MY MOTHER’S JEWELRY
A Mother’s Day Story
My Mother, Kathie Jones, was an artist. Although I didn’t recognize this while growing up. My brother, sister and I grew up in Asheville, North Carolina in the 70’s and 80’s. We certainly didn’t fully appreciate then how “cool” our Mother was, it was just who she was. When we were young our Mother sewed our clothes: our younger school pictures, had us smiling proudly, in our matching patterned cornflower shirts, red-me, blue Mike and yellow Mandy, stiffly tucked under matching blue jean overalls. Macrame was next, ( I did mention it was the 70’s): our front porch was adorned in big thick cable macrame creations, plant holders, wall art, some with shells knotted into the twines. There was the Lion’s head, my Mother’s coup de grace of macrame. A huge shaggy mane framing a cat face, complete with big brown wood bead eyes. She taught us how, but my macrame creations, never turned out like hers; the plant sat lopsided in the weaved basket, the knots were uneven. Macrame was hard: cross-stitch became the new favorite. My Mother did intricate cross-stitch pieces, beautiful nautical scenes, ships, seas, water birds, lighthouses. I started out with small cross-stitch Christmas patterns; a stocking, a candy cane, beginner sample kits that included everything you needed. I remember feeling accomplished when I could pick a pattern out of one of my Mother’s many books. We would go to the craft store and hunt out the silken colors, not yet marred by needles or little fingers, neatly bound at each end by thin paper clasps. After cross-stitch, came new endeavors; afghans and bulky ski sweaters; we were not a ski family-instead traveling from the mountains to the coast of North Carolina for vacations-but we looked the part. There was the trendy puffy paint sweatshirts from the 80’s. My Mother would sew bells and jangly adornments to the puffy paint designs. My Mother made dream catchers, stained glass, and pressed flower bookmarks. She taught us the joy of stamping; we made families of centipedes and milllipieds, flowers and landscapes just by the ink on our fingertips; we dabbled in water colors and acrylics; origami and ceramics. My Mother was particularly fond of ceramic Santa’s. When I came home from UNCW, Christmas break my freshman year, my childhood bedroom, had become a Santa sanctuary; rows upon rows of Santas, all different shapes, sizes and period pieces, in various stages of paint, there was a time the completed Santa’s adorned the living room mantle year round, becoming affectionate family lore. We put pieces of masking tape on bottles, brushed with paint; ordinary kitchen bottles and jars became works of art; functional works of art, to hold paint brushes or dried flowers, as my Mother was indeed a pioneer in the recycling movement: throw nothing out, because it could be used for something else. In the 90’s my Mother’s workshop of popsicle sticks, magazines, brushes, wood, leather, dried flowers, shells, yarn, plaster of Paris, and polymer clay took a back seat to jewelry making. She begin by making simple drop earrings, a big bead hanging from the earring joist. Then her beadwork became more intricate. She would sit for hours, patiently needling tiny beads together to create one of a kind pieces. She took a silversmith class at Asheville-Bumcombe Technical school, and hammered silver settings for blue-green pieces of turquoise and the darker malachite. My Mother had an infinity with nature, she studied gemstones and crystals, interested in the metaphysical properties. She would bead massive necklaces with stone fetishes, a bird, a turtle, a bear; she would use feathers and bells. She would bead broches to look like the night sky and earrings to look like reflecting water. Mountains, oceans, sunrise, sunsets, the rain, the sun, the seasons, were all reflected in her jewelry making. She made a name for herself too, in the artist world of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She did fairs and festivals. My Father was her trusty assistant, setting up the booth, the tables and chairs. They became a recognizable pair at the fair scene and I think my parents both enjoyed the social aspect. They would meet interesting people and see artists friends from the previous years. I know my Mother enjoyed the artisan bartering system that was alive and well. She would trade her pieces for rustic yard art sculptures, beautiful tye-dyed silks, woven bags, and eclectic jewelry pieces; metal and fabric pieces different from her own beadwork but similar in labor of love.
I have a shoebox of her jewelry, earrings and necklaces. They are organized on small squares of card stock, with a description of the piece, naming the semi-precious stones, or gems. There is an inventory number and her signature. These are pieces from her festival days. Sometimes I pull the box out, I feel close to her and admire her handiwork. I can tell the cycles of time, when she went thru different artistic phases. I also recognize, her signature became shaky, I would not have noticed, had not the pieces been side by side, there was strength in her hand once, that started to give away….when was that exactly? My Mother was a quiet person. She enjoyed the solitude of her arts, and was comfortable being audience to the more boisterous members of the family. She was good, she was steady, she was strong. After years of holding on- I’ve gotten in the practice, of giving a piece of my Mother’s jewelry as a birthday gift for the important female friends in my life. I admit, a fear snatched me once, ” if I give my Mother’s jewelry away, I”ll have nothing left….” A panic seized me, but it was replaced with a warm grace and a knowing: I would also receive a gift. I see these women in my life, wearing my Mother’s jewelry, and I get to see a little bit of my Mom.