Of Human Hand and Fire
Teresa Janssen on Russell Jaqua's Leafwing and the blooming of spring.
I have been walking a lot these days. The trail near my home meanders southeast beneath a forest of conifer, big-leaf maple and alder. On a dark winter day, I follow the path for three miles until the trees gradually recede and I emerge at a bluff overlooking salt water. A biting wind whooshes over the headland as I descend toward the beaches of Port Townsend Bay.
Then I see it, tucked in near the cliff. Leafwing rises like a praying woman from the yellow grasses—earth-brown, ornamented, confident, full of grace. I wade through the grass to stand nearer. Though constructed of cold steel, its organic curves stretch like an exuberant goddess petitioning the leaden sky, exuding possibility. Created at the bequest of a dying woman who loved her community and installed a week before its sculptor, Russell Jaqua, died in June of 2006, Leafwing breathes hope into winter gloom.
Jaqua, artist-blacksmith, was introduced to metalsmithing while trading beads and making jewelry in Liberia, after serving in Vietnam. In Liberia, iron oxide is thought of as the earth’s blood. Forging iron is considered an act of birthing. Though blacksmithing had nearly become extinct in the U.S., upon returning home he learned the craft at the Penland Craft School and honed his skills at his Port Townsend forge. Jaqua became a prominent leader and mentor in the New American Iron Age.
I shield myself from another gust and gaze up at the steel plates. Equally industrial and delicate, they extend above the arching beams, now like the feathers of a phoenix. After this pandemic, we will spread our wings again and migrate to a new place. Spring will return. We will be birthed again.
I turn towards home, uplifted by the promise of human hand and fire.
Teresa H. Janssen is an essayist who is most at home walking the forests and beaches of Puget Sound.
Leafwing was unveiled in June 2006 and stands 16 feet tall by 9 feet wide. Jaqua sculpted the piece after seeing birds take flight from the Wildlife Corridor.