Doing this work and documenting the process has allowed me to observe the ways in which the landscapes of art and life and inner thought inform one another.
A few weeks ago I wrote about all at once becoming disenchanted with some of the artists I had long admired, artists who I felt had sacrificed their integrity and purpose for easy and manipulative money. With that sharp disappointment, I found I wanted silence. Silence like a cool stream on aching feet.
And that is when the owls began snapping their beaks and softly hooting from the darkness of the printer’s cabinet where I keep gemstones and other small treasures. Originally, I had planned to begin smithing my honeybee collection, but the owls were insistent. With the bee design sketches nearly finished, I pushed my sketchbook away and fetched the owls.
Several years ago I read a book of essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and there is a quote by him I have carried: “Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of the gods.” I believe this was a line from a treatise he wrote on friendship, and contextually speaks to not sullying true connection with friends with frivolous words and noise. But I choose to consider that sentence apart, and take from those thirteen words a different, simple meaning: the divinity of silence.
While gently wrapping the porcelain owl faces with serrated wire and pushing dusky gemstones around on the silver sheet metal, I thought on silence and its restorative power, particularly with regard to inner voice. Those moments when everything falls quiet and you slip outside of time; alone, yet expansive. I have found those moments of supreme silence before: while floating unmoving in a late-summer lake, in the pre-dawn world ready to spill over with color, while looking through dark winter stillness. Silence that enters the body and wells up until the chest is brimming; a moment of beatitude. A state wherein even the tiniest crack or susurrus is enough to bear you back into the regular flow of being.
And that is what I chose to imbue in this night owl collection: the grace and serenity that can be found in a moment of silence in a dark, wintery forest, wherein ancient stars are close enough to touch and owls are your brethren.
Not long after this collection was completed, my fella found a complete hardcover set of Henry David Thoreau’s journals in an antique shop, and serendipitously plucked a passage from its pages: “I could lie out here on this pinnacle rock all night without cold. To lie here on your back with nothing between your eye and the stars, – nothing but space, – they your nearest neighbors on that side, be they strange or be they tame, be they other worlds or merely ornaments to this, who could ever go to sleep under these circumstances?”
A lifetime of Thoreau’s journal entries containing over two million words was opened by my fella at random, and this was the passage he felt compelled to read aloud; a few sentences describing a moment wherein Thoreau slipped out of time found bliss in silence and solitude.
And with these thoughts, I completed this collection: a meditation on silence. There are rings and necklaces studded with these detailed porcelain owls created by Laura Mears. There is also onyx black as night, shimmering moonstone, twigs cast from real branches, silver pebbles, and swaths of leaves. Some of the necklaces are asymmetrical in shape, curving and undulated around the various stones and silver elements, like a cool current of night air tracing its way around a tree. On the backs of all the pendants are the imprints of tiny stars, small pieces of the night sky to press upon the heart. And on the larger pendants, I have inscribed the beginning of Emerson’s words: “Let us be silent…”
This owl collection is an ode to those moments and encouragement to search for those instances of silence and grace. Silence in which the gods, the world, the inner voice whispers. A forest after nightfall to wear about the hand or neck, where you can stay all night without cold. Nothing between your heart and a patch of stars set into sterling silver. Balm for a ragged soul.
And now, a day before the shop update, my parliament of owls is perched upon branches in my house waiting to leap into the evening. They have been anxiously rustling feathers and chirruping to one another ever since taking final form and hopping down from my metalsmithing bench. I can tell by their expectant glances and the way in which they huddle near windows that they are ready to leave me. Impatient to rest upon the hands and breastbones of their intended keepers. And loyal familiars they will be!
Quiet weight against the skin.