particularly stunning hairpins. These Chinese hairpins are decorated with brilliant blue kingfisher feathers, and are truly amazing works of art. Definitely worth looking at!

I am so glad you took the time to see and read about my latest piece. Thanks for letting me share it with you!
Until next time,

21 February 2010

Tribal Inspirations

Even though I have been busy with school, I have still been making jewelry regularly. My first custom nath order started me making more of these lovely pieces of jewelry. I started looking at pictures of them where ever I could find them to get inspirations for more designs. The two I made after the first one sold quickly, and the paisley design was so popular that I got another custom order for one from the woman who bought the blue swirled nath, and an order for a pair of them to wear as earrings. I really enjoy making the paisley designs, and made a beautiful paisley pendant using rubies and tundra sapphires in the design.

The university library has the book, Traditional Jewelry Of India by Oppi Untracht, which had been recommended by someone in one of the belly dance forums I follow, so I checked it out and fell in love! The beautiful pictures in the book are amazing. I spent many days poring through its pages. When it came time to return the book, I knew that this was one I needed to own. I looked online to see how much it would cost to buy a copy, and discovered that it had been reprinted in soft cover for a very reasonable price, so I bought a copy of my own. What a treasure!

I was particularly taken by the pictures of jewelry from the Moghul period, rich with rubies, emeralds, and pearls, so the next couple of nath designs I made were heavily influenced by that period. I love the richness of the rubies and emeralds in these naths, and the pearls give the naths a wonderful luster.

I also recently bought some interesting coins on eBay, with the idea of incorporating them into my jewelry. Many cultures use coins as a part of their adornment to signify wealth. I made a pair of earrings a while back with some scalloped coins from Malta, with a bee sitting on a honeycomb on the front of them, and paired the coins with big briolettes of amber and yellow sapphire briolettes hanging from them. They were a favorite design, and I was sad to see them go when they sold. I started searching the internet for a source for more of the amber briolettes (they were REALLY hard to find!), and finally tracked down a single strand of them, which I snapped up. The first thing I thought of was that I could recreate that design for myself, and I did. These amber honey earrings are my new favorite (I'm wearing them as I type this), and they are all mine! :D

Another pair of coins I bought were some 1952, one Pice coins from Pakistan. These coins were interesting to me because of their unique shape - rather like a big washer. The shape of the coins, and a topic that came up in one of the belly dance forums I belong to inspired these earrings. We were discussing the New Age of belly dance costumes, and the changes we have seen in styles of costumes, and I was thinking about how tribal people would use some of the modern things we have around in abundance, like washers, nuts, and other hardware items, if they had ready access to them. Because the coins were shaped like big washers, I paired them with brass washers of different sizes, and the more traditional coral and turquoise stone beads. I hand forged the ear wires out of sterling wire, but coiled them with more of the copper wire I used to link the various parts of the earrings, to tie the design all together.

The last piece I have to share with you today is the first of a pair of leaf-shaped earrings inspired by a pair of gold earrings in the Indian jewelry book. My version is the same size as the original (7.5 x 3.8cm), but where the Indian earrings were made of solid sheets of gold with granulation and wire work, mine are silver, and intricately wrapped with wire, and, therefore, are much lighter to wear. I am still finishing up the second of these earrings, so they are not listed in my etsy shop yet, but they will be soon.

I have a couple other pieces I am wrapping up as well (pun intended), but those will have to wait until my next post. Hope you enjoyed the show! Thanks for stopping by.
all the best,

18 February 2010

As promised...

School and work have kept me pretty busy, and unfortunately, writing on my blog seems to be the first thing that falls off of my list. I apologize.

As promised in my last post, here is what I came up with for my first project for Creative Process class.

My choice for this first assignment was driven by several factors. I wanted first to use a medium with which I had no prior experience, and second to make my project one that would engage its audience in a physical manner, as well as offering visual and mental stimulation. I wanted a work that would be widely visible to a large number of students on campus, so I chose the circular fenced space at the entrance to the Pond Student Union building.

Mosaics have always fascinated me. I remember as a child poring through pictures of ancient mosaics in the pages of National Geographic magazines. I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, which is the capitol of the state, and went on many school field trips to the capitol building, which is filled with amazing examples of mosaics from floors to ceilings. My older sister has made a name for herself in the art world with her mosaics, which she makes from bits of broken pottery and glass washed up on the beaches of New York, Boston, Cape Cod, Ireland, and other locations. Many of her works tie the locations she gleans from into historic maps of the areas, and one of her mosaic maps of the New York waterfront is now a part of the New York City Library map collection. Another huge influence for me is the astounding works of the Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi.

The student union has been a gathering place on the ISU campus for over 50 years. In keeping with the idea of a gathering place, my project involves renovating the circular, fenced area by the main entrance to the union building. The current design is unwelcoming, with heavy, black barred railing enclosing most of the space, reminding one of a prison or cage. The regular, concentric circles in the middle of the space are static and uninteresting, and when one enters the enclosure, the natural instinct is to look for the exits and pass through the space as quickly as possible. I chose to exchange the stark, forboding black railing for inviting benches that curve along the outer edges of the circle, offering students a welcoming place to congregate outside. The circular ground area would curve upward into the benches bases, and the whole would be covered with a continuous mosaic. The backs of the benches would take the place of the iron railing, and the mosaics would spill over their backs to cover the outer wall which faces the steps as well.

The design on the lower wall facing the steps coming up to the building entrance from the direction of the Fine Arts building would be covered with an Idaho mountain scene, with blue, cloud-speckled skies above. In the sky portion of the mosaic would be the quote, “True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day that goes by.”, a reminder for us to enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. The gathering theme would be continued in quotes at either of the entrances to the circle. At one entrance would be a quote by the Roman poet, Propertius, “Great is the road I climb, but the garland offered by the easier effort is not worth the gathering.”, and at the other entrance would be the quote, “Education is only the ladder to gather the fruits of the tree of knowledge, not the fruit itself.”

I also wanted to express the diversity of the students gathered on the ISU campus. Sixty-four different countries are represented within the halls of our school, so to express the global “coming together” of people from all over the world, I chose an image of the Earth for the center of the circlular space. In the field around the Earth would be hands of different sizes and colors to represent the different peoples. The top of the wall created by the backs of the benches would not be a straight level line, but would gently undulate, with a solid-colored top to border the design, and rounded tiles to shed rain and snow. The seats of the benches would be angled slightly downward toward the front, so water would not pool on the seats, and the seats themselves would be tiled in smooth, off-white tiles, with various mosaic motifs covering the backrests, similar to the benches in Park G├╝ell in Barcelona.

Because of the huge fluctuations in temperature in the Idaho climate, and the need to be able to withstand harsh weather conditions, high-fire clay would have to be used for the tesserae of the mosaics, and a heavy duty sealant would need to cover the whole to keep moisture out of the grout, in order to avoid expansion and contraction, which would damage the work in the long run. Though I would do the actual work of laying the mosiac, with a hand-selected team of helpers, I would include the student population at large by having students make tracings of their hands for the hand tiles which would surround the Earth in the center of the design, and would have the tracings made into tiles by ceramics students.

Unlike much of the art scattered around the campus, this gathering space would be a work which invites the viewer to touch and interact with it. The mosaic design would welcome minute exploration, and offer the viewer a unique perspective by being able to sit within the work itself. It would be a space where people would want to linger, instead of one to rush through as quickly as possible.

Though this project was only imaginary, it opened my eyes to a bigger view of my art and what I could do. My jewelry making is very small in comparison to the scale of this project, and it was fun and challenging for me to step out of my tiny comfort zone of creativity, and to imagine things in a bigger scope. It is good to think outside the jewelry box now and then.

Thanks for joining me, and letting me share my creative process with you!

Until next time, best regards,