This collection is in celebration of Maia Toll’s beautiful book “The Illustrated Bestiary,” which explores animal totems and the guidance that may be obtained through observation and ritual. Maia has an uncanny ability to draw meaning from the world, to observe every corner of life and integrate the wisdom therein. It is incredibly easy to drift along, to passively observe, to distract oneself out of self-awareness. This book is a beautiful reminder to learn from the world.
I first discovered Maia through her (now ended) podcast “The Lunar Lab” a few years ago, and I relished every episode. I started metalsmithing about seven years ago, and had a rocky transition into approaching it as a “business.” The dream was to spend my days making art without having to punch a clock in a profession that didn’t bring me joy. But the path forward was murky and unfamiliar. Early in the business, I was terrified of getting too deeply into debt, because unlike some other mediums, the cost of materials for metalsmithing is shocking. Precious metals, ethically sourced gemstones, a gajillion tools, one can easily go into substantial debt. In addition to that early apprehension, I also was disheartened by typical philosophies surrounding business. There was information thrown at me from all directions on how to do it “right.” Smart business and all that. Production strategies, tax payment plans, marketing campaigns, profit margins, and so forth. And in the face of these things, I felt the soul of my work recoiling.
And that was precisely when I discovered Maia’s podcast, which was dedicated to exploring conscious business practices and all the beautiful ways in which people can carve out their own path forward. Through the podcast, I began to be more aware of my personal seasons, work cycles, the rhythms of my mind and hands. Maia’s words became one of the pillars in my approach to the business side of my art. Her friendly cadence moving with me through budget spreadsheets and calendar planning. I found my way back to measuring success by different metrics, such as “How does this piece make me feel?” rather than “Did the piece sell, and if not, what was my profit loss?” I learned to not be scared of the financial side of things, because as long as I was being wise, the most important aspect is always to create honest work that moves the soul. I ditched much of the early business advice I was given, and moved along the path of art as business with Maia in my earbuds. And I cannot tell you what a balm that was.
There is a quote in the introduction to “The Illustrated Bestiary” that strummed my core: “The deep knowledge that I was woven-in and integral cured some nameless longing that had haunted me since childhood. Something in me calmed and became still.” This resonated to the very tips of my toes, because it spoke to my approach to metalsmithing. What gives my work meaning to me is the communing. Whether it is an ode to November ravens or a beloved book about a unicorn in a lilac wood, making collections that tether me more tangibly to that which has meaning to me is the soul of this work. Considering how honeybees navigate with internal compasses as I sail around their silhouettes with a coping saw. Sketching entire collections around my very favorite passages, characters, and notions from “The Silmarillion.” Picking up twigs and flowers while on a mountain in the Adirondacks with the intention of bedecking my metalsmithing bench. All of these things are my way of reestablishing my connection with that which I love. This work weaves me in even more closely with literature, the earth, my experience of life, the dear souls who connect with my work. It is one of the most soul-enriching ways in which I tuck myself into the tapestry.
It took me nearly a month to decide which stone to use for this collection. I hemmed; I hawed; I turned stones over in my hands; I opened and reopened my gemstone cabinet countless times. And then, I happened upon my collection of silver sheen obsidian. These stones are incredibly special, with a beautiful silver schiller that plays across the tops. They look as though they are made of liquid glitter, mercurial in the way the light seems to drip across the slopes of the stones. Some of the stones have a very swirled pattern, like they were undulated into solidification.
In the beginning of “The Illustrated Bestiary,” Maia includes a quote about the relationship between ourselves and animals: “Every creature of the world is a book or a picture, and also a mirror for ourselves.” – Alain de Lille, 12th Century
This quote encapsulates my approach to the pieces I designed in celebration of Maia’s book. For hundreds of years, mirrors have served as symbols of self-realization and wisdom. In literature, there are numerous instances of liquid mirrors used for either portent or self-revelation: the mirror of Galadriel which showed past and possible futures, Merlin’s use of bowls of water in scrying in order to keep the young king safe, Narcissus’s revelation of self in a forest pool. And it is with these notions in mind that I designed this collection.
When held in the palm, one could almost imagine movement in the schiller of silver sheen obsidian, like a scene taking shape in a magic mirror. It is a volcanic glass, so this comparison to a mirror feels all the more apt. At the bottom of each pendant, I have included a swath of leaves curved over the stone, which harkens to Maia’s work as an herbalist. The leaves partially obscure the stone, like beech leaves strewn about a dark forest pool. And as animal totems are inherently a personal, inner journey, I have sawn the silhouettes of a few of the animals included in “The Illustrated Bestiary” out of the backs of the pendants to reveal the stone, a secret animal form to rest against the heart. The backs are like the silver sheen obsidian swirled into the animal form, as though you were looking into a magic mirror. A flash of illumination in an otherwise dark surface, like the flash of intuition in the self.
This is a very limited run featuring representatives of “The Illustrated Bestiary.” There will be fourteen necklaces, with only one necklace per animal chosen. They will debut in the shop one at a time with one per day at 10:00 a.m. EST each morning from December 6th -19th. Each listing includes a signed copy of “The Illustrated Bestiary” to be mailed separately. The necklaces and books will be shipped on the same days as purchase to ensure swift delivery. And then, on the day of the winter solstice, we will conjure a bit of sunshine.