April’s Fish

In France April Fool’s is called Poisson d’avril, April’s fish. The French fool their friends by taping a paper fish onto their friends’ backs. This year for April Fool’s day I made myself a silver fish– a 925 sterling silver fish.


This was my first venture into jewelry making. For my birthday, my artsy friend Johanne (see my blog Johanne Weibrenner an Artist of All Trades) gave me a gift certificate that entitled me to go to her house and make a piece of silver jewelry, private lesson, materials, and jovial conversation included.

Johanne suggested that I begin practicing my cutting, soldering and filing skills by making a copper ring. I worked with some etched copper scraps that she had recuperated from Atelier Circulaire, our printmaking studio. I worked away until I fashioned what to my surprise actually looked like a ring.


My coach graduated me to silver. I decided to make a fish pendant. Johanne taught me how to shape silver wire, how to hammer it flat, how to cut pieces out of a silver sheet, and how to saw pieces. Sawing without breaking the thin blade is an art I have yet to master. Johanne guided me, “You’re applying too much pressure, ease up, always remember less is more!” She was very precise with instructions, “Saw like you’re playing violin…no, the cello!” I have never played either instrument but somehow this piece of advice worked because at one point it really felt as if I was cutting through butter.


Soldering was a challenge to say the least. During our first session, (my one session became two) we used a torch that shot a mighty dragon flame. For my second session Johanne had equipped herself with an ultra sophisticated jeweler’s torch with two valves, one for regulating oxygen, the other for propane. I loved using this device. Johanne was thrilled that the old one had now been relegated to the role of burning crème flambé. My fish turned out to be a complex project with many pieces so I got plenty of practice using the new torch.


This winter in New York I saw a fabulous Calder jewelry exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. Most of the pieces featured a hammered surface. I tried my hand at pounding the middle strips of my fish with a ball pein hammer, to mock a scale texture.


By far my very favorite step was polishing my finished piece. As I child I used to love polishing our household silverware with Twinkle silver polish. Polishing with a mechanical polisher, with special paste, turned out to be double the fun. It didn’t get done in one shot; it happened in three progressive stages, with electrolyte baths in between (for my fish, not for me.)


At one point, as I was polishing I remembered visiting a silver mine in Potosi, Bolivia in 1992. A guide led my husband and I into the mine. Wearing a helmet and clutching my propane lamp I followed them into the obscure depths of that underground universe. We stopped at an altar where offerings of flowers had been made to protect the miners. The silver miners, who sometimes work up to ten hours a day, chew coca leaves to help alleviate the harsh conditions. Potosi is teaming with palliris, miner’s widows, and when we saw a man and a young boy crouched into the crooks and crannies of this previously silver- infested Cerro Rico, rich mountain, I understood how lives can end fast here. It was hard to see, hard to move, hard to breathe, hard to imagine a world beyond this dank dungeon situated at 4090 meters above sea level.

As the rotary wire brush polished my silver pendant it became warm in my hand, and oh so soft, and started shining like the moon. So strange that at the moment when my piece finally transformed into an object of beauty I remembered the Quechua Indians who mine this precious metal.

Back at the worktable for the final touch, Johanne handed me a 925 swan neck stamp, “You have to stamp 925 on your fish!” I placed the end of the stamp on the back of the fishtail and gave the other end a good whack with the hammer. “One more time, a little harder.” After this nerve-wracking yet satisfying step, my teacher inspected the punched numbers. “C’est bon!”

Talleen Hacikyan

Photos 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 by Johanne Weilbrenner, who did not want to be photographed because she was having a bad hair day!

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