Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Creative Journey: Inheritance, Part 1

When I first started contemplating how I would craft blog entries around this ongoing theme, I tried to figure out what was the actual "beginning" of it all. Not just my first beaded project (although that will show up at some point...for the amusement value alone, if nothing else), but the REAL starting point. Why beads? Why THOSE beads? Why jewelry, even?

As I kept going farther back in time looking for answers, I kept getting a recurring image of a certain piece of jewelry. And the more I thought about that particular piece, the more it seemed right that it was the starting point.

Oh, not just the jewelry itself, but its origin. How I came to own it. The setting, history and background of what it represents and how those things have influenced every aspect of my pieces from style to color choice to bead selection.

So, let me take you back to the summer of 1972. I was seven years old and visiting my maternal grandparents in Santa Fe, New Mexico. These visits were a regular thing - usually 2 weeks in the summer and another 10-14 days at Christmas every year. My grandmother, Mimi (her real name was Ouida, but I couldn't say it so she became Mimi), loved to take us shopping (yes, my shopaholic tendencies were most definitely inherited).

On this particular day, she took us down to the center of town known as "The Plaza." One long side of this square-shaped area is The Palace of the Governors.

Originally constructed in the early 17th century as Spain's seat of government for what is today the American Southwest, the Palace of the Governors chronicles the history of Santa Fe, as well as New Mexico and the region. This adobe structure, now the state's history museum, is the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States.

In modern times, the covered sidewalk in front of the Palace has become a traditional place for Native Americans to set out blankets displaying their handcrafted jewelry.

It's a bit hard to see, but if you look closely, you can make out people and chairs, etc., all along the length of the Palace.

My grandmother was a 4th grade teacher in Santa Fe for many, many years. It was not uncommon for us to be walking around town and be approached by people calling out "Mrs. Reiland! Mrs. Reiland! Remember me?" as she taught generations of Santa Fe kids who remembered her as grown ups. Because of her teaching background, she loved to tell us about the history of Santa Fe and the background of the local art forms such as silver jewelry.

She had her own collection of gorgeous, traditional jewelry including a sandcast silver bracelet and a traditional "squash blossom" necklace and earring set.

This is NOT my grandmother LOL! But, it is the best picture I could find of an example of a traditional-style squash blossom necklace. They generally have that upside down horseshoe-shaped pendant in the center and then the "flowers" up the sides. They can be all silver or set with turquoise or other stones.

I was always interested in Mimi's jewelry and loved to look at it, but I wasn't allowed to play with it (my grandmother was one smart cookie). But, one day, she decided I should get to pick out my own piece of jewelry - it might've been as a birthday present, but it's been so long, that I don't remember.

Anyway, off we went to the Palace of the Governors and Mimi patiently walked me down the sidewalk letting me look at all the jewelry for sale. Meanwhile, she taught me about silver - letting me feel how the higher quality pieces had a definite weight to them as compared to the lesser quality pieces. She showed me how the best of the hand-formed silver beads were highly polished with no or barely detectable seams. I learned a lot about the different forms and colors of turqoise and how it could range from an almost olive green to a deep sky blue. She even knew about the different types of "matrix" (the brown or black inclusions that can run through turquoise), how they affect the integrity or longevity of the stone and what impact they have on the monetary value of the stone vs. personal preference.

The best part about this experience is that it occurred before people began mucking about with turquoise by putting resin on it or doing various other treatments to it so I got to see a lot of the really high quality, genuine stone that just isn't around much any more.

And after all that, plus trying on a lot of different pieces and, with Mimi's help, bargaining price with various sellers, I finally wound up with my first real, official piece of jewelry:

Yes, it's a very small ring, but you have to remember, I was only seven years old at the time. Anything bigger would have either fallen off or gotten damaged. In fact, if you look closely at the sides of the ring, you can see that the silver band is a bit bent here and there. I wore this ring every day for years and years...even when I got big enough that it would only fit on my pinky finger

I was so influenced by that one piece of jewelry, that I made a point during my visits in later years (after I had a job and my own money to spend) to always seek out one special or unusual piece of jewelry each time. Over the years, I have created quite a collection so I thought I'd share a few more pieces with you:

I bought these earrings in the early 90's, but they were originally crafted sometime in the mid-1960's. They were "vintage" when I bought them and are now well on their way to becoming antiques. They remain one of my favorite pieces and I wear them all the time.

I belive the stone in this ring has been treated with resin (as has almost all turquoise on the market today), but it had a wonderful size and shape (I have kind of chunky fingers and am always looking to disguise that fact and this ring covers up about 1/3 of my ring finger). The detail on the silver work is pretty and I loved the colors in the stone. While I generally prefer less matrix, I liked the splashes of brown in this stone - made me think of the Earth as seen from space.

This bracelet is probably my all-time favorite piece. At the time I bought it, hardly anyone was doing traditional Native American sandcasting any more. It was dying out - probably due to the labor intensive process and silver prices rising. If you did find a piece, it was woefully light in weight due to the high cost of silver. This bracelet is not as heavy as my grandmother's traditional one, but it was light years away from a lot of the rest of the junk that was out there at the time. The stone has a beautifully graceful teadrop shape.

The sides are meant to look like corn plants.

I wear this bracelet when I feel the need to up my personal power factor. I call it my "Wonder Woman" bracelet. Okay, it might not stop bullets, but it has that kind of feeling to it.

Santa Fe style has definitely influenced my love of big, chunky bracelets. I have several that are all silver and others set with onyx or lapis. Other stones that are often seen in Santa Fe jewelry include coral (in shades from peach to deep red), oyster or shell (can be orange, peach or purple), and a more recent introduction: sugilite (deep purple).

Lastly, I was lucky enough to inherit these pieces after my grandmother passed away. I believe she bought the bracelet and earrings separately so they are not an exact match, but when worn, they are far enough away from each other that it doesn't really matter (I know, I know, I'm usually all about the matching, but with turquoise it doesn't seem to be such a big deal).

I think it's pretty obvious that my love of owning and wearing jewelry pre-dates any contact with beads or any notion I ever had of using beads or making my own jewelry. It's also pretty obvious where my preference for silver and for turquoise (both the stone and the color) come from. In the next installment, I'll explore a little bit more of my Santa Fe heritage and provide some examples of how this early exposure shows up in my bead selection and finished pieces.

Thanks for joining me on this early phase of my creative journey. If you've never been to Santa Fe, I encourage you to put it on your "must visit someday" list (you have one, right?) And if you do plan to go, e-mail me and I'll tell you the best stuff to do and most importantly, where to get the best enchiladas ;-)



Lorelei Eurto said...

Fascinating journey! I love that you shared this with your readers!
I vaguely remember loving my Grandmother's jewelry and she gave me a few simple pieces, beads and chain- that I have held onto for years and years. I wonder if this contributes to my adoration of chain in jewelry lately.
I think a planned trip to Santa Fe sounds like a good time. Will have to try to plan that.

lunedreams said...

Thanks for sharing this story of your "formative" years! Jewelry is in your blood! Those outings with your grandma sound like wonderful memories. Love your collection! My paternal grandmother had a lot of turquoise and silver jewelry too--it was readily available in central California where I grew up. It was virtually the only jewelry she wore. My mom's mom had a lot of turquoise jewelry too, and I inherited a wonderful pair of earrings from her--they look like bunches of turquoise grapes, and I had the screwbacks (old fashioned kind of clip-ons) changed to leverbacks.

Look forward to hearing about the next stage in your "evolution"!

SummersStudio said...

This great KJ! Unfortunately, you won't see a lot of high quality pieces of silver and turquoise at the Governor's Palace today. But you can find some wonderful traditional pieces in some of the galleries. I love Santa Fe.

My love of jewelry also started with turquoise and silver. It is still my favourite. My dad taught me silver smithing and also how to do lapidary work. He made all of his own equipment. Once I'd learned how to work with less expensive stones like agate, I got to work with turquoise. It was an expensive stone back in the 70's. I miss the unstabalized turquoise. It has so much richness that you can't find in most turquoise today. What I loved most about it was that it ages with contact to your very own unique skin oils. Which sounds kind of gross but is actually very cool.

Rambling....but you've made me remember some of my own special times. I'm going to look later for the turquoise and silver amoeba I made when I was 16.

Thanks for sharing this. Those are wonderful pieces of silver you have and it's so nice to hear the story behind them.

Kate said...

I love your story! It's so fun to get to know the artist behind the jewelry/blog :) That sandcasted bracelet it outta this world! Amazing. I have definitely added Santa Fe to my "To Go List"!

EB Bead and Metal Works said...

What a wonderful story and the history of the silver jewelry/turquoise and your grandma sharing that with you. Awesome! Thanks for the journey!

chacha1 said...

Terrific story! I was also blessed with a grandmother who had an eye for art jewelry. Her preference was big, chunky stuff and because my grandfolks were not rich, she gravitated to silver as well, with semiprecious stones. They managed to travel quite a bit, and she always brought back something fascinating.

Love of gems and art was one of the few areas where we did not disagree.

EmandaJ said...

I got bitten by the beading bug in Taos, NM with friends who were visiting four (count 'em 4) bead and gem shops there. After that there was no turning back.

Thanks for sharing your journey.


Elisabeth said...

Great post! Love of jewelry runs in my family, too, and I always wear special pieces when I need special power :-)

Barbara Bechtel said...

What an awesome story! How interesting that she taught you so much about southwestern jewelry when you were so young.

I loved reading this!

Michelle said...

What a wonderful memory! Spending time with your grandma and learning about quality craftsmanship.
Thinking back...I was always facintated with my grandma's jewelry box. A good chunk of it was costume jewelry...but she sent most of it to me starting when I was about 12 years old. I loved the rhinestone pins (maybe that's why I love crystals so much!) and funky earrings from the 40's-60's. I still have it all!
Thanks for the wonderful trip down memory lane!

Santa Fe....hmmmm...I'll have to start a real list. I've always had the mental list!

Bead happy!

Cynthia said...

Really nice story, and such nice memories you have of your Mimi. I love that your heirlooms are so cool.
My grandparents were mid-western farmers, so, there is no cool heirlooms there - it's a rich heritage, but they were not rich. I suppose my lack of heirlooms is responsible for my love of vintage jewelry, and jewelry in general.

Shaiha said...

Thank you so much for the walk down memory lane. My gram wasn't really into jewelry except for her wedding ring which she left to my sister who promptly lost it..grrrr... My mother however loved turquoise and sterling rings and bracelets. That is probably where my love comes from. Unfortunately I have learned that silver just doesn't suit my coloring and one of my goals for the year is to start wearing colors that are right for my complexion rather then my old standbys of black & silver.

kelleysbeads said...

I have had this post up on a tab for days as I keep coming back to look at the pictures, but mostly to re-read the history. I love the impact your Grandma had on you with jewelry and everything she taught you!