What is it about the enigmatic hare? So many people resonate with this beautiful and iconic creature and sadly it is getting scarcer by the day.
At a young age, I had the good fortune to witness the spectacle of Mad March hares ‘boxing’ in the spring time. During Easter holidays, when a lie-in would have been welcome, I would get an excited nudge into consciousness by my mother. We would watch, bleary-eyed, the fighting take place in the slanting golden sunlight of dawn. The energy, agility and movement of these creatures cast powerful images in my memory.
In 1979 a book called ‘Masquerade’ by Kit Williams was published. I was twelve years old, full of creativity and curiosity (not much has changed) and the pages captivated me. Kit managed to weave together the jeweller’s craft, beautiful visual art, story-telling, the magic of poetry and the intrigue of a mysterious treasure hunt as a reward – all based on a golden hare! Without doubt this book influenced my career path.
Almost every major culture in the world has a myth or legend about hares – their fascinating charm and mystique is obviously widespread. For me, they simply conjure a sense of oneness with the scenery and landscapes that I love; meadows, mountains and farmland. They are Britain’s fastest land animal, leaping and turning with unrivalled agility. Hares are elusive – feeding at night or dusk and hiding low in long grasses that makes them seem to come and go from no-where. In ancient Chinese, Japanese and Aztec cultures and in the Buddhist Jãtaka tales, the hare is associated with the moon. If you look carefully at a full moon you can see for yourself the long ears of a sitting hare!
With my animal inspired jewellery, I aim to portray the movement and magic of the creature. When I think of an animal or bird, I don’t always instantly recall its physical details. What first comes to mind might be the pattern and flow of its flight or pace, a flash of colour, the gesture of a tail flick or leap for food, and it was no different with the hare.
My ‘Searching for You’, hare collection started with my art-work. I am rarely without a pencil and sketchbook, and when drawing people and animals I always start with a mark of movement. I tend to work in an instinctive and free way with a line to depict the core of the pose. Afterwards I try to translate this simplicity to my three dimensional designs (which have to be created more methodically without such instinctive and ‘free’ interpretation).
The movement that stands out for me with the hare, is its ‘leap’ – the length of stretched body and limbs at full speed and their clearance above the ground. I wanted to create something simple, distinctive and descriptive. On a purely practical point, a simple, easily repeated shape works well for reproducing items in a collection.
To make the hare figures I began by carving a series of tiny hares from wax – these would eventually be turned to precious metals. Wax carving is something I really enjoy. Although it is a very fragile material, wax yields easily to the scrapers and blades that I use. Textures and forms can be created more easily than in metal. Some of my prototype hares were too crude, others too heavy or looked like domestic rabbits after they’d raided the vegetable patch. There were several lost limbs at the last moment! Finally I came up with one that I was happy with.
When the wax is ready, it is enrobed in investment plaster. Once the plaster has set, the whole thing is tipped upside down and heated. The wax melts and drains out leaving a hare-shaped cavity. (quite appropriate given that in the wild the hare will rest and rear its young in a flattened nest of grass know as a ‘form’ ). Molten silver or gold is then poured into the cavity so producing a precious metal copy of the wax. The plaster is quenched and falls away in the water, then the tiny hare can be cleaned up and soldered into various forms of jewellery.
To produce numerous hare figures, a silver one needs to become the ‘master’. The master is used to make a rubber mould that can be filled numerous times with wax – so producing an infinite number of identical wax hares ready to be surrounded in plaster for the casting process.
The patterns of two hares leaping towards each other gave really interesting negative shapes, including a heart! I used this to create the Leaping Hares necklace and the ring – which is made in fair-trade silver or gold.
For the Hare in the Moon pendant I used a very simple hoop of gold or silver to represent the full moon – leaving the hare to leap through it.
The most recent hare commission I made was an engagement ring for a writer and his partner. It was wonderful to work with his true story of why hares were his chosen theme for the ring. The couple had watched boxing hares in the Scottish mountains, and shared a deep connection with wildlife and the landscape. I designed the surprise ring with an aquamarine as the centre stone. Its pale blue colour is a favourite of his partner and also her birth stone. The diamonds surrounding it added life and sparkle. The hares’ heads each side were carved and cast individually and I added the ears to flow around the shank.
Tension built during early February – I knew the ring was going abroad and the proposal was going to be on Valentines day! Would it end well? My customer loved the ring, but would his partner? And would she agree to be his wife?
I was so relieved to receive the following words from him. A perfect ending!
“I proposed on bended knee alongside a Bruges canal during our Valentine’s getaway.
Of course she said yes! She adores the ring. The subtle hare design adds something none of the rings we saw in the windows of Chester’s jewellers. It’s a beautiful piece that is uniquely her. Uniquely hare, you could say.”