Artist: Jennifer McCaw, Slocan Valley, BC, Canada
The night air is still warm on my skin. Crickets sing in symphony as my sister, mother, and I carry a quilt to the middle of my grade six school yard. Laying the blanket down, we stretch out on our backs. It's August in the semi-desert of my upbringing, and the night sky is void of clouds. We've barely settled in when a light streaks across the sky. Then another! We oooohhhh and aah and laugh. My mother loves watching the stars, and it was a yearly tradition to watch the Perseid meteor shower dazzle the heavens. Just as we would also look outside on the coldest winter nights for northern lights, these traditions connected me to the stars and the magic of the cosmos.
Traveling around in a camperized van every summer was a tradition of Jennifer McCaw's family. From the time she was a small child, her family would stay at campgrounds while exploring sacred sites and geological areas of interest throughout Canada and the US. Her grandparents were rock hounds, and her parents were both geologists, so a love of rocks and gemstones is deeply imprinted on her DNA.
Staying in campgrounds every summer also meant that Jen grew up with ample access to the outdoors and the unadulterated night sky. Since the age of eleven, when she first learned about constellations, she's been keenly interested in the stars. Even on cold nights, hours could go by just watching the sky. Today Jen says it's like meditating. Like watching a candle, the flicker of the distant stars cultivate a trance-like effect. After a while, Jen would feel herself leaving her body and moving closer to the stars. Or was it that the stars were compressing space and time and reaching down to her? Either way, those summer nights solidified a deep connection and love of celestial entities and their dance through the heavens.
Today Jen creates jewelry that connects its wearers to the cosmos. Using fine quality gold and silver, and precious and semi-precious gemstones, she crafts unique pieces that look and feel like objects from space. Maps of constellations are punched into ring bands and pendants. Gemstones, sometimes even meteorites, are set in ways that suggest planetary bodies moving through space. Small stones are set in relation to larger ones to convey moons and stars. The backsides of some pendants are hammered as to create a textured look of the Milky Way. Other pendants have the back of the setting cut out so that when the piece is raised to admire the constellations, light can pass freely through the stone and illuminate its textural dimension and spectrum of color. Some rings and pendants are even kinetic in design – where the planets and moons orbit each other via the addition of swivels, magnets, and rivets. These pieces are meant to engage the wearer, much like a fidget spinner would. From time to time stars are secretly added to the hidden parts of a piece and are a surprise for the curious. These details encourage the wearer to play with the jewelry. They help cultivate a curiosity for both the elements of the design, and for the wearer's relationship to the stars.
When the Neowise comet was visible from her farm in the Slocan Valley in the summer of 2020, Jen made a few pendants that commemorated the comet. Around the same time, she became interested in the signage used on rockets and probes. She imagined all the space junk – broken off pieces of rocket bodies and long dead satellites - floating aimlessly and quietly in Earth's orbit. Each piece marking a moment in the story of man kind learning to leave its nest. Jen now includes the name of the visible comet at the time of making as a letter-number code on hidden areas of her jewelry. “I always look at what is happening in the sky when I make work....I like the idea of marking the visible comet as a type of dating of the work, as well as a secret message to the wearer, who can google the mark and discover what was happening when the work was made.” Memorializing cosmic events, while imagining her work living on far into the future, the markings become an esoteric language to future generations.
Jen often dreams of pieces of jewelry before she's created them. The idea of the star maps came from a dream where she saw a specific pendant. Since then she's kept exploring and stretching the concept of adorning a map that positions the wearer in relationship to the universe. With each new piece the connection to the stars and her materials becomes more profound. “I sit down with a stone and we come up with a design together. The gemstones tell me what kind of setting, as well as the type of jewellery they want to be, and often which constellation to pair with them. I like to start with a circle... as most things in space are roundish, and I build up from there.” Kinetic pieces require more sketching and planning, and astronomical pieces require researching of the celestial event as well as uncovering which stones would best represent the bodies involved. Lapis lazuli for Earth, andamooka opal for a galaxy, raw pyrite for a comet. Each completed piece is then left outside for a night to collect star dust and moonshine. Imbued with these dreams, intentions, and energies, her jewellery graduates to the realm of magical talismans. Beautiful ornaments that are also map and compass, and generators of higher vibrations.
Using the star maps she's punched into ring bands and pendants as a way to help position the wearer in relationship to the night sky, Jennifer is asking us to contemplate our position in the universe. Her pieces are beautiful reminders that we're all just tiny creatures, hurtling through space together on a little, round rock. Thank you for following your dreams and sharing your beautifully layered work with us, Jen!
To see more of Jen's jewelry, visit her website:
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If, like Jen, you're curious about celestial navigation, and want to learn about other cultures that have used this form of position fixing, maybe you would be interested in the learning about the Polynesian wayfinders.
All photos shown in this article are taken by Jennifer McCaw, shown below.
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