Thursday, March 12, 2009

Longing for summer in Alaska...

It's March. We've still got two or three feet of snow on the ground, depending where you step. It is warmer: Yesterday it was about 27 degrees F. We're gaining nearly seven minutes of daylight every day, and our days are already nearly 12 hours long.

But I'm impatient. Yes, I could be out there on my snowshoes, enjoying the clean sharp air and looking for animal tracks and birds. I do love the way snow makes various things — say, a stack of summer tires or a clump of small spruce trees — look like cupcakes with icing or sugared donuts.

But dang it, I'm ready for some color! I want leaves and flowers and butterflies!

When I'm feeling like this, the best thing I can do is pull out the dried leaves my friend and I collected over the past couple of years and make a Forest Floor cuff. Like this one:

When I'm working on one of the Forest Floor pieces, I'm not just shaping metal. I'm enjoying summertime in Alaska.

Did you know that scent is considered the strongest trigger for memory? The scent of the leaves, stored in layers of blotting paper, is fresh and earthy — and when crushed in the rolling mill, the leaves' sap and oils perfume the studio. Instantly, I'm back in the woods, kneeling on thick moss, watching the sun shine through the canopy of birch leaves, picking berries.

Here are just a few of the plants I use in my jewelry. All of them live on our 10 acres in Two Rivers.

This is Alaskan Dogwood. (Being from the South, where dogwood is a tree, I laughed when I first saw this tiny earth-hugging bush. But it makes a gorgeous carpet of green in summer and crimson in fall.)

This is High-Bush Cranberry, good for jelly.

And poisonous Red Baneberry.

Here is Fireweed, the barometer of our summertime. As the blooms progress up the stalk and finally burst into puffy white seed fluff, we know summer is going and it's time to batten down for winter again.

And here are our lovely Alaskan Wild Roses. They seem to bloom all at once, and only for a few days. They're everywhere; the air is sweet with them. And after the roses come the brilliant red and orange rosehips.

You'll find these and many others in the Forest Floor pieces.

Just as in nature, no two cuffs or pendants or pairs of earrings will ever be the same because the leaves are crushed and destroyed in the embossing process.

After the metal is embossed, I saw the edges a bit and file them. I like to make the pattern irregular, like the bug-bitten edges of some plants and trees.

The leaves always shift a bit while going through the mill, so I'm never sure what I'll see until it's done. There's always a "flaw," where the metal slipped too much and the pattern didn't take or where the leaves cracked or moved too far apart. This actually delights me.

These are opportunities to play, serendipity instead of mistake. In the cuff you see here, a slight diagonal space along the bottom edge didn't take the leaf pattern at all. Wonderful! It gave me an opportunitiy to hand engrave cross-hatching there. The straight lines contrast nicely with the irregularities of the natural forms, don't you think?

Now you know that each Forest Floor piece carries with it the reality of nature in Alaska, the memory of specific summer days and specific places, and a little bit of serendipity. What a wonderful mix!


  1. Kristin, I thought I'd jump over here to your blog and respond, since you were so kind to respond to mine. I love your work. And I love thinking about Alaska. I've never been there, but it looks gorgeous. I live in a redwood forest in Santa Cruz, California, and can relate to your love of and interest in the land. I hope your color comes soon to shower you with its splendor. We could all use a bit of that right now.

  2. Thanks, Lori! While I'm waiting for the color here, I've been sustained by your painted worlds. ;)