Old Soldiers- by Erick Begay
Most people glancing down at a rusty piece of rebar lying in the dirt will not think anything of it and continue on with their day. And, there are some who pick up anything that shines or makes a clinking sound. I am of the latter. If it heavy and made of metal, the better. I find myself at yard sales haggling over a small piece of railroad track that can be used as an anvil, a pair of pliers that I will alter in some way, or a pulley from an old crane polished on one side (that one weighed 100+ lbs).
Us silversmiths usually have a stash of "good" steel stashed in their workshop (stored in a faded red Folger's coffee can from the 80's), consisting of: piston rods, files, rebar, chisels, sawblades, wrenches, concrete nails, etc. Our metal-radar is always on “ON”, looking to add to this metallic-menagerie. Show us a rusty worn-out file, we see potential.
I have such a stash of metal; some obscure pieces that are decades old from when I was kid, sitting in a coffee can with red iron dust caked on the bottom, each piece standing straight up, pressed together, like penguins protecting each other from the brunt of the wind. Their ends blunted and broken; sides chipped. The metal, grey and cold to the touch, once shiny only dulled by time.
In its prime, it was a tool for another purpose. Loved and taken care of, oiled on occasion; but over the years, it was used and worn out, only to be discarded in the dirt. Now found, it sits in a coffee can, a retired soldier in uniform. The steel is good steel.
Every now and then one of these soldiers is called back into service. Knocking off its rust, it has been waiting for this day.
The steel, since it is good steel, is worked with fire and flames, heated cherry-red to an angelic-white glow, filed and ground, sawed and etched. Heated and cooled. Heated and quenched. Heated and cooled. Round after round, like a retired boxer getting back into shape. Once completed, it is polished and ready. It is back to its fighting weight, ready for its triumphant return to the ring. If made correctly, it can take blow after blow without damage and last years, decades, forever.
These tools, formed out of lifeless grey cold steel, become our palette of colors and textures that we paint our world with. Their ultimate purpose: to leave their mark on the world, leaving only their impressions behind, like footprints in the sand. When used together, their footprints can lead to the treasures of the heart, creating a symphony of design crafted in silver.
And, what seems like a finished bracelet is much more than that. The finished jewelry is the end result of a vision: a vision that happened a long time ago when a young silversmith looked down at a rusty piece of metal, picked it up, studied it and then slipped it into his pocket knowing that the steel was hard and strong. It was good steel and one day it would make a fine new stamp.