Their eyes were watching … sun wall plaques
I had finished my preview of auction items in the back lot of the auction house, had found little of interest and headed inside to see what was on the tables.
As I entered the door, I saw a small knot of people staring in the same direction, their eyes fixed on something high up on a shelf in a back corner of the room. I followed their gaze and saw a display of wall plaques in the shape of stylized suns with rays, all in different colors, designs and sizes.
Someone had apparently mentioned something about the sun pieces, and they all had either turned in unison and other curious souls walked up and joined in the impromptu ritual. They were sun-gazing without actually looking at the real sun.
The image of them reminded me of two things:
A line from Zora Neale Hurston’s famous book “Their Eyes Were Watching God”:
“They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”
And the first time I witnessed a solar eclipse. I was a college student in Augusta, GA, and we were told not to watch with our naked eyes but to wear dark glasses. I was in the downtown area of the city when the midday sky darkened. With our glasses planted on our eyes, we looked upward as the moon blacked-out the sun. It was an amazing sight.
These auction-goers weren’t looking at anything as magnificent as their Maker or His solar eclispse, but they appeared mesmerized nonetheless.
After they moved on, I decided to check out the sun plaques. I could not get very close because they were up so high, but from my spot on the floor they looked rather impressive. An auction staffer had placed them about three to a row, one propped against the other, and arranged them around the V seam in the corner of the shelf.
Single sun wall plaques come up for auction from time to time, but this was the first time I’d seen so many in one gathering. Perhaps they had been someone’s collection because they were in good condition. Or they may have come from several individual estates.
A big olive green ceramic sun with a mass of tangled rays dominated the display. Another gray one resembled an artist depiction of the north wind I’d seen before somewhere. A few were gold-plated, others were hand-painted and most had embossed features.
Some had the trademark smiling face – a symbol of happiness, I presume – while others were stern.
The sun, though, has long symbolized more than just a big smile. To many civilizations and peoples, it was spiritual. Mesopotamia had the sun-god Shamash. The Incas had Inti, the “divine ancestor of the nation.” Native American tribes had their own sun symbols and rituals.
Several nations today use the sun symbol in their flags, including Taiwan, Nepal and the Phillippines. The “Smiling Sun” – “Nuclear Power? No Thanks” – was the symbol of the anti-nuclear power movement during the 1970s and 1980s.
The flag of Argentina has the Sun of May symbol, a non-smiling sun with human features and rays. It is a replica of an engraving on the first Argentine coin from the early 1800s. It is said to represent the “the sun breaking through cloudy skies on 25 May 1810, at the beginning of the first mass demonstration in favor of independence. The sun features are those of Inti, the Inca god of the sun,” according to countryreports.org. Argentina gained its independence from Spain in the May Revolution of 1812; the sun was added to the flag in 1818.
I wasn’t around when the sun plaques were sold, but I’m sure they got bids, because they apparently are pretty popular. I have a rust-colored metal one that I hang on my backyard fence each summer. A neighbor has a giant one hanging on her enclosed porch. I found tons of them for sale on the web at reasonable prices.