Too many people are currently enmeshed in that red-n-green grab of obligatory gift giving, which I usually avoid by being mildly antisocial and retreating to the mountains. Yet now I want jewelry & want to give it...I want to put my oven on 315 degrees and tell the whole world to “Bake This!!!”
That I covet anything is the fault of my best friend Kris Mills. Blame her. She has combined the veritably Cro-Magnon tradition of the necklace with a 1973 development by a pair of boyscout moms: Kris puts shrinkydinks in finely crafted silver settings.
If you don’t remember shrinkydinks
, you are SOL (sorely out of luck). Suffice it to imagine this: tracing your favorite cartoon character on a slightly cloudy sheet of plastic, then coloring it, popping it in the oven, and watching the plastic get hot and translucent and begin to furl up “like a dead cockroach, legs in the air all twisted rigomortis” (according to Kris) and then, wa-lah, the whole image flattens back out to a hardened clear image of the imaginary icon, compressed into about a third of the original size.
Dense, gorgeous, alchemical process. What Kris is doing is downright sterling—combining child’s play and adult adornment. So what am I supposed to do with my persnickety anti-holiday spirit when my rock-solid-diamond-cohort is making high art out of the lowest materials?
I feel helpless, helpless enough I almost care about Hans Holbein
. Kris credits Hans with the idea of minature wearable portraiture, back when “families would send portraits of the betrothed ‘infanta’ to the suitor who was likely three times her age and may not give a rat’s ass about anything other than her stature.”
If Kris made a lion and a peace sign when she was little—and I have a pretty clear memory of tracing a Flinstones character—thankfully her content has evolved and not simply to direct emulation of princessature.
Kris draws the “hoi polloi.”
“Who the heck are the hoi polloi?” I ask.
Regular people. Average. Ordinary. Fretting. Sleepy. Nail-biting. Bra-wearing. Recently arrested for shoplifting or prostitution. The unwashed antithesis of royalty. And suddenly I understand why she is drawing mug shots of women from the 20’s, advertisements from the 30’s, regular teenage girls from her mother’s yearbooks dating to the 40’s and 50’s. Form and content merge perfectly: the ordinary life the bulk of us get to live is celebrated with the finest metalwork.
The mundane is elevated to rank of pearl or opal or diamond. And it deserves to be.
When I think about shrinkydink jewelry, what really pleases me, is the nostalgia, the childhood pleasure returning to adult life, the rainy-afternoon activity reinvigorated in the imagination. What I like is knowing that my dear friend is up at dawn baking shrinkydinks.
Emerson writes: “Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”
Kris may not have kept the first lion and peace sign she baked in an oven as a child, but she kept her faith in the value of play, the value of simple joy—both of which I feel just fine about coveting, even during the glut of holiday spirit.
[You can see Kris Mill’s line of silver, bronze, and copper shrinkydink jewelry in Mariposa Gallery
in Nob Hill.]