Finally finished this Picture Jasper Big Cat Claw necklace.  The Oregon jasper pendant is 2 inches long and is about actual size for a large lion claw.  It is carved in low relief in front with a flat back (the slice wasn’t thick enough to carve both sides in relief) and has a soft polish.  The bezel is rather wide and is highly polished hammer-textured fine silver.  The backing is heavy sterling silver with forged accents.  The pendant is suspended from a hole in the forged iron crescent.  The iron is tapered and twisted, deliberately asymmetrical to complement the asymmetry of the pendant.  Copper ornaments are 14-gauge wire spirals.  The 4mm leather cord hooks onto a hidden loop on one of the copper spirals to fasten the necklace.  Although not particularly heavy, this is a substantial necklace with a lot of presence.  It fits best at a little longer than choker length.

Picture Jasper Big Cat Claw Necklace

Picture Jasper Big Cat Claw Pendant

Pendant Back

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Desert Rain Earrings

July 27, 2010

A few years ago at the Tucson gem show, I bought several Indian moonstone cabochons, translucent pale greenish-gray and very high-domed.  I made one into a pendant with silver and red gold, and noticed that it changed color in humid weather, becoming greener and more opaque-looking.  I assumed it was a trick of the light, since many stones look different in the sun than they do under a cloudy sky, but my friend who bought the pendant also said that it was a distinctly different color in rainy weather.  So we nicknamed them “rain stones” and I made (and sold) a couple more pendants.  A few weeks ago, I realized that I still had a couple of stones left, including a warm yellowish green one that reminded me of pondwater.  It doesn’t change color as much as the others, but does seem to get a bit darker on rainy days like today.  These Desert Rain Earrings are backed with rather thin sterling silver so they are quite light in weight, but they are stiffened with the addition of a red gold crescent and a half moon in reticulated bronze (made from melting a scrap from a broken Tibetan singing bowl and splashing the molten metal onto a cold cast iron pan, creating a small thin disc with a wrinkled, radiating “freeze” texture).  The bezels are fine silver.  The faceted stone is Brazilian rutilated quartz, with some of the thinnest, tiniest rutile needles I’ve ever seen.  It’s from the teaching collection that I inherited from my gemology professor after his death in 1995.  He bought the stones in the 1970s.

The earrings are one inch long, not including the sterling silver wires.   Both have round cutouts in the back, to let light shine through the stones.  These earrings are rather rough and unrefined-looking but they do have a nice bit of summer sparkle in soft, neutral colors.

Desert Rain Earrings

Faceted Rutilated Quartz

Backyard Barrel Cactus

July 26, 2010

We’ve lived in this house for ten years this month.  To celebrate the anniversary, I’ve been taking photos of the yard to compare with pictures that we took when we moved in.  The mostly-barren gravelscape has become a beautiful desert garden.  We have planted most things, such as desert oaks, agaves, soapberry, pomegranates, citrus trees, etc.  But several plants (soaptree yuccas, mesquite and palo verde trees, ephedra, desert hackberry, and many wildflowers) have moved in on their own…along with lizards, hummingbirds, quail, native bees, and other creatures.  We have several Arizona barrel cacti (Ferocactus wislizenii), also called the compass barrel because they eventually turn to face south as they grow.  The desert near our house is a natural “barrel garden” where these cacti are abundant, with an unusually high percentage of crested and multiheaded specimens.  Below is our largest barrel, growing wild in our backyard, with comparative photos from 2000 and 2010 to show how it’s grown.  We also have five salvaged barrels that are about a foot tall, and eight tiny babies, 1 to 3 inches in diameter, that have appeared in the yard in the last couple of years.  When you quit spraying weedkiller, LIFE happens!

Arizona Barrel Cactus - 2000 and 2010

We are remodeling my blacksmithing work area to add perforated steel screens and a security door, and it won’t be finished for another week or so.  The rest of my shop is usable, so I’ve been making black steel wire jewelry to help rebuild the strength in my hands, since I still have some lingering neuropathy after January’s mystery virus.  I put a few inexpensive pieces on the website today.  Below is a set that I plan to keep and wear.  They are “torc style” but with odd terminals:  Rahu and Ketu, named for the “head and tail” of the celestial Dragon, the North and South Nodes in astrology.  Since the New World “dragon” is a feathered serpent, I’ve added a token fringed dangling ornament to each piece.  The BRACELET is four strands of 14-gauge wire, wrapped with a fifth strand.  The RING is two strands of 15-gauge wire wrapped with a third strand.  I also made a seven-strand torc with the same motif, but it’s not polished yet and isn’t as nicely proportioned as the bracelet, so I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, if anything.

Black Steel Wire Bracelet and Ring Set

Five days after the first significant summer rain…you can count on that to be Bloom Day for Coryphantha robustispina, the Pima Pineapple Cactus.   For me, this event captures the bright, ephemeral essence of summer, with dozens of sunlike flowers peering out of the spines.  The yellow flowers are slightly fluorescent and have a nearly metallic luster that creates a soft glow over the land, especially since Bloom Day is usually humid and partly cloudy, with restless monsoon clouds and the occasional rumble of thunder over the mountains.  Yesterday was the biggest bloom, but a few plants have small flowerbuds that will probably open after the next rain.

Pima Pineapple Cactus

Ten years ago this month, we moved to Arizona and within a few days we discovered some of these endangered cacti near our house.  Scattered over an acre of flat, gravelly desert, it’s the densest known population.  Over the next few years, we found several more sites, some of which have since been destroyed for new housing developments or as the land is bladed and abandoned.  But the original acre that we named “Pineapple Cactus Land” – split between private and state ownership, cycling through various intermittent and impermanent forms of protection, disputed by researchers, ignored by politicians, degraded by ranching, eyed greedily by developers – remains a hidden garden for these beautiful plants.  We rejoice that it has survived to bloom for another year.

Pima Pineapple Cactus Flower

Monsoons are Here!

July 11, 2010

Hot, humid, and hazy, with spectacular cloud buildups and (if we’re lucky that day), RAIN.  It’s been humid for a couple of weeks, but the first rain only arrived last night, washing the dust off the trees and giving the seeds of monsoon wildflowers a wake-up call, though we won’t see them for awhile yet.  In the encinal, the grassy evergreen oak woodlands on the lower slopes of southeastern Arizona mountains, one wildflower arrives early, as a harbinger of the monsoons:  Jatropha macrorhiza appears as the clouds gather, and the first blooms open before the rains begin.  This plant has no good common name.  It is a perennial herb that sprouts from a huge brown potato-like tuber.  The tuber stores winter rain like a cask, and replenishes its store during the monsoons, after flowering.  It is common in a narrow elevation range in southeastern Arizona, but found in only a few localities in Texas and New Mexico, perhaps because it is so dependent on Arizona’s unique biseasonal rainfall pattern.  The plant is in the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge Family, which isn’t obvious until you look at the seedpods.  Southern Arizona’s other Jatropha species, J. cardiophylla, is a small woody shrub with heart-shaped leaves that is mostly confined to lower elevations in the Sonoran Desert, thought the two plants may occasionally grow side by side in the Empire, Rincon, and Santa Rita Mountains.  I took this photo today in the Sierrita Mountains:

Jatropha macrorhiza

Another photo from the Sierritas, a small mountain range almost entirely covered in oak woodland.  I took this one last weekend.  It is Arizona black oak or bellota, Quercus emoryi, with a blooming Agave parryi flowerstalk.  You can see a bluish-gray agave leaf rosette (not the one that is blooming) near the bottom of the photo.  The “grass” at the bottom of the picture is Nolina microcarpa (called sacahuista, beargrass, or nolina), which is not a grass at all, but a relative of Agave and Yucca.

Agave and Oak in the Sierrita Mts.

I just finished two Oregon picture jasper amulet pendants.  Both are completely reversible and feature double-sided hand-polished discs (a soft polish, since this particular slab didn’t take a mirror shine).  It’s rare to find picture jasper with attractive “scenes” in the same places on both sides of the slab, so cabochons are usually cut with a landscape design on the front and a nondescript pattern on the back.  This slab had TWO unusual designs that were equally interesting on both sides, so I cut two discs, each with a channel around the edge for a black steel wire bezel.  The discs are hung from handmade sterling silver “swivel” beads; each has been bur-textured but this is more obvious on the larger bead.  The copper beads are made from recycled tubing.  SACRED MOUNTAIN is three inches long, and the disc is 1 3/8 inches in diameter.  ROCK SHELTER is 2 1/2 inches long, with a 1 1/4 inch disc.  Both are available on my website.

Sacred Mountain Amulet Pendant

 A high, remote peak, now weathered and ice-worn, with a cooling volcanic and plutonic heart.  A pilgrimage site for a long climb, or simply a strong, inspiring presence on the near horizon.

Rock Shelter Amulet Pendant

A niche in water-carved sandstone, holding buried memories of glaciers, with a view of the wide sky over the High Plains.

This picture jasper Big Cat Claw is a work in progress.  The carving and its silver setting are finished, and it looks great on a leather cord.  But I want something fancier for this flashy piece.   I’m forging an iron hook, and may use two hammered pieces of heavy copper wire instead of a cord.  The bezel-set part of the carving is relief-carved on the front and flat on the reverse side, with a silver backing.  The tip of the claw is carved in the round.

Picture Jasper Big Cat Claw