My grandmother was born in an era where a woman’s physical beauty determined her value. Throughout her long life, Grandma remained secure in her worth. Even in her nineties, she was beautiful.
My grandmother adored pearls. She used to say that some women had skin so fine that they could restore the luster to pearls by wearing them against to their bodies. I always believed that Grandma was one such woman.
Her prized strand––she's wearing them in this photo, taken when she was 75––was 16 inches long on a silk cord. They were 14 millimeter cream-colored (with overtones of pink) semi-round South Sea pearls. She’d let me play with them when I was little but I wasn't allowed to wear them. Even on my wedding day, Grandma’s pearls were not for borrowing. When Grandmother died, at the age of ninety-eight––still with flawlessly translucent skin––the pearls passed to my mother.
Different generations embrace different values. While Grandmother relished her perch atop a pedestal, my mother preferred hiking or biking or reading a really good book. (Here's a photo of my mom––also at 75––in one of her favorite perches, somewhere along the John Muir trail.)
Shortly after Grandma’s passing, Mom gave the pearls to me. It made sense. Like my Grandmother, I love dressing-up and unlike my mother, I hate hiking and biking. I do enjoy a good book, however.
Also unlike Grandmother, I’m uneasy with attention, which is a problem if one is an artist. So much about making art is a willingness to be seen.
Do I hope that something more got passed down with those 14 mm luminescent orbs? If one believes that personal objects can absorb an owner’s essence, I would say yes.
I believe in alchemy. That’s what artists do. We transform, with heart and skill, a base material into something more.
With that in mind, I took Grandma’s pearls apart. I soldered up a bunch of gold jump rings. I found some watermelon tourmalines––because watermelon tourmaline is reputed to balance energies caused by conflict and confusion. Then, I assembled them all together again by crafting a handmade chain.
Here’s hoping that some of Grandma’s self-confidence is still inside those pearls.
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