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Veve: A Veve is a religious symbol commonly used in Haitian Vodou. It acts as a beacon for the Loa spirit, and serves as a Loa’s representation during rituals. In the past, it was believed that the veve was derived from the beliefs of the native Taíno people, but more recent scholarship has demonstrated a close link between the veve and the cosmogram of the Kongo people. Veve symbols may also have originated as the Nsibidi system of writing for the Igboid and Ekoid languages. It was transported to Haiti through the Atlantic slave trade and then evolved into the Veve. Every Loa has his or her own unique veve, although regional differences have led to different veves for the same loa in some cases. Sacrifices and offerings are usually placed upon them, with food and drink being most commonly used in the West. In ritual and other formalities, veve is usually drawn on the floor by strewing a powder-like substance, commonly cornmeal, wheat flour, bark, red brick powder, or gunpowder, though the material depends entirely upon the ritual. In Haitian Vodou, a mixture of cornmeal and wood ash is used.
Here is a photo journal detailing the steps involved in creating a copper master of a vodou veve. When creating a master model for casting, many artisans prefer to work with special jewelers’ wax to create their model because it is much easier to work with than metal. While I can successfully create master models in wax, I prefer to create the veve masters in copper; working with metal for me is much more familiar and comfortable than working with wax and, in the end, I have the original model that will not warp or disintegrate over time.
This is Loco, a new veve that I am creating as the next charm in a series of sacred symbols of the Vodou faith.
Typically, someone will request that I create a veve for them and this is how the next charm comes into being. Often they will send a picture, such as the one above. I then research the symbol to learn more about the various aspects of the lines and how it corresponds with the deity it stands for, and then begin to draw the design out as to how it will be cut into metal form.
There are several factors I consider when designing the veve for a metal rendition, most importantly, how to retain the original vision and design of the veve while configuring it to become a suitable piece of wearable jewelry. Primarily, the design needs to be constructed in a way that will keep all the individual parts of the design strong, no hooks that will catch on clothing or be sharp to touch, or be prone to repeated bending or breaking. The physical demands of the casting process are also considered; making sure that the model is constructed in such a way that there will be no obstruction to the flow of molten metal during the casting itself, with no undercuts in the model that would make creating a mould of it difficult.
Once the veve design has been rendered into a workable jewelry form and the appropriate size determined, the drawing is then glued onto the copper.
I use a jeweler’s saw to cut around the general shape of the design
Once the basic design has been cut out, I drilled holes through the inner areas of the piece to be cut out. Some of the inner areas to be drilled are so tiny that I had to use a #75 drill bit ( 0.53mm or .0210″) . Some of these areas are so precise, and the drill bits so delicate, I ended up breaking off several bits (about 12) in the copper that I later had to dig out. I can tell you that in producing the Ogoun veve master I broke 30 tiny drill bits and at least 25 tiny saw blades to complete that piece. Because they are so very small and the metal is very thick, they require such a feather-light touch it is impossible not to break a few.
That was about the easiest phase of creating the master. After the piece has been cut out around the outer and inner contours, which is very time-consuming in and of itself, the detailing refinement begins. Painstaking hours of filing with a small jeweler’s file to clean up the shape, get rid saw tooth marks, and level the back cut marks to match the front cuts.
Once the overall shape has been smoothed and refined, I add the design detail using traditional stamping tools, as well as small screw drivers and broken drill bits that I have filed and modified into stamping tools. Each line and dot has been meticulously hammered into the piece, making sure it is deep enough to endure the casting process and final mechanical buff finishing to its final polish. I take care to mark the front and back of the design differently so as to imply a three-dimensional aspect to the design. This highlights the different symbols of the veve depending on which side you look at.
Now the copper master is ready to be sent to the casters to make a rubber mould of it. This is the mould they will keep on site and use to create cast copies in sterling silver and other metals.
While there is a much easier and more technically precise procedure to create a master model called CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing), the principle behind my bare-bones, old-school manual technique in creating these veve charms is that, because these symbols were originally primitively drawn on the ground as reverent symbols of Haitian deities, I believe they should continue to retain the look and feel of and, indeed, be reproduced in the same organic manner with which they were originally manifested, with just as much conscious thought, energy, and artistic creativity with which they were originally drawn.
This man is one of my most favorite artists. He is an inspiration in person, a joy to talk to. A complex mind with such a contrasting peaceful demeanor. He taught me how to use a plasma cutter and a mig welder and gave me metal scraps to make jewelry with. Bill has a new book out on his life and artistic perspective, and his paintings are apocalyptic and provocative. His art is on exhibit at the Missoula Art Museum and there will be a reception for him on June 19th, 2014, 5-8pm.
Those of you who know my jewelry are probably aware that one of the significant components of my artistic range is my line of voodoo charms. Somewhat of a pioneer myself in the manufacture of Vodou themed jewelry, I am the only designer in the world who creates the veves in a three-dimensional form that is classic, elegant, and tangible in the same way that Christian crosses and crucifixes are for those who devoutly practice their faith.
Because of this I am absolutely thrilled to have just acquired this extremely rare vintage set from 1965 by jewelry designer and coppersmith Winifred Mason Chenet, an American Modernist pioneer in jewelry design from the 1940’s to the 1970’s. She had a shop in Greenwich Village and later created a line for Bloomingdale’s and other stores. The symbols are voodoo veves which relate to the Vodou saints.
A couple months ago I had found an intriguing Modernistic cuff with voodoo symbol medallions on RubyLane, an online marketplace for vintage and antique items. I didn’t know anything about the artist, Winifred Mason Chenet, her background, or the history of her intriguing jewelry. I fell in love with the piece but choked on the $165 price because, after all, it was only made out of copper! The next day I spent some time researching Chenet d’Haiti online and, realizing the artistic, historical, and investment value of it, went back to buy the cuff only to find that, at that price, it had been snapped up earlier that day.
I spent the next two months kicking myself for not jumping at the opportunity to buy something so uniquely rare and so pertinent to my own jewelry design. In the meantime my son found an original WW2 bomber jacket that I bought for him without blinking an eye at the price because, I reasoned, it was a gift. Which made not buying that voodoo cuff even more of a painful kick in the head under the circumstances.
From then on I became obsessed with finding another one, something that clearly was going to be like trying to find a needle in a world full of haystacks. Really, what were the odds? I had never seen one before in all my research on voodoo art and jewelry design. I did manifestation meditations, law-of-attraction affirmations, bathed my desire in reiki energy, even appealed to whatever saints might be interested in listening. Somebody heard me.
The moment I found the cuff again on ebay, and being sold as a set with a bonus matching necklace even, I nearly fainted dead away. I would have mortgaged the house to win that auction. As it turned out, I was able to pay much less for these two exquisite pieces than I had anticipated, and can hardly sit still waiting for them to arrive in the mail.
This quest has been a valuable lesson for me in many respects, all equally important. 1) Go with your gut feeling even if it seems ridiculous at the time; stop second-guessing your intuition, 2) Don’t give up your goal in defeat, because you just never know when a divinely ordained second chance may come along to smack you upside the head, 3) Do not, whatever the circumstances or situation, ever underestimate the power of manifestation.
I grew up in a family that believed that thoughts become physical realities. The concept that bad thoughts can turn into physical illness or that good thoughts are rewarded with good health (Christian Scientist) is not new to me. I’ve had a copy of The Manifestation Process by John Randolph Price within arm’s reach for over twenty years. My step-mom is a holistic healer and minister who has given me decades of guidance on how to create abundance and I, myself, am a reiki master and healer, so I know well the power of consciously directed energy. But still, the process that led me to acquire this exceptional jewelry has been awe-inspiring and profoundly epiphanic.
If I ever had doubts before about the existence of sacred energy and divine forces unseen I no longer have them now. It has been a very humbling week during which I have been graphically shown, by my own example, just how much of an impact a single thought can have.
The other day I came across a necklace for sale in a well-known major catalog that was so artless and uncreative, and such an affront to my sense of design that I just had to rant about it on facebook.
The response I got from another artist who read what I had written just blew me away. Here is the conversation below.
(Me, talking about the necklace): Ok. What is the point of this? Does this design make sense to you? It looks like someone just grabbed something from the machine parts department and threw some sea urchin spines on it and said “Fiddy Dolla”. And they wanted twice that much before they marked it half off. Sorry, but I just don’t get it. This is hardly art. No wonder I drink so much.
(Response from K.): I just bought some earrings from you with antique beads and I love them. YOU are an artist. Sounds like you are a little down. Got to look at the glass half full side of life. [parts unpublished to protect privacy] …, it’s taken me months to start feeling better and it takes work to get there. YOU have inspired me to purchase everything I need to set up my own silver jewelry studio, I’m getting my music midi studio set up, started playing my keyboards again after 10 years, have written 30 songs in the last 6 months. You inspire people with your work so please believe in the beauty of yourself because it comes through in your jewelry. Don’t worry about the junk…not relevant! Love you even though we’ve never met!
(Me): Wow! I’m truly overwhelmed! You brought tears to my eyes! I’ve spent all day trying to think of what to say. My son said, “I hope you saved that somewhere!”, which I have, and will cherish your comment forever. I am so touched by your candor, it is one of the best-best-best things anyone has ever said to me. In fact, I will be printing it out and putting it in my studio so I can read it whenever I need to.
I remember when I crashed and burned in 1994. It was 3 years before I went back into my studio, and I would sit there and literally force myself to make something, even if it was just to twist wire into a jumpring, with tears streaming down my face because it was like starting up an old rusty train engine. But it gets easier with time. It does take grit and determination and a will to thrive to overcome pain and wrenching loss, and the crippling atrophy it causes, and it sounds like you, K., have the momentum burning ardently enough to really burst through it now and shine.
So often I see stuff like that horrid necklace and wonder why I bother trying so hard, why care so much about trying to create something worthwhile and artistic when it’s the tripe that gets chosen to sell in the big catalogs, it’s the people with no talent that make all the money, and some days I feel like I am invisible and forever will be no matter what I do.
All I’ve ever wanted to do as an artist was to make a dent in the world with my art. To touch someone’s heart in a way that makes a difference, that changes a person, even just a little bit, so that their world becomes a better place. I don’t believe anyone has ever put it quite so succinctly before; letting me know that I have done just that. Thank you so very much!
And thank all of you out there who take the time to respond to my comments and rants. It really means a lot to me. I am truly honored, grateful, and happy to know you all.
For the past six months I was involved in a large project of creating bejeweled silver cuffs with prong-set gems for a client. It was a daunting project, I had never done anything like it before. Had rarely, in fact, ever prong-set a stone – just bezel settings, much less soldered these settings onto large sterling cuffs. What great practice for a season! Now I am completely comfortable soldering numerous settings on a piece and prong setting all sorts of gems.
This is why I love to take on custom work; it is not something I would normally design in my own work and frequently forces me to stretch my scope and learn new techniques – plus I get paid for learning and practicing.
You can see the bottom photo has just five stones on it. Each project got consistently more involved. By the time I was working on the last cuff in the above photo I was soldering on prong settings for 37 stones. Pretty awesome! Now I would love to make one for myself, but I’ll have to save up for that. On this last cuff the cost of the settings alone was about $150. This client supplied gems and sterling cuffs from her own massive collection; a bathtub full of gems.
I am truly blessed to be a successful working artist. Every once in a while it hits me. After creating jewelry professionally for over twenty years I think I can finally feel I have achieved my goal – to make a mark upon the world, and to touch peoples’ hearts with my gift.
Looking back at the shear magnitude of jewelry that I have produced over the years, each piece created with my own hands, is rather astonishing. Thousands upon thousands of pieces of sterling, gold, and copper jewelry strewn all over four continents of this planet. Pretty amazing.
I could not have chosen a more perfect career!
You know what I really think about where we originally came from? I hear about various theories of intelligent design, how we may have been planted on earth as some experiment, etc…
I think if we, as a human race, were part of anything greater than ourselves, such as some cosmic petrie dish experiment, whoever was in charge probably got drunk on duty and had to pee, and totally forgot to water us – being Earth in a petrie dish, and we inadvertently went to seed, or molded. We are the big cosmic joke, the swept under the rug forgotten experiment. Wouldn’t that be such an insipient slap to our human ego. We really don’t matter in the great “scheme” of things.
After moving to Montana in 2006, I found myself becoming creatively restless, wanting to reach deeper and unleash a more primal nature, a grittier creativity. By using my art to provocatively confront the uncomfortable feelings that force us to stare at a train wreck even though we want to look away, I feel that I am fulfilling my divine purpose, to touch people and change them in some way that they otherwise might not have achieved alone.
In my latest conceptual jewelry series, the Bullet Hole Collection, I capture an iconic symbol of violence [the bullet] in its precise moment of impact [the hole]. I use what is physically not present to convey movement and action, to tell a story by inference, like using an echo rather than the voice itself. In doing so I create an unsettling beauty in my jewelry with what many would consider to be an alarming, but very unique, choice of subject matter.