The Sovereignty of Leaves

지난달

Every year, come Autumn, I always marvel at the preparations Nature has taken. Tiny buds; ready wrapped for Spring, all aligned on tree branches. If you look at the base of an autumn leaf stem, you’ll see them huddling there. They’re also perched, rather humbly on the tips of branches. These buds will sleep through Winter and unfurl as leaves or flowers come Spring.

Every year Spring poses a very difficult challenge for me. Every plant comes forth in an explosion of being new born. The little buds that remained dormant on their stalks unfurl in a symphony of green. Saplings push themselves up into the sky at a tremendous pace. Flowers bloom, insects return in myriad species, this busy time is growth in overdrive. So here’s the challenge: If I stay at my workbench too long, I’ll miss the growth evolution of several plants. If I go outside and truly indulge myself in witnessing the sheer drive and productivity of this part of the yearly cycle with abandon, I get very little work done and feel like the laziest laggard in the universe by comparison. And when I do the latter, it whisks me back to the workshop after 2 days in a frenzy of inspiration and then I’m locked away for the rest of the season producing all sorts of things inspired.

The only thing I can do is restrain myself; pinch off an hour or so, every day, to go for a walk. This is the only method that allows me to be productive and participate marginally in the awesomeness that is Spring. Regular routes hold fresh rewards every time and I’m never at a point of not marvelling constantly at all the different leaf shapes, flowers, colours and scents. There’s more than enough to inspire and I’ll often pause to visually analyse and deconstruct the architecture of flora. Contemplating how I can contain a perfect curve extending into a line. How to draw out the folds and softness in nature from hard metal. How to reduce the complex into its most simple shape without losing its authentic value through reduction.

The Leaf pendant is one such a piece that allowed me to capture the brilliant simplicity of the leaf structure. It is a leaf in its most basic shape, no serrated or lobed edges, no variegation. Just curves and some lines that embellish the surface with leaf vein patterns. From the mixing of alloys to the final polish, it’s entirely handmade: pierced from hand rolled sterling silver plate and soldered onto a backplate, filed and polished. Enamelled with a beautiful transparent green.
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It’s a design that I’ve altered slightly and reused in the Seasons Ring, which shows the transition of leaf colours through Spring, Summer and Autumn, through the use of enamel.
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The “Leaves of Grass” pendant was inspired by the delicate structure of new born grass blades. It was a challenging piece in the soldering department, as the blades of grass that were shaped out of sterling silver plate, were rather thin and tiny and holding them under a soldering flame for too long could easily result in them melting together in a clump. But at the same time, the heat had to stay on long enough for the solder to melt and join it to the rest of the structure. In this way, solid metal became as fragile as the actual blade of grass it is meant to depict. Thankfully, the painstaking care I took paid off and no mishaps occurred.

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While I was soldering, I was reminded of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and thought it to be the perfect title for the piece. I went and got my Walt Whitman book out from the shelf, looked up “Song of Myself” and read :

“A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? … I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners,
that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.”

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And if leaves and grass are the babes of vegetation, I guess we are the children of leaves, for without their existence, we would not have come into being. The first leaf bearing plants are reckoned to have come into existence on earth 410 million years ago, with algae like plants estimated at 1 billion years ago. During the Devonian Period, leaves with a complex network of veins were a necessary step of plant evolution because of the reduced levels of atmospheric CO2. This adaptation enabled plants to optimise their CO2 intake needed for photosynthesis. These megaphylls with their larger surface areas and vein networks became highly effective miniature solar panels, changing the evolutionary path of terrestrial plants. This, in turn, had a profound effect on the rest of the planet, influencing water, oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, the exchange of these between land and atmosphere and the cycling of nutrients. Their shapes vary to this day from the tropics to the tundras. They provided food for the first insects and the first synapsids and reptiles. "The evolution of herbivory was revolutionary to life on land because it meant terrestrial vertebrates could directly access the vast resources provided by terrestrial plants," “These herbivores in turn became a major food resource for large land predators." palaeontologist Robert Reisz. And millions of years later, the evolution of mammals and herbivorous megafauna gave our human ancestors a tremendous advantage. Our brains would not have grown without the meat that these herbivores provided.

This undeniable dominance and vast contribution to life on Earth gave rise to the Globus Folium pendant. The concept of this piece is based on the Globus Cruciger (the cross bearing orb or the Sovereign’s Orb); which is an ancient symbol of authority and part of Royal regalia symbolising Christ’s dominion (cross) over the world (orb). In the case of the Globus Folium, I thought it fitting to combine leaves and an orb to symbolise the rule of nature as that which governs all life on Earth.

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You can find these pieces on my website: https://stefaniedonau.com/. All of them are made by hand (by me)- from weighing and mixing the alloy to the final polish.

Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read.
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