In a summer storm on the Taos Gorge Bridge high above the Rio Grande.  My son, Maxwell Bush, took this photo.   

At Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, The patterns and textures of this place are a constant inspiration.  Thanks to Max also for this amazing shot.

Stone, light and grace at Ojito Wilderness, a favorite haunt not far from home.

Kofa Mountains molten in the sunset, western Arizona.

Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, California.  I've made several molds and pieces on top of this graceful limb of granite.

Carefully removing a silicone bracelet mold from a granite wall at Joshua Tree National Park, California. 

At the bright edge of the world, making molds of textured limestone on the rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Favorite components of silver and bronze metal clay, polymer artifacts, ancient stone, snakebones, Taos clay, saguaro rib beads, and more.

Ancestral Pueblo techniques in the studio: grinding abalone tesserae on sandstone for inlay in a jet pendant.

Myself + my Journey + my work

The road to here...

I've made jewelry almost all my life, but turned to it full time around 2005.  Before that I was mainly a visual artist: an illustrator of book covers straight out of art school, and a fine artist after that.  Most of my work, which was very detailed and tight, depicted scenes and beings out of the Dreamtime, the imaginal realm, or the world of spirit.  I've always felt close to those worlds and all of my creative work is centered around bridging those realities with the world of everyday.

After drawing and painting for several years, I felt a call to move into something deeper. Eventually it grew so strong it could no longer be ignored, and I began a long and wandering journey through the sacred ways of native cultures around the world, the more formalized religions, and the Western esoteric tradition.  Over time I have come to feel they are all parts of the same thing describing a sacred Whole.  At present my path, if you could call it one, is centered in a direct relationship with the subtle worlds. 

While traveling that road I also studied various types of energy work.  I became certified in crystal healing by Katrina Raphaell and JaneAnn Dow, became a Reiki Master-Teacher, studied shamanic counseling with the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, and flower essence therapy with Desert Alchemy in Tucson.  Today I'm studying shamanic practices, mainly in the Incan-Andean tradition, with some lovely teachers here in the Southwest. Through all of this, I had a belief that living a "spiritual life" meant I must do healing work and see clients, but, despite my best intentions, I have never been able to commit myself to it full time.  Whenever I was on the verge of taking the leap, the creative work would always pull me back.

So finally I bowed to the inevitable and resigned myself to being an artist, but in the process found that all of the above has distilled itself into my creative work.  In other words, being an artist is my path.  Every piece I make holds energy of some kind; the energy of blessing infused into each piece, the energy of the unseen worlds, and the energy of the desert.  Each in its own way becomes a touchstone or bridge between the worlds.  And so that inner energy has become the true focus of my work as I create pieces to carry it into everyday life.

 

Our Desert Home...

In 1996 I finally, with immense gratitude, arrived home in northern New Mexico.  My family and I settled into a lovely Southwest-style home near the Sandia Mountains, surrounded by the juniper and cactus of the high desert.  Here in this center place I began a deep attunement with the land that called me.  Over time I sense I have gradually become a part of it and feel it as a living presence inside myself.  The geography of my soul extends from the canyonlands of the Colorado Plateau to the brilliant White Sands in the Chihuahaun Desert, from the Pueblos of the Rio Grande to the cactus bajada of the Sonoran Desert, and out to the volcanoes and salt lakes of the Great Basin, far in the west.    

arriving at talismans...

As I look back, it's clear to me that becoming a jewelry artist wasn't an arbitrary choice.  Everything that preceded my talismans now flows into their making.  At their center they are children of the landscape.  They came to occupy the heart of my work when I realized that I couldn't get where I wanted to go through drawing and painting alone.  A deep impulse rose within me to move into abstraction, a distillation of form, texture, and light, but it had to be more than two dimensional.  And it had to be more than sculpture.  It had to be something that I could hold, and relate to on a more intimate and ongoing level.  Something that would carry the energy of the desert within it that I could have with me all the time.  The land fed my soul and I wanted that nourishment and that connection to go with me everywhere.   

In a nutshell, that's what my work is about in terms of design.  The land informs it aesthetically.  I'm constantly looking at texture, color, form, and quality of light.  Hiking with me is a nightmare because I do more of a stoop-and-amble than walk, and prefer to sit and steep rather than move quickly through a place.  I am forever picking up sticks and stones and return home from outings laden with little plastic bags full of earth.  A few years ago I discovered to my delight that I could make impression molds of objects and textures out in the desert using a quick-setting silicone compound.  This, combined with polymer and metal clay, enabled me to harvest impressions directly from the landscape, and shape elements that bore the etheric imprint of a specific place and time.     

In the studio...

At work in the studio, the creation of talismans becomes a matter of deep listening, the delicate alignment with an elusive signal that is sometimes breathtakingly faint.  In its early stages, work is a contemplative process as I attune to a sense or feeling emanating from a place or time.  The origin can be a physical place in the desert or something more subtle that flows from the Dreamtime.  At the same time I will begin to see the materials that will work for this, the process, and the shape the piece will take.  This is usually vague, more feeling than form, and I almost never make drawings or plan things out.

The materials themselves also speak to me.  I try to listen to them and honor what they are and allow them to guide the shape of the talisman. When they occasionally refuse to do what I want them to, they are usually trying to) lead me in a more interesting direction.  Everything is alive to me and so work is really a matter a dialogue with the materials, and with spirit.  The components I work with are a mélange of beads, artifacts and stones from anywhere and everywhere.  Over the years I've gathered together a tremendous variety of things that I have fallen in love with: fossils, ancient artifacts, unusual stones, beautiful beads, shell, and bones, that resonate with a certain feeling.  And I make many of my own components as well.

My studio is a small, bright room in our home.  It's where I spend most of my waking hours, my sacred space, and I tend to the energy there very carefully.  Its smallness has informed my approach because there isn't space for a lot of tools and equipment.  But I like simplicity, and would rather use very few tools for a lot of different tasks. 

The aesthetic language of my talismans is organic, earthy and primitive; "ancient future" is a good way to describe it.  It's more about letting go of control than trying to impose my ideas on things.  The closest approach I've found to it in the human world is the Japanese way of wabi-sabi.*  I want pieces to look like they've emerged from the desert through natural process, or like artifacts from a prehistoric culture.  Because of this I've focused on simple, primitive techniques, even when I work with high-tech materials like polymer, resin, or metal clay.  When working with metal I use hand tools like hammers, pliers, and saws.  The most complex tools I work with are a handheld Dremel tool for drilling, a torch for soldering, and a small electric kiln for firing metal clay. 

I shape and refine metal and other materials by hand with files and an assortment of sandpapers, abrasive sponges, and polishing papers.  Occasionally I make pieces using the techniques of the Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloans, and shape material using nothing but sandstone slabs, flint blades, and chert drills.  I will hammer metal on stones found on hikes and pieces of old rusted railroad tracks from historic mines.  Pieces made with metal clay are given minimal handling to allow the earthen quality of the clay to emerge.  Marks left by files, hammers, and abrasives are left in place.

The surfaces that result have an organic quality that is missing from those that are worked with machines.  They tell a story and have a livingness to them, a warmth and a kind of softness to the touch that seems comfortable and familiar. 

Beaded pieces are similarly treated.  I spread out components in piles on my worktable and proceed very slowly, often undoing and restringing passages until they are right.  The same holds when working with leather or with plant fibers like yucca.  Everything is cut, twilled, woven, and stitched by hand.   

to Nourish the soul...

Upon completion a talisman has to possess a kind of inner harmony, to breathe in a sense.  It may not be pretty in the conventional manner but it's a deeper, more soulful beauty that I'm after...not, as Robert Ebendorf so wonderfully put it "...just another nice piece of jewelry to blight the landscape".  It has to mean something. 

It also has to work on the body, hang right, be balanced, and be comfortable.  I want it to be something you will wear everyday, something that will go anyplace with you with grace and ease.  More than just adornment.  Something that nourishes the soul.  

 

*One of the very few books I keep in the studio is a well-worn copy of Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren.  I recommend it highly.