This hand-made chain necklace from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque is of red brass and copper

Hand-made chain necklace turns disaster into opportunity

A collective gasp. Stunned silence. The clatter of ceramic on cement seemed particularly harsh in an otherwise busy studio. Five of my peers watched for my reaction.

Unlike the cat of nine lives, my shattered pendant seemed doomed. It simply flew out of my hand as I tried to wrap it with heavy gauge wire.

© 2019, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Shattered Ceramic Mummy Focal

Catifact, my hand-made chain necklace could have ended before it began. Maybe because I wasn’t holding onto an expected outcome, my catifact morphed into a new creation. In the process, thanks to the help of studio mates and my metal smith mentor, I reshaped my entire project perspective.

Artifact: An object produced or shaped by human craft, especially a tool, weapon, or ornament of archaeological or historical interest.

Catifact: An ceramic mummy cat object that is positioned to look old, interesting and artful.

Mary Ellen

Felines intrigue me, captivate me, encourage me to enjoy life. My two cats are entertaining, spontaneous and loving to the max. I’ve been a cat collector for years. Small wonder that this piece included three cats in addition to the mummy at its center: a wooden, one-eyed cat monk, a seated Czech glass cat posed perfectly, and a cat head that carried detail to the backside dangling off the extender. 

In retrospect, creating Catifact housed a world of learning. It gave me the opportunity to work through a crisis. Is there anyone of us who doesn’t encounter the unexpected in life? 

My timetable was disrupted thanks to this unexpected incident. I don’t regret the extra time it took or the experience. When I consulted by text with the artist who made the ceramic, she suggested I affix the ceramic pieces to metal with Loctite. (We each classify ourselves as glue snobs, and take particular care to use the best glue for the job at hand.) Chalk up an additional 24-hours while my glue dried.

© 2019, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Catifact Emerges

The studio consensus was to leave the break natural and rub soot on it. I reached for my trusted umber acrylic and blended the edges to be less conspicuous with the bronzes already there.

Metalsmith skills get boost from hand-made chain necklace

Every link, each solder, all of the interconnected jump rings in red brass or copper, marked learning points in my first hand-made chain necklace. (Yes, it had been one of my goals. Now adding sterling silver chain to another pendant is on the upcoming schedule.) Read more about my love for different chain here.

My broken piece forced me to improvise, to incorporate previously unconsidered elements such as my love for torch-fired brass which now shows in the metal background. Thanks to studio mate Debbie, who says I remind her of her “Aunt Ida,” I created a fire-inspired patina I love!

Sharon, who usually sits across from me during open studio, modeled how one piece of jewelry holds a wide range of work. Her conversation about  a  project inspired me to include portions from works I might have overlooked or forgotten. As a result, Catifact includes enameled headpins from Susan’s class at the studio.The whimsical add-ons give detail and importance to my charms.  

Because my pendant was bigger after its revision, I realized I needed more chain. The relationship between a chain and its each of its components became definitely more clear to me.

Hand-made chain necklace includes other links

The lessons of the cat totem include healing with grace. No temper tantrum or major pout. Instead, I applied myself to the job at hand with joy and curiosity. It was a chance to work with the materials in front of me. What would happen next? How would this turn out? 

As a protector, cats are soulful creatures, frequently seen as symbols of resurrection, i.e., nine lives. They are timing in action., rebalancing at a moment’s notice.

Cats have the courage to explore the unknown. All too often, I stay in the tried and true track. Because of this accidental break, I re-imagined my necklace for more significance. I experienced the community at the studio and am the better for it.

The real gift of the hand-made chain necklace

“No artifact is a work of art if it does not help to humanize us. Without art…our world would have remained a jungle.”

Bernard Berenson

How’s your world look today?

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