Sunday, March 6, 2011


In my family, I am the eldest of three children. While my brother and sister are useful members of society (doctor and teacher respectively), I am but an artist with a day job. Which is fine with me, but doesn't exactly leave the old maternal unit with a matching set on the parental boasting scale. The couple of redeeming features being that I am "interesting" and that I live in Chicago.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, when I was but a lowly bench jewelry designer, my brother Andy, an avid cave diver, asked me to make a present for his then girlfriend and now wife, Rhiannon. Sure I said, excited to be asked, without much thought as to what, exactly, I had said yes to. As they are both experienced cave divers he wanted his gift to be personal to them and he asked me to make earrings based on the plastic arrow points cave divers use to mark the direction out of a cave system.

A particularly challenging project because whichever way you looked at them, they were rejects from the 80's. Large plastic triangles with slits cut in them making them look like a futuristic S and entirely current; if you were living in the era of Boy George which, I might add, we had passed more than a decade and a half before.

However, by changing the scale, I finally managed to create them from textured silver. To the surface I fused a thin layer of gold leaf using an ancient Korean technique called keum-boo which involves heating the silver many times to bring a layer of pure silver molecules to the surface and then using a special technique, bonding gold leaf permanently to the surface. I was trying to represent the two parts of the halocline layer sometimes seen by cave divers and described to me by Andy in tales of his diving adventures.

A halocline is the layer at which a body of salt water meets a body of fresh water, giving the illusion of the surface. According to my brother, sometimes divers are caught out by it because it looks so much like the reflective surface of, well, the surface and are fooled into taking off their masks thinking they have reached oxygen.

I don’t know why, but the idea of the halocline has stuck with me. In thinking about it recently I have come to the conclusion that it’s for lots of reasons: one being that essentially the same thing, water, can hide its true nature with an illusion of oxygen simply by virtue of the fact that one contains salt and one does not.

For a long time I wondered if his choice of cave diving represented an addiction to the adrenalin of a dangerous sport until I began to talk to him about it and learned that his feeling about it was more akin to an explorer trying to reach lands of which others have only dreamed. And I came to another startling realization and it's this: that cave diving gives to him exactly what being in my studio gives to me, it’s just that his involves exploring physical depths and mine involves exploring the depth of an idea.

And so, while we may be different, and we are, what separates us is an illusion because where we're trying to get to is essentially the same albeit that our routes are poles, or in this case, caves apart.

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