Sunburst brims with pioneer spirit

“You will enrich your life immeasurably if you approach it with a sense of wonder and discovery, and always challenge yourself to try new things.” 

–Nate Berkus

When the unexpected happens, when my project seems at the risk of failure, when almost everything ends up differently than imagined at the outset, I remind myself I have pioneer spirit.

Honor the willingness to experiment

My foray into metalwork signaled a big departure from needlepoint, bead embroidery, or any of my other work using needle and thread. The torch didn’t behave in the same way. I winced every time I lit it. My hand wasn’t as steady, its touch not as sure. 

At the studio, someone characterized me as an Anomaly. Webster’s dictionary defines something anomalous as something different, abnormal, peculiar, or not easily classified.

“Sunburst,” a necklace I created combining a variety of techniques is an example of the anomaly that combines the metalsmith world with the one I grew up exploring: hand-stitching. In its completion, “Sunburst” honored techniques from both sides of the aisle: the needle and the torch.

A large dichroic glass focal from Mazet Studio launched my project. The standalone piece was a 3” circle with16 rays raised a full inch above the base. Even when it was not in sunlight, the piece glowed, which called out sun to me. Its near-neon blue center gave me a feeling of depth when I stared into it.

©2019, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Pinning and coaxing Sunburst to life

Originally I thought sunset and looked for the evening sky desert colors that New Mexico is famous for: magenta, purple, orange, bronze. A piece of Shibori silk from my stash offered a perfect background. I pinched it in shape and pinned the delicious silk to the firm texture of backing.

At this stage, design had not fully made itself known. My intuition began the process of acknowledging “Yes, that totally works!” Or, I’d place a bead and then shake my head no. I was using one of my favorite Delica colors as the base. I added what looked good, felt right, and made my heart sing: bronze coin pearls, dark brown potato pearls, Swarovski crystals, bronze drops and flower-shaped beads on stems that rose from the base. Fanciful. Playful. Interesting.

©2019, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Sunburst handwork ready for next step

Channel openness to whatever shows up

Because I was deeply immersed in learning about metal, I determined that I would make a metal backpiece. I chose a brass plate, marked and drilled the holes where my sterling silver jump ring would be soldered. When I fired the torch to adhere the rings, a magical welcoming color spread across my bezel. I was transfixed! I loved the effect, couldn’t imagine anything different if I’d designed it!

©2019, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Sunburst, edged and ready for the necklace

Hand-made copper jump rings coordinated with handmade copper endcaps and an S-hook for the leather. It was my first experiment with finishing in this way. Under the tutelage of my studio guru, I found a nice-size round object, wound my wire, sawed the jump rings and bent an S-hook that would serve as my clasp. I vowed to do more mixed metal. I promised myself that I’d always try out new looks.

I completed the reverse side of my now rather large necklace with a tan deerskin-hide leather. Then I sewed a picot edging around the outer borders. My piece was ready to be made into a necklace. I picked a 4-mm wide stamped animal print leather, a ‘find’ from the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Soft, it begged to be touched. The deep brown on tan blended perfectly with the focal’s background. In a state of anticipation, I completed my necklace, adding the endcaps, s-hook and extender chain.

Give gratitude for learnings

Not only did Sunburst help me learn new techniques, it forced me to share them with others. At the studio, my fellow metalheads looked on with interest as I made my way through what could only be called simple metal work tasks. Some members of the Bead Society of New Mexico understood the quantum leap required to bridge the two worlds of needle and thread, torch and fire. My friends, always supportive, claimed they knew I was destined for great designs.

I thought of another time when I experimented, when I first used a found object as the starting point for a necklace. Wow! 

What emerged as most important to me about Sunburst is the fact that I tried, I completed and I was proud of the end result.