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HIERARCHIES | BRASS: BRONZE: SILVER: GOLD

jewelry bells

[This has been sitting as a draft since I originally wrote it on the 28th of May. It is a example of the typically curious essays I write all the time in my mind & I should edit it more but I’ve decided to post it with photographs caught since to illustrate.]

bells jewelry talisman

silver bronze gold bells

Inside the opalescent light remaining from a stunning orange dawn I watch one of our eagles trying to fish out over the water of Puget Sound, bedeviled by an agile posse of gulls. The eagle makes tactical retreats toward our cliff in unmistakably dramatic flight… exhibiting a manner remarkably different than that of its hecklers.

On other days it might be the crows who gang-up to tree the predator, making a terrible racket during long demonstrations of collective power around the one who seems simply to assume ultimate dominance by sitting in quiet solitude on a snag with a bearing suggesting contemplative wisdom.

There is yet another racket today. In the same scene, fighting for the same salmon, are two fishing crews, Each pair of boats, straining-in-opposition with [to?] each other, first spreading the nets long & then with engines whining at full throttle pulling together, closing the ends, hauling in what hopes to be a fine catch.

We love finding salmon at our local fishmonger’s stand, sometimes being told it was indeed caught within our view…

Inside this slice of life, viewed from my privileged situation, I sit in my own version of solitude thinking about the taut relationships defining value in all sorts of hierarchies.

It seems too easy to identify with the stately eagle, sitting-out the more active & less attractive societal confusion of the communities it competes with. I have witnessed such collaboration in an even more angry battle, mounted by robins upon the loss of a nest of eggs or fledglings to such a predator.

I hear with all my deeper senses the aliveness of this painful ecology. I have to sort my values: Songbirds, clown-birds, tough old salts of the shore… & a soaring invitation to the fantasy of rising above it all. I feel the conflicting polarities of being alive… of realizing conflict, freedom & death… of killing to eat.

I intend leaving that conundrum to hang as a mental postcard while I muse another value system which has recently sparked several studio conversations around questions that frequently come when folk encounter the differences between the metals of the bells in my display.

The silver, which has long been part of the bells’ identity for its tradition of beauty & respected value, is familiar. But the warmer color of the bronze bells, which I stock in ever growing depth, evokes the question as to whether they are gold… making an implied compliment to my working the milieux of jewelry, but expressing another questioning sense inside such assumption… because bronze does not really look like gold, even to undertrained eyes.

Bells are historically common in bronze, for many reasons, but first because of its fine resonance. That my bells are most often considered jewelry might have excluded that less than “noble” metallic alloy altogether, but for the obvious bridge of this function, even at this unusually miniature size. When I began exploring what bells were about, it became apparent there was not good enough reason to deny bronze simply because it seemed a bit brassy & uncouth in the fancy venues to whom I intended marketing. Because of its qualities of voice I began experimenting with it even as I was having to bridge my own jeweler’s prejudice against such common, un-precious, alloys.

Bronze positively resonates with a number of values different than its cousin brass, which has long been the basic “base” metal of costume jewelry & of the military regalia featuring buttons, medals & horns. The words “brass” & “brassy” have evolved to connote complicated shades of meaning around its qualities. Bronze has come to suggest an ancient age of tool-making & arms. We’ve biblically made swords into plowshares & historically made the sculptures & celebratory bells of the previous victors into new cannon for ever more “biblical” wars. Both are alloys of copper, with small proportions of other metals such as tin & zinc. Both have historic value for making a broad range of common functional objects, including coinage of small denomination.

Now, I do also cast my bell designs in the higher denomination coinage of gold, exploring the resonance of that rare alloy as well. I love encouraging comparison of colors, the subtle spectrum in their visual & aural palettes, as I share examples of the same bell design cast in each of these three alloys. Their values in the system can shift from familiarity as jewelry & tabletop material through monetary or military uses toward being something more simply musical.

silver bronze gold bells
[LARGER CHOCOLATE LILY BELL shown left to right cast in Bronze, Silver & 14K Gold.]

My favorite current example, showing the LARGER CHOCOLATE LILY BELL cast in each of those three metals, allows hearing first the gentle sweetness of that design in silver, which does indeed make fine sound & is the metal I use most frequently, then the gold, which ups the ante into a much more ethereal quality, to the bronze, which in this case becomes even more intense to many ears as it comes close to that sense of “brassiness”… pitched almost too high & perhaps a little insistent in the beginning, yet lingering into a sustained finish one’s ears must strain toward, sensing impossibility to know its end, which then obviously extends beyond our range of hearing.

How does one value such sound? Can it override coin of the realm? Of course, my answer is affirmative. Much as I treasure the qualities of noble metals, as a bell maker I treasure most that elusive aspect, that delicious problem in physics which must be intuitively solved to develop resonance inside my sculpture as a result of the clapper’s percussive strike. I’m making more than visual ornament. Nobility comes from more than vaunted rarity… its gift functions best in the broad sensual range of everyday reality as well.

So I’ve come to champion appreciation for this “base metal” snubbed by jewelers who need to ride the glitz & value of materials more ordinary to our trade. We know that bone, wood & feathers also have beauty, rarity & depth of symbolic value as material for design… ivory, ebony, the peacock & kingfisher feathers making such improbable color in ancient Chinese or Aztec jewelry, or the layers of shell carved to reveal our grandmother’s cameos.

The large jewelry store chains which in previous seasons had been clients for the bells now refuse to stock any objects in even sterling silver for reasons of the high per-square-inch costs of space in their display cases. Only gold or platinum set with the sparkle of valuable stones net profit enough to pay their rent, they reason. The magic of my bells no longer fills their bill. Even the archetypical bell sound of cash registers has been reduced to electronically recording sales resulting [or not] from the predictably flat glossy pages of advertising bling. We probably won’t be on the cover of Gump’s catalogue again anytime soon…

I have few problems with that, having long ago realized the market for bells involves a more genuine rarity: actual delight, usually unexpected & certainly unpredictable are very personal values not shared or even easily perceived by those needing the validation of a common taste directed by mass advertising. True shoppers have always had confidence to explore & search for those qualities made evermore elusive by the dilution of our language in advertising full of words like “unusual” or “rare” or “artistic” for items we know are not. Most businesses simply can’t afford the media to tout anything actually limited in availability or taste…

I am rich in rarity: my bells are not mass produced & neither is their curass-cum-clientele. Even though I’ve more than 200 designs, none are produced in large quantity, being made in small, literally hand crafted runs. & offered by a half dozen independently minded outlets… plus my own studio’s website.

I never did have the psychic energy to deal with a mindset narrowly focused on some bottom line, so my studio has always stood outside what would be commonly considered good business sense. The bells have taught me values beyond such ordinary notions. I am rich for that alone.

We hang out quietly making our own vibrational energies palpable to the subtle senses of those who happen upon come to share our kind of joy. The bells, cast in metals noble or not, celebrate very experiential values of personal meaning. They are jewelry. They are sculpture. They are musical. They are seen, heard & held in ultimately intimate ceremony with life. Ageless connections to deep places different in each psyche… tools & toys of delight!

This post arrived with that card left hanging in the beginning… I return to wonder am I eagle or crow or sea gull? Songbird, salmon or fisherman? Where do I fit in the hierarchies of this animal business? Am I magician or merchant? Alchemist or artist? Hopefully I am a small part of the fulsome creativity of it all!

jewelry bells

jewelry bells