Memorial Necklace. Sterling, enameled steel.
When I set about making a memorial piece in my dad’s honor, I struggled. I was paralyzed by the gravity of the task; it languished on my bench for a year in various states of re-design. Dad had died young at age 44. How could I do justice to his life cut short, his bravery, his suffering, and all that he gave me? I couldn’t, of course. But I could pay humble homage — and that’s what I tried to do with this piece, some 30 years after he died.
The impetus was my discovery of a faded photo of my dad when he was in high school. He stood with his brother on an east coast beach. I wanted my dad to be the focal point of the image, so I used Photoshop to isolate him. I liked the drama of the shadow that fell beside him, so I extended and exaggerated it to add to the dreaminess of the image. I made my own waterslide decal of the photo using a laser toner printout and torch fired it onto white enameled steel. I experimented with the image many times, trying different techniques until I settled on an iteration that had the right color and feeling.
Looking at the photo as I worked, I felt like a sad, omniscient time traveler, knowing what the hopeful young man did not: That his life would end much too soon, and with unimaginable suffering. To reflect this melancholy, I selected a scalloped bezel for setting the enamel; the scallop had a sweetness to it – a sentimental innocence reminiscent of deckle edge 1950s photos, birthday cake trimmings, overly enthusiastic "wish you were here" postcards. The strange juxtaposition of this cheery bezel against the surreal snapshot and the isolation of its subject was perfectly heartbreaking.
I wanted the piece to have weight and a physical sensation of substance. I also knew it would spin undesirably on its bail if it were too light. So before setting the enamel, I filled the inner cavity with bronze. The added weight prevented it from flipping and gave a satisfying but subtle gravitas to the sensation of wearing it.
For a long while I wanted – insisted – on incorporating a small broken twig, intending it as a symbol of his life cut short; the Victorians often included the symbol of a cut tree trunk in gravestones to represent the same idea, so this was my way of miniaturizing it for jewelry. It was not working in the design, but again and again, I attempted to force it, along with a piece of old kite string that was in a box of dad's things. Finally, I realized these elements were preventing progress, and in the words of William Faulkner, I "killed my darlings" and eliminated them.
I wanted, of course, to include his handwriting in the piece; this is something I do for my clients all the time, and I know how powerful it is. I decided to frame the photo with an etching of the first sentence from the first page of his high school diary, "Life seems strange." (See the diary and read how I discovered it here.) These words reflected the inner thoughts my dad was having during the era when this photo was taken – and it captured the irony of the disappointing future he could not know lay ahead.
And on the back of the piece, how would I end this story? With the last words from the last letter he wrote to me, a few months before he died. "I will always love you. -Dad".
Sterling silver, enameled steel, weighted with bronze. 1.5” x 1.25”.
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