Jewelry Vignettes – Mami Wata

Leaping Heart Jewelry, Mami Wata Pendant 2016

The piece you see above welled up out of me before I knew what was happening.  I was wax carving and carving and carving and before I knew it, this piece appeared.  I instantly knew it was finished although I did not know what it was.  At first I thought it was a heart and then I thought it was influenced by modern sculpture. But none of that felt right.  Then I realized I was carving something deeply ingrained in the Diasporan psyche.  Long before contemporary commercial reinterpretations of Danish folklore, ( I carved this piece back in 2016), I had carved a symbol of Mami Wata, the mermaid’s tail. 

Dona Fish, Ovimbundu, Angola
Midcentury, Photo Don Cole

Mami Wata is a positive and powerful figure in African and African descendent religions and cultures.  A vain deity, often depicted with a mirror and a snake,  she is the bearer of good fortune and spiritual wellbeing. To some she is the bearer of fertility and guardian of all things jewelry related. (Now it all makes sense).

Yemaya, La Sirene

Her existence stems back to Dogon creation theory (the Nommo) and she is worshipped throughout the Caribbean and South America, particularly in Vodun (as  La Sirene, and also  associated with Erzulie) and in Santeria as Yemaya.

Jewelry Vignettes – The Clenched Fist

The closed hand is a powerful and polysemous symbol. It has multiple meanings for various regions and groups.  Whether the right hand or the left hand is closed, holding something, stylized or pointing, the clenched fist evokes powerful feelings or messages for the user. 

The clenched fist in the American context has been associated with the Black Power movement as spearheaded by Black Panthers during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Indeed the iconic photo from the 1968 Olympics, of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, American Track and Field Olympians, raising their clenched fists to symbolize unity and Black Power during the awards ceremony during the playing of the US national anthem, evoked both ire and pride within the US.  The clenched fist has been a symbol of power, resistance and solidarity for centuries.

John Carlos, Tommie Smith, 1968 Olympics in Mexico City

The clenched fist as a symbol of power and resistance to oppression was popularized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) as early as 1920 in Oregon  and was also expressed as an anti-fascist salute during the Spanish Civil war (1936-1939).  The earliest known European depiction of a raised clenched fist meant to show resistance or solidarity is shown in  French painter, Honore Daumier’s  1860 painting, “The Uprising“ .

In the African context, many “port d’bonheur” or fetish statuettes from Central and West Africa are used to invoke power and destroy evil.  These figurines, nkisi or nkondo, have been created and ritually employed since at least the 1700s.   Implanted nails, blades and twigs are used to activate the spirits and make manifest the desires of the conjurers.  Statues deemed most powerful are those with a raised closed hand especially if carrying a weapon.

Nkonde from DR Congo (formerly Zaire)

Earlier manifestations of the power of the fist derive from pre-dynastic Egypt.  The two gods Horus and Anubis, posed kneeling and giving the salute of reverence and of resurrection (the Henu position) to the rising sun date back to 3100 BCE.

The clenched fist, is an ancient symbol of action, power, solidarity and praise.  It predates modern symbols of the Abrahamic religions.   While there are many more 19th and  20th century examples of the application  of this symbol, it is important to understand the ancient roots of it.

This is an ongoing work, Any mistakes are my own.


  1. British Museum, Collection Online Museum Number EA11498
  3. Resurrection salute sign of the Ancient Egyptians and the 2 mysterious souls, Antoine, Gigal
  5. Nkisi figures of the lower Congo by Zdenka Volavkova – RAND AFRICAN ART
  6. Egyptian Mythology, A to Z, Remler, Pat
  11. Henri A. Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods, University of Chicago Press 1978
  12. George Hart, The Routledge Dictionary Of Egyptian Gods And Goddesses, Routledge 2005
  15. The Fist Photos: on the polysemy of the fist, Seravalle, Francesca
  16. Anubis, Upwawet, and Other Deities: Personal Worship and Official Religion , Terence DuQuesne

Jewelry Vignettes – Texture

This is the first in a series of musings on jewelry, culture, and adornment and well, basically anything and everything. I will call them Jewelry Vignettes.

Texture is an important characteristic of diasporic jewelry.  The Tuareg wedding bracelets below use granules and bosses to create texture and value to artistic effect. Texture influences Leaping Heart Jewelry just as it has informed global jewelry through the ages. Did you notice the geometric hallmark on the inside of the bracelet on the left? It is the mark of a proud craftsman.

Tuareg Wedding Bracelets purchased by the author in Timbuktu, Mali, 1997.

I am looking for a similar but subtle effect in my charm bracelet. I wanted to evoke the romantic imagery and sentiments of silvery moonlight in the desert, without the fatigue, hard work and desert sickness that comes from getting there! So I chose a bossing texture using 14k yellow and rose gold granules, a craggy texture to remind me of the dusty, rocky roads on the journey there, the irregular roundness of the hand made links and the mother of pearl to remind me of the moon on the desert sands. I used steel wool to bring out the soft gleam of sterling silver and did not, as I usually do in my work, apply liver of sulfur patination. I wanted that mesmerizing silver gleam.

Jewelry and adornments should be meaningful. One should have a reason to make or purchase and wear a piece of jewelry. Someone else’s concept of fast fashion is insufficient and to succumb to such notions is wasteful. Save the resources for something real, something to cherish. That’s all.

Charm Bracelet by Leaping Heart Jewelry

Slow Jewelry

I am smitten by the “slow” movement.  I have always had crunchy granola tendencies.  I  love birds and woodland creatures.  At our house, there is a chipmunk that feels free to scurry in through the open back slider door and help itself to tasty dog kibble and whatever else the dogs and kids leave everywhere.   It doesn’t bother me too much, so I just let it be.  I live in the woods and have given up on fighting back nature.  I have  transformed our property into a permaculture homestead, as best I could but landscaping is not an inexpensive endeavor and takes time.  I try to eat local and low on the food chain, but running the kids around for various sports and after-school activities unfortunately means, some fast food meals creep into my lifestyle.   I try to do my part to help save the planet, solar panels, cutting off lights, etc..etc.   After all, who doesn’t want to do their part to save the planet?  (Well, I can think of a few who don’t seem to care …but let’s  just move on.)    But for all my green efforts,  I work in an industry, that relies on mining the raw materials for its eye-catching and sparkly products.

The modern jewelry industry, like the fashion industry, produces new product at an alarming,  even wasteful rate.   I won’t be a jewelry snob and claim that there is a lot of crappy jewelry being made.   That wouldn’t be fair.   But no matter one’s tastes, there is simply too much consumption.  Economic development  is not unlimited.  There actually are limits to growth especially if you like trees, abundant species of animals, clean air, flowers and green spaces like I do.  I take comfort in knowing that the jewelry I make is respectful of the planet.  I use recycled materials when possible and I do not make a gazillion pieces that are going to wind up in a garbage bin or expending energy to be smelted.  I handmake each piece, so my process is necessarily “slow.”  You  will  not “see yourself coming”  because of mass prouction.   The jewelry I make is meant to last a long time and to be passed down through generations.  I am hoping it will not be wasted or be considered wasteful.  There are a lot of jewelry choices out there, but please consider  that from a resources allocation perspective, you can feel as good about purchasing my jewelry as I feel about making it.


Leave Your Rocks at the Bottom of the Hill

We have a New Year upon us.  The New Year, 2013, is still young and feels fresh.  As we are all well aware, the beginning of the year is a good time to start over, rethink old goals, craft new ones, or to simply reflect.

While thinking about life recently, I realized I am trying too hard in some areas and not hard enough in others.  Perhaps I am spreading myself too thin.  We can all be guilty of this.  So in the spirit of a fresh start, in some areas of my life I am going to refuse to be like Sisyphus.

Sisyphus as you probably know, was the king from Greek mythology doomed to push a large rock up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down the hill just as it seemed he was going to finally get it to the top. I won’t go into the full story but  suffice it to say, Sisyphus got what he deserved.

We all have our difficult rocks. But not everyone pushing metaphorical rocks uphill deserves or needs to.  I know I don’t.   I am going for the rocks that are pretty, like rubies, emeralds  and sapphires, the rocks that are awe inspiring like moonstones, carnelian and garnets.    I am leaving alone those rocks that are unnecessarily difficult and unpleasant to move.

In short, I am going to have even more fun this year.  For me, that means designing and creating  beautiful, unique jewelry, learning from some wonderful jewelry masters in classes and workshops, creating with friends and writing about the jewelry trade.  For me, no more uphill boulders, only boulder opals!

So in this already exuberant and history making New Year, I have chosen to leave ornery and unpleasant rocks at the bottom and I am walking away from the hill.  May you do the same.

Have a Happy New Year!

Pretty Rocks

Pretty Rocks

The Holiday Spirit

I was in a bead store yesterday, painstakingly choosing cabs.  It takes me a while.  I like to think about how the cabochon feels and the quality of the stone and the implication of the colors and frankly if the stone suits my style. It takes even longer if I have to match a set. The shop closed at 5pm and as that “Miller Time” hour approached, the shop keeper got more and more curt and started hurrying me along. I would have purchased more but the shop was closing.  I had to respect that. I left on time and was very polite but I will remember the sour taste in my mouth as I was leaving.

I suppose the point of this particular musing  is to remind us all to try to stay positive and friendly in this stressful Holiday season.  I once had a VP I worked for at a not-for-profit  tell me, and i am paraphrasing, “at any given moment, people are just trying to do their best”.    That saying has stuck with me.  It tells me to give people the benefit of the doubt and that we are all human.  It’s a nice sentiment, so I will repeat it.   At any given moment, people are just trying to do their best.  Remember that the next time someone in the shops, or anywhere else for that matter,  is less than friendly.  We humans  are all just trying to do our best.

Happy and Peaceful Holidays to Us All

Malachite Ring

Malachite shield ring

Malachite shield ring

This is what I do.

And this too…

Jasper Necklace cropped