I’m not producing many finished pieces in my workshop right now. I’m in a playing phase. I collect materials and make components without any idea of what I am going to do with them. I solder things together, and try different patina formulas and techniques that are new to me. At some point, I’ll plan out a project using what I’ve learned. Sometimes I even make something I like. Maybe. Or maybe I start all over. But since I’m playing and having fun it’s ok.
I don’t have to worry too much the cost of materials because I get a lot of them from sidewalks and house sales. When I something interesting that could work as part of a jewelry design I grab it if I can. (Assuming it’s not someone’s hood ornament or something.) I’ve become more selective as my collection has grown which is a good thing. I don’t want to be a mindless collector of domestic detritus and end up on a reality show about hoarding crafters. Most of my metal is reclaimed electrical wire, and brass and copper that had previous lives as plumbing or refrigerator parts, kitchen ware and the like. I’ve bought more than one brass tray at a garage sale for next to nothing and used it for jewelry. I understand that this is now the “in” thing to do, but it’s frugal too. That’s why I started doing it.
Which brings me to the Infant of Prague and his role in my jewelry making inspiration. (If you are confused, feel free to continue reading.)
I was at a flea market and saw the crown you see in the picture above. When I asked the guy who was selling it (along with other assorted piles of junk) how much it was, he responded with a question. (Don’t you hate it when people do that?)
“You ever hear of the Infant of Prague?”
“The Infant of Prague, ” I repeated to myself . . “Infant of –
All of a sudden, cars screeched to a to a halt. Dogs stopped barking, children stopped playing. The earth’s rotation stopped (OK, it probably didn’t, but it seemed like it) while I had a flashback to my childhood. Memories of dark churches, smoky incense, tall ornate statues and ill-tempered Nuns in ankle-length habits started flooding my brain. I could hear the ethereal tones of a Gregorian chant off in the distance-and bells. I swear I could hear bells.
Let me explain. I suffered through twelve years of Catholic school. That included forced conscription into the annual May Procession, Stations of the Cross, and choir practice. My suffering took on a whole new meaning when I attended church Wilkes Barre Pennsylvania where I had relatives. Wilkes-Barre had been a destination for many Catholic immigrants from Eastern Europe. It seems like there was a church on every corner (What do I mean “seemed? There was a church on every corner) where one could hear Mass in the native tongue be it Ukrainian, Croatian, Slavic, Czech, or any dialect or sub dialect. And there were there touches of scary and exotic (to me) Eastern Europe in the rituals, ceremonies, vestments and church statuary. The immigrants brought their special icons and saints with them-St. Barnabas, St. Olaf - Saints we didn’t read about much at my school where mostly everyone was of Irish descent (and all the boys worshiped the Notre Dame football team; what’s up with that anyway? My husband is Jewish and he sure doesn’t tear up the living room sofa when Brandeis takes the field. Am I missing something?) There was nothing very exotic about my Catholic school in New Jersey- especially after Vatican II. Tedious yes. Painfully tedious. Exotic-no. Going to church in Wilkes Barre was tedious too, but at least the churches were exotic; the relics of ancient tradition and worship were very important in to the immigrant congregations Northeast Pennsylvania. And one of them was the Infant of Prague.
The Infant of Prague entered my life when someone gave my cousin an Infant of Prague doll. It sat on a dresser in his room covered in plastic to keep the dust off its lace and brocade robes. The Infant clutched an orb which looked like a softball that someone had stabbed with a crucifix. I was fascinated. But we weren’t allowed to play with the Infant who spent all his time up on the dresser staring at us. It was only when I reached adulthood that I released he was spying for my Grandmother.
I always wanted pry the orb from the Infant’s hand and try to roll it across the floor like a bowling ball. I never did, but it was tempting. To this day I am certain that if I had done so, I would have gone straight to hell when I died. It was only the likelihood of my Grandmother creating a hell on earth for me if I got caught that saved my mortal soul. Maybe. We were Catholic after all and as that famous Catholic George Carlin said, “It was a sin to wanna.” And I sure did wanna.
When my niece was about three, one of her grandmothers gave her a quilted nylon bathrobe that came down to her ankles. You know-the kind you wear on Christmas morning and take to the hospital when you have your tonsils out. When she first put it, on I burst out laughing because she reminded me of the Infant of Prague. (The John Waters version from his movie Multiple Maniacs.) I shared my opinion with her parents and maybe that’s the reason I was never-never mind. By now you must be wondering what this has to do with inspiration and making jewelry. That must mean that we have reached the end of the flashback and need to get back to the flea market to see what happens next.
“Yes,” I gulped to the man with the piles of junk for sale. “I have heard of the Infant of Prague.”
‘Well, this here is from a statue of the Infant of Prague”, he explained handing the crown to me. “I don’t know what happened to the rest of it. You can have it for fifty cents.”
“Sold American!” I hooted, fishing two quarters out of my pocketbook. I took my prize home and tried to put it on the cat’s head and take his picture, but Plumpton was having none of it.
The Infant’s crown now sits on the top shelf of my jeweler’s bench. I think it’s brass. I’ve already used one of the pieces as part of an embellishment. But since it is the crown of the Infant of Prague, I can’t waste it on just anything. So there it sits waiting for the right project.