Happy New Year's Eve, y'all! Welcome to the last blog of 2017. Since it's going to be a long one, I highly recommend grabbing your blanket (because it is COLD today!!!), fetching a snack and/or warm beverage, and hunkering down on the couch to have a read. This is the story of the inspiration behind a piece I just completed. I call it the Rivers of Texas necklace.
To me, there’s something special about the rivers of Texas, especially central and southern Texas, deep in the Hill Country. It’s not just the fact that Texas rivers hold some unique species of fish and other critters (case in point: the Guadalupe bass is found nowhere else in the world except here in Texas. How cool is that?! Also, HELLO, ALLIGATOR GAR!!! The coolest freshwater fish EVER!). It’s not just the fact that they run through some of the most picturesque countryside on earth. It’s not JUST either of those things. It is that the rivers of Texas are life, not to be taken for granted.
I was born in eastern Tennessee. In Tennessee, you can walk out your front door, your back door, or even your side door and trip on a river, creek, branch, rill, stream, fork, or spring. You look at a map of eastern Tennessee, and there are hundreds of nameless issuances of water. Growing up, I could go dig a hole pretty much anywhere and eventually hit water. Those rivers were just something that was always there. Everywhere. You didn’t bother to give directions by naming the rivers you’d pass, because there were just too damn many of them to bother with. You didn’t have to worry about being lost in the woods, because chances are you’d find water, and with it, food. You might even hear banjos, but that is a story for another time.
When I moved to Texas many, many years ago, I was struck by two major differences from my former home. One: the sky was wide open. There was no place to hide from God, man, or any weather phenomena. I confess it took me a good three or four months before I could walk outside without feeling panicked. Two: there was no water. Anywhere. Just huge expanses of prairie in all directions, as far as the eye could see from the top floor of my designated music practice building at the University of North Texas. What water there was had a name. Every glorified ditch, every weed-choked slow-moving tributary, every sludgy, stagnant bog had not only a name but a big highway marker designating what that body of water was to be called. It was as if whoever was mapping the area was so excited to see water, any water at all, that he gave it a name to show it was important. Necessary. Needed.
That first summer I lived in Denton was one of the hottest on record. The ground cracked deep, and as I would ride my bike from campus to our cockroach-infested apartment, I could feel the trees slowly giving up the will to survive. It did not rain for three solid months, and when it finally did, the raindrops sizzled on the blazing concrete, vaporizing almost as soon as they hit the ground. The rain was even hot to the touch, like bath water. I distinctly remember a young mother bringing her new baby outside to see rain for the first time. This was absolutely mind-blowing to me. That child had lived his whole life without feeling the rain on his face. Back where I was born, we would consider a week without rain a dry spell. Back where I was born, there was never a cloudless sky.
I started to pay closer attention to water after that summer. I sought out the hidden ponds on TWU campus with their giant alligator snapping turtle I nicknamed “Grandpa”, and the catfish you could feed hotdog buns to if you managed to summon it from the depths. Mr. Karlsson and I spent many an evening up there with a flashlight observing the fish and amphibians and reptiles and other creatures that had come to call that rare patch of water home. Though we were within driving distance to several reservoirs, the unabashed artificial nature of them made them strange to me. They were windy places, empty of life and lined with rotting fish. At the time, it did not occur to me that Texas was in the midst of a severe drought. All my twenty-four year-old self knew was that I was living in some sort of scorched no-man’s land. Those lone ponds were a sanctuary to many.
It wasn’t until a few years later that Mr. Karlsson had the means to travel outside of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. My first real encounter with rivers in Texas was in Concan, along the Frio River. It was so long ago that I don’t recall the exact date, but I remember it was cold and unusually rainy. After my husband and I had settled in to our cabin for our well-deserved vacation, we decided to go exploring. ‘Surely,’ I thought, ‘in all these hills, surely there must be a river.’ (Y’all don’t judge. This was before GPS or internet on cell phones, and we didn’t have cell phones anyway, so it didn’t matter.) We meandered through the scrub, looking at the live oak and mesquite, trying to imagine why anyone on earth would want to live way out in the middle of nowhere, when there it was. Even in the gloom, the river seemed to glow a crystal blue-green. It was mesmerizing. I had never seen a color quite like it before. When we got closer, we determined it was the slate or the shale or some such stone in the river bed reflecting the light through the shimmering clear water. It was so unlike any river I had ever seen, being so clear and blue and cold, that I did not know what to make of it, other than it was some kind of magic.
Over the ensuing years, I have had the great good fortune to travel most of the length and breadth of Texas. I have been lucky enough in the past six months to be able to see many of the rivers of the Hill Country and enjoy the state parks along the way. The one thing I have noticed above all others is this: unlike the rivers of Tennessee, those dark and murky, wide and deep nameless wells of mystery that hide countless monsters both real and imagined, the rivers of central and south Texas are bright and hard, clear as crystal. Unlike the people of Texas, the rivers of Texas do not open their arms to welcome strangers and share their secrets. Like the rugged landscape surrounding them, they make you work for it. The rivers of Texas command that to know them is to study them closely, to learn each rock, each fish, each leaf, and to respect and appreciate that shining, subtle, sparkling water, for it could be gone tomorrow. In Texas, every river has a name, for every river gives life.
When I was working on this one particular piece of silver, in order to practice the ancient metalsmithing technique known as granulation, it was not going according to plan. Due to the nature of the sterling and the solder I heaped on there to get everything to stay put, and due to my inexperience, the texture was beginning to look rough and worn, almost like the pebbles in a river bed. Rather than abandon the project, or try to realign the dozens of teeny tiny silver and copper balls, I pressed forward, finishing out the knobbly border to the bezel setting destined to be filled with Tibetan turquoise a delicate shade of robin’s egg blue.
When set, the color and texture of the piece so reminded me of that gloomy afternoon I first spied the Frio River that I decided to match it with aqua terra jasper beads I had on hand. The pattern of stone shot through with gemmy greenish quartz reminded me of the way the Llano and the Pedernales wend their way through sand bars and shoals, reflecting jade and emerald in the bright sunshine. The dyed blue agate I added reminded me of the blue of Texas’ eternal summer skies, relentlessly beautiful. I chose to make a Y-style chain to represent the confluence of springs that form the rivers of the HIll Country, the way all rivers, in one way or another, join together to find their way to the sea.
So that's it! That is the inspiration behind that little necklace I just finished in my ongoing quest to add texture and depth to my work. (If you want to learn more about that, read my previous blog "Making an Omelette.") Now, if y'all will excuse me, I'm going to go put another pair of socks on so I don't freeze my toes off and stuff my face with those no-yeast cinnamon rolls I made this morning. Happy new year, thanks for stopping by, and to those who made it through to the end, I salute you!
For more information...
Want to learn more about all the wildlife roaming around Texas, or all the fun things you can do at Texas state parks? Check out the Texas Parks & Wildlife website: https://tpwd.texas.gov/
Feeling adventurous and want to catch an alligator gar for yourself? I highly recommend giving Bubba a try: http://www.garfish-texas.com
Really just want quick cinnamon rolls? Try these super tasty ones that don't need yeast! https://sugarspunrun.com/easy-cinnamon-rolls-no-yeast-required/
Greetings, everyone, and thanks for stopping by to read my latest blog! When last we met, I was talking about my plans for adding texture and shape and improving my general silversmithing techniques. You know what they say about making an omelette, right? That you've got to break a few eggs to make one. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I broke the whole chicken this week, but was able to salvage at least part of it. Don't worry, though, I also learned a few things, and made another proof-of-concept piece that was more successful.
I was looking over my old blog posts and realized I never even once mentioned the men's chain maille bracelet I was working on. Oh, it was going to be glorious! I was going to make a clasp with a small turquoise setting, and fuse argentium links to make a chainmaille bracelet, and all this other stuff, and it was going to be fabulous. That was my plan, anyway. This was back in February. This chainmaille piece was a proof-of-concept piece, because I had never made chainmaille before, and I had never made that style of clasp before, and all that other good stuff. I figured it would be a learning experience. The pictures below will prove that yes, indeed it was!
As you can see from the previous slideshow, that proof-of-concept piece was very educational, indeed!
Another proof-of-concept piece that accidentally turned out well is the sterling silver version of that argentium piece I mucked up earlier. I must say, sterling and fine silver are more cooperative, but soldering is tedious. Someday I will get the hand of it. Anyway, below is the process and the result. Enjoy!
I like this one so much, I'm going to do a single strand variation with a slightly smaller cabochon. I'm also working on a smaller version with granulation instead of swirls. I'm sure hilarity will ensue. Or damage. Probably both! I'm looking forward to experimenting more with shape and texture in the coming months. If you're interested in purchasing this bracelet, the cost is $150 plus applicable shipping and tax. I haven't listed it on Etsy yet, so you might want to drop me a line to call dibs on it. Ooooooh! Speaking of which....
After a year and one month of trying, I FINALLY got my first Etsy sale! I'm not going to tell you what sold, in case the lucky recipient is reading this, but somewhere out there is an oboist who will be receiving a nice surprise under the Christmas tree very soon! Just remember, if you want something from my Etsy store delivered in time for Christmas, be sure to order by Sunday, December 17. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that it will make it. That's all the news that's fit to print! Be sure to tune in next time!
Greetings, everyone, and thanks for stopping by to check out my blog. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, what with the holidays and applying for shows and all. Naturally, there's been a lot of crashing and burning being done.
For instance, while my latest show was well run, and the weather was fairly decent for this time of year, and there was a good crowd, and the coordinators and other artists were lovely, I did not sell a single, solitary piece. Not a one. I came to the conclusion that it just wasn't my market and I should aim for more high-end shows. This is all well and good, but when one aims for high-end shows, there is a LOT more competition. Art jewelry is a competitive medium and there are a ton of people who are more experienced and more talented and have more skill than me. So, as a result, I've been rejected from most of the shows I've applied to this time around. I reviewed my rejected applications and could find no rhyme or reason for why they might not appeal to the judges, so I decided I need to up my game and learn some new skills, add texture, and take my work to the next level to make it really stand out.
As you may have noticed from previous blogs, I work with argentium from time to time. Argentium is an alloy of silver similar to sterling, but it has germanium added to the mix. This addition not only helps keep the silver from tarnishing for a longer period of time than either sterling or fine silver, but it also gives the silver the wonderful capability of easily fusing. This way, you don't have to use solder, which takes a few steps away from the process, and you can do some neat things with it. The problem is that argentium is tricky to work with. If you handle it right after fusing, the metal can actually shatter! (I saw this for myself at the Vickie Hallmark workshop I attended back in September.) You also have to get the heat just right or the argentium won't fuse. Since I was confident from my workshop, I decided I'd tackle a more ambitious project than simple stone settings and do some layers to create more texture and visual interest. The slide show below shows the unfortunate results.
Alas, my poor piece! Doomed by my own ignorance! I declared it abandoned and went to drown my sorrows in hot chocolate. After mulling it over, I didn't want to waste the back plate, which had some visual interest, even if it wasn't close to being perfect, so I decided to mess around and see what I could do with it before I consigned it to the scrap pile. Here is the result:
I sawed around the scrollwork on the back of the base plate, then threw it in my new tumbler (that's going to have to be a story for another day, because I destroyed a tumbler, too). Then I added black onyx and dyed magnesite beads to complete the bracelet. Finally, to make the scrollwork stand out, I took a teeny tiny paintbrush and painted in some patina solution to darken the empty spaces. I think I may go back in tomorrow to darken them more, but you get the general idea. So, I managed to save some of the proof-of-concept piece, but I think if I'm going to do any more elaborate argentium projects, I'm going to have to do it under adult supervision. I am very glad that the Craft Guild of Dallas is moving to their new facility in January so I can start up classes again! I have a lot more I want to share, but it's getting late, and Mr. Karlsson and the kitties are demanding my attention, so it will just have to wait for another day along with everything else. Tune in next time!