My father Richard Souligny, now 75, is a retired working-class goldsmith. He was born in 1943 and raised in small-town Minnesota. In the late 1970’s, after the navy, college, and teaching internationally he began to call Tucson, Arizona his home. In the mid 1980’s he settled into the house he lives in now, where he converted the car-port into his studio.
Over his career, he has designed and fabricated likely in the thousands of individual pieces of jewelry. You can see pictures of the inside of his studio and some of his work in this post. His work is wholly unique. He never clamored to join the design cannon, or enter contests, but rather he practiced the craft earnestly, and blazed his own design trails. No dimension of the ring itself, as you can see in these few examples, is off-limits as a design space or repository for sparkling colorful gemstones.
Recently, while my father and his friend stepped out of the house for coffee, in broad daylight, his studio was burglarized. In a matter of a few minutes, the thieves emptied my father’s safe of a lifetime of his personal jewelry creations, artifacts, supplies, and his nest egg. What took minutes to steal took a lifetime to create and collect and is quite simply irreplaceable.
I admire my father’s designs, and more than that, I admire that he is a champion of the full process of goldsmithing, from wax to casting, metallurgy to stone setting, drawing to macro film photography. All of this, very humbly, just off the kitchen of the house, three steps from the coffee maker. He took on complex projects year after year, raising the bar for himself, and burned the late-night oil to complete them. He also made time to share his process and knowledge with others and made his services accessible to friends and family members without regard to their ability to pay him. He is still, to me, a mystical creator from hobbit land, and his studio is a lair of creation, stories,artifacts, and special tools where he plies his fiery craft. This is probably one of the reasons I have always dreamed of finishing my own wood shop to create in and share with others, as I observed my father doing over the years. “The Studio” is a place you want to be.
For people who create three-dimensional arts, it is the orchestration of our hands, minds, our senses and our tools that help manifest our creations. Some create for themselves with readily available materials. Others work in rare medium, and unless wealthy themselves, have the added and unique relationship with the commissioner, who brings the precious raw material, the gems, the blank wall, the acre of land to the skilled crafts person or artist, and the two enable the project, hopefully to a copacetic conclusion.
Artists often create and produce the things they know they can sell, to make a living, and in that, they are honing their skills. But other personal projects lay dormant within them, waiting for the time and resources to emerge. For a goldsmith, these things might rest in the safe. Saved for another day, for a special person, for posterity, for the dream deferred.
As I sat at Sterling College yesterday, sharpening woodcarving knives for the spoon making class, I listened to an old man and a young man sitting next to me as they talked with each other. The old man was giving an account of the time he loaded a large piece of American Hop-hornbeam into his furnace, and nearly burned down the house due to his ignorance of its extremely high BTU value. It made me think of my father’s aging kiln, and how he monitored it carefully as he burned out a wax, for fear of burning down the house, and how difficult it was to stay awake all the hours of the process.
I’ve seen a lot of different derelict and abandoned work spaces in New England, corners of barns where work took place essential to the lives of people. In some the tools hang on the nail in a cobweb, in the very place where someone last placed it 100 years earlier.
When we visited Scapoli, Italy recently, we went in the shop of maybe the very last Italian bagpipe maker, which lies in the recesses of an abandoned castle. Another magical place that time is forgetting. And I wonder, historically, if time is perpetually forgetting craft, art, design, then remembering it again in its twilight, the twinkle in the eyes of young spoon makers, poets, blacksmiths, basket weavers, soap makers, gold smiths. The old timers sitting by young and enthusiastic individuals who are asking question after question, seeking the insight of a lifetime of practice from the expert.
For the working class goldsmith, the ring made for the patron becomes the property, and heirloom, of the patron’s family. The bread and butter derived from the work of the goldsmith was eaten long ago. The goldsmith’s personal gain was in experience, solving a new problem, expressing a new idea, facing and overcoming a new challenge, and the secret stories of near disaster. And perhaps there is the glory, in the revealing of the finished piece, the pride. The goldsmith can also squirrel away the gold dust and the trades, the amalgamation of which can become the rings for his daughter and the two sons, and the grandchildren, who are the keepers of the story of the goldsmith, more so than the goldsmith’s patrons.
So here you can see what someone received, and the place where it was created, and, back at the top, the young man whose decades of experiences culminated into these creations.
Value is a matter of perception, in the context of one’s reality. The reality of the goldsmith is in contrast to the reality of the thieves who robbed him, although they are copacetic at that moment. Truly, since all of our lives are so ephemeral that any importance we attach to our own, other than the importance of caring for one another, is really egotism by definition. In this context, life itself, our ability to live, to breathe again and again, to sleep and wake up another day, is simply more important than the things in the safe. Even these beautiful irreplaceable things.
This is simply because living for another day is not living today.