I have a bit of metal sculpture in my bedroom. One palm-sized, smooth, shiny, aluminum, elephant-headed Hindu god from India on the nightstand. Minimal design on a black wood base. None of that garish neon drapery and beads and vests and jewels and things. This Ganesha is not decked out in pink and yellow. The artist has restrained himself.
I do not believe in divinity, but I do believe in the beauty of metal. And a bit of decoration. A souvenir from a place.
And I wonder who made it, this small thing that I have, that I love.
Could I do it myself? Make a thing. Something to think.
Ganesha is the god of arts and letters, the god of new beginnings, and the remover of obstacles, among other things.
A new beginning would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?
But how to start again and do something different? Do I need to travel? Further/farther/where? Is it possible to become someone better? Something serious? Something like a man of arts and letters. I mean a person. (But beware “the eternal spectacle of becoming,” that’s what Nietzsche said.) There are so many things to consider. What about a magician? Who would have thought? What about a sculptor working with aluminum? Probably not.
Why not? I’d love to live in a loft with big windows and a view of the city. A bit of silver river nearby if I’m lucky. A space to work and a sense of purpose. Devotion and practice. As if in a temple. (Art as contemplation.) And then, in the end: one final, finished product. Proof of accomplishment. Proof of life.
But I need something small to fit inside the apartment I live in already. Something portable, personal. A kind of ornament.
My guide to style says there are ten pieces of jewelry every woman should own by the time she’s thirty-five. Things you can pull out night after night.
I have registered for a class called Jewelry and Metals. Beginners welcome.
I hope I’m not too late.
On the way to the metalsmithing workshop, in the subway, the car stops in a tunnel. An announcement comes on. “If you see something, say something.” But everyone is quiet. The car has gone dark. There is a monk in saffron robes. I saw him before in the light. There is a girl with a cherry blossom tattoo on her shoulder. But there are no more announcements. No statements. We move on.
At the next station, a passenger comes on with a song: ”There’s nothing you can’t do, now you’re in New York.” And then the music from the mariachi band starts up at the end of the car. People hanging on poles struggle to get out of the way of the small velvet men who will not be discouraged by bags and skateboards and canvases held together with string. Everyone has something.
There is a wizard with a wand, believe it or not.
I have the course catalog with the class description in my bag. I take it out and reread about Forging. Annealing. Drilling. Riveting. Bending. Breaking. What does it all mean?
Metalsmithing sounds serious, ancient, mysterious. It sounds dangerous. Maybe I’m mistaking it for alchemy.
My class meets on Friday nights in the middle of Manhattan, and I hope it will be glamorous.
Goggles and masks hang on hooks for the executioners. I see a rolling mill and a buffing machine. Punches and files. Large tree stumps in the middle of the room are used to form the metal and provide texture.
I try to remember: the beauty of a blank sheet and how I might shape it. That’s why I’ve come here.
I dream of the shine and the finish: the bangles and rings. Silver and gold.
Until the instructor startles me with small squares of copper. This is the material for our first project. Draw a design on the copper (using permanent markers, which last long enough, though not forever), then cut out that design with a saw.
We have to draw something with a hole, something easy like an oval—or something more intricate with curlicues, if we want, if we can. I can’t draw anything, so I come up with a circle, a doughnut, somewhat. (A cipher, a symbol.) It will be a pendant, maybe. (I already have the velvet cord at home.) And I hope that I will learn to love simple jewelry.
The saw blades we’ll be using are so thin that they look like strands of hair, and I have to use a magnifying glass to see which way the teeth are running.
After drawing on the copper, I drill one small hole inside my circle. The start of an opening. I thread the thin, thin saw blade through the copper. And try to begin.
But I can’t cut. I can’t move. My blade is caught.
Metal is harder than I thought.