Thursday, 14 April 2011

Hermitcraft: Ancestor Gong

This is an ancestor gong I made from an old saw blade I found in my grandfather's shop. Each time you ring it, it sings gratitude for those who went before and made this life possible. Starting with my grandparents, who built the house I'm living in.

The blade sings nicely (I chose the best ringer in the lot), and gongs of this type have deep meaning for Old Settlers; time was, all the tiny, isolated, muddy villages on the Green Side had a big, worn-out head saw blade hanging in the square, along with some random piece of busted ironmongery to beat on it. That's how you got people's attention for announcements, fires, aboriginal raid scares, celebrations, and so on. Where there was no church bell, it called folks to that, too.

The symbolism in this particular blade goes even deeper, as my grandfather, his roots gnarled deep in this glacial till, as were all my grandparents', was a congenital, nay a compulsive, woodworker and builder. With this very blade he put the roof over me and the walls around. So with each stroke, this gong pays homage to all my people, conceptual and concrete.

The striker is a piece of hawthorn I cut on the property. The photo at right shows what it looks like now. (Click for better detail.) This was originally finished in classic trinity tar (linseed oil, turpentine, and vinegar), but that mildewed in the insistent rain. So I took the beater back down, sanded off the first finish and re-tarred it, this time with linseed oil, paint thinner, and vinegar. About half a part of asphalt was also pitched in, to gum and darken it up. I like the result; the grey mildew that remained in the grain brings it out nicely, and after about two dozen coats of that toxic, no-more-mister-nice-guy tar, well-rubbed and hardened over the woodstove for a month or so, it's looking good out there on-post.

The lanyard is six strand kongo kumihimo: four strands of tarred seine twine, two of gold mason line.

I try to ring this gong every day. I give it one han roll-down, at noon if possible, and strive for perfect symmetry and tone. It's become part of my mindfulness practice.

Update, 5 November, 2011: It turns out that the saw blade eventually loses the ability to ring in this climate, evidently because of the heavy coat of rust it acquires. Today I replaced the original blade with another from my grandfather's pile, but it too will gradually grow duller. It would be fine for a chime hung indoors, though. In fact, I'm currently working on a table-top model, hung in a wooden frame.

Just a heads-up to others who may be meditating a similar outdoor project. If anybody has any ideas about how to prevent this, or recondition the old blade, I'd appreciate the comment.
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