Nature is an endlessly magnetic source of inspiration! So many of the greatest artists throughout history have paid homage to the transcendent cycles of life and death. And the further people stray from nature, the more compelling it may become - our souls thirst for that which is bigger, older, wiser than us. I inherited a love of nature from my snake handling Dad and it expresses itself in the form of precious metal and gemstone jewellery... grab a cuppa, settle in and I'll tell you how the love affair began.
My Dad is a photographer and fauna consultant, and literally finds wonders wherever he goes - metallic scurrying lizards, handsome birds flitting between branches, glimmering jewel beetles. Nothing escapes his eagle eyes or lightning fast reflexes!
So it follows that for as long as I can remember, I’ve felt that if I pay attention too I will find little treasures all around. Things that other people have overlooked, or that have been hidden by circumstance, but that would reveal themselves to people who observe. Except where Dad was drawn to living things, metals and rocks sang most loudly to me.
My Dad with his truck, which carried everything we needed, plus room for my inevitable rock collection! Photograph by Angela Sanders circa 1990 something.
Dad took me to all kinds of places in the Australian bush. We’d camp in the middle of nowhere, not another soul around. School was out but for me it was still in session - he’d tell me how the arrangement of scales around a reptile's head often reveals its species and sex. He'd tell me about rock formation, plate tectonics, weather patterns, and all the while we’d be walking, scanning our surroundings. It wasn't always comfortable - flies, ants, dirt and heat - but I learned a lot had some incredible experiences. I held velvety geckos with their sticky feet and semi transparent skin. Watched them licking their own glass-ball eyes to keep them clean. Seeing thousands of red spider eyes glinting back in the light of my head torch. Holding a miniature honey possum as its whiskered nose twitched. Watching whales whoosh water meters into the air with giant breaths. Sleeping in a tent under the stars after staring into the fire and eating jaffles.
(In case anyone has not had the fortunate of eating a jaffle, this wonderful thing is a sandwich typically stuffed with baked beans, eggs, cheese, and whatever else is handy really, smothered in butter and toasted over fire coals in a hinged cast iron sandwich press. One risks third degree burns in the eating, but it is utterly worth it!)
My friends went to Adventure World, but my Dad took me on gemstone treasure hunts! A few hour's drive north east of Perth, we found perfectly formed black tourmaline crystals just laying around in the dirt, more than I could reasonably collect... Dad found a slab of Tiger Iron as big as four house bricks way up north somewhere. On a remote beach in south West Australia, I found blood red garnets in sheets of schist rock jutting out at 60 degrees to the sand. I picked them out with a rock and still have those babies somewhere in my treasures.
Of all the places we'd go, the beach side camps were my favourite - bushy goodness plus option of a wash and a cooling swim! And it was here, at the juncture of those three great expanses of land sea and sky that my creative juices flowed and my natural treasure hunting began in earnest.
While other kids might jump and tumble in the waves, I would comb the shore for beautiful polished rocks, coral, sea urchins. Everyone else seemed to love being beaten up by the waves, but I preferred to admire their grandeur, their playfulness, from a rocky perch. I loved the wind in my hair and the sound of crashing water somehow creating space inside my head and heart. I’d let my mind loose to wonder: how many people have splashed on these shores over the decades, the centuries, and longer… what animals scurry around here when night falls and all the people are inside in warm lit houses? Deeper still, where were these water molecules that swish around my feet, this time last week? Were they in the warm currents washing up the coast of India? Were these very molecules, dripping now out of my cupped hands, ever caught up inside bodies of famous historical figures - Christ, Cleopatra, Churchill? Further back still, what was the world like when these rocks which I climb over were extruded up to the surface, blistering hot?
These days I'm a grown up bringing my own kids down to the beach on holidays. We live inland so it is a treat - rarer than I would like it to be. The water is much colder on this side of Australia, with trees that grow right to the rocky water's edge. Still, I love getting my toes in the sand, the cold waves, and clambering across the rocks. I breathe the ion charged air deep into my lungs and feel it dispel city fumes and the dust of everyday life. Being viscerally reconnected to the real world, away from the virtual world of plastics and electrons, brings out my inner child. I'm hardwired to drink it all in, subconsciously attuned to spot little treasures with which to express creativity.
Making jewellery is intuitive for me. It feels like something that I follow, more than something which I direct. With metal clay, texture is everything so my work-space in Canberra is full of collections that may seem random - driftwood, dried seaweed, a great variety of rocks and sands - all selected for a reason. Sometimes that reason is clear in the moment, other times it comes to me later. When I found this strange shell laying on the sand one afternoon, shiny on one surface but honeycombed out on the other, I did a little jig on the inside - I just knew how good the silver was going to look all bubbled up by this organic unique pattern. I tucked the little piece of grey treasure away in the safest zipper pocket of my camera bag and kept walking, while the right hand side of my brain leaped to work…
Dad taught me to love the natural world and while I haven't followed him into a career in Natural History, I do hope that through bringing some of the forms textures and spirit of the Australian bush to life in silver and gold that I'm paying homage to both him and this beautiful place we call home.
Thanks Dad! xo