A Bit of Personal History

Life Lessons

I have been making “things” for my entire adult life. I didn’t have an intention to become a maker of things. I had no intention to become anything at all. I saw no life or occupation that I was interested in duplicating or mimicking. In fact, I was quite ambitionless.

That is not to say that I was compelled to nothing. When I returned from Vietnam and was released from the Marine Corps I enrolled as an undergraduate at The University of Kansas. I had no particular course of action in mind. Nevertheless, thirteen months in Southeast Asia had changed me. It wasn’t just the war. It was the places, the people, the cultures. Those thirteen months left me feeling that I didn’t know much about anything. Still, my study had no purpose beyond learning and understanding. I had no movement to any career or any particular life. I was moved to something that I had not seen, did not know, couldn’t imagine.

The Blows are the Wisdom-Makers

Within a few months of enrolling I was initiated into Transcendental Meditation and was taking classes in Tai Chi. I had never heard of either, and didn’t know what they were. Sometimes life moves you, and you don’t really have much to do with it. However, my investigation of Eastern philosophy, religion, and culture had begun.

I also embraced the ‘60s counter-culture. After The Marine Corps the hippie movement was more than a breath of fresh air. It gave me hope, hope that the world could be a peaceful and benign place. That hope ended when the police opened fire on a group of protesters that were creating a disturbance off-campus one summer night. I had left the scene as I already felt uncomfortable with what people were doing. I could see the insanity and the danger. I walked up the street towards campus and ordered a beer at a popular off-campus bar. It was empty save for the bartender and me. I had not taken a sip when I heard gunshots, high-powered rifles. I ran to the door and saw two bodies down on the small lawn in front of the bar. I grabbed a limp body and dragged him into the cover of the bar. Perhaps a hundred protesters ran into the bar for cover. I tended to the man’s wounds, but he died there on the bar floor, as did hope.



relocated to the forests of Oregon. I spent four years there. Ashland was vibrant with refugees from both Southern and Northern California. I enjoyed the company of friends, but mostly I wandered in the woods. I walked out beyond Lithia Park and into the forest frequently. I spent many hours and days sitting on a particular rock that seemed a good place to…well, to do anything you felt like doing. I would sit and feel energies, currents, throughout my entire body, head to foot, out to the tips of my fingers and toes. I had no idea why I was feeling all this, or what to call it. It just felt like energy. So, I sat there on the rock and felt the energy.

Repousse statue of Tsongkapa

A friend wrote me about a man, a spiritual teacher who was living in Northern California. He had written a book, and I determined to finally buy a copy after nine months of procrastination. I wasn’t expecting much. I found “The Knee of Listening” in a small bookstore in Ashland, walked home from the bookstore, sat down and read it cover to cover. By the time I closed the back jacket of the book my life, as I had known it, was over forever.

The next day I hitchhiked down I-5 to Lake County, California. A week later I was living in San Francisco and was a pre-student in The Dawn Horse Communion, Adi Da Samraj’s ashram in Northern California.

I had nominal skills back then. I had done a fair amount of woodworking and carving, and was asked to serve in the art department, which consisted of the manager of the department and me. I did repairs on artifacts and objects from Eastern religious traditions, particularly Himalayan statuary. I carved a particularly ornate and fine double-lotus pedestal base for a very old repoussé image of Tsong-ka-pa. I carved it in teak and then used bronzing powders to match the patinaed copper of the statue.

Shiva Lingam in cocobolo base

The following project was another double-lotus pedestal base, this one for a gilded image of Sakyamuni Buddha, about a foot tall. Adi Da commented that I had said that I would make this one in metal. I had never actually said this. I had never worked in metal, knew nothing about it, had no tools or ideas for it, or interest in working in metal. I explained to Bhagavan Adi Da that I had not said that I would make it in metal. I had said that I would make it look like metal using the same techniques I used for the previous project. Adi Da said that, no, in fact I had said I would make it in metal. I tried to explain again that I had no way to make it in metal and that I had never volunteered that. He, once again, insisted that I had said that I would make it in metal. So, I made it in metal. It took me nine months to figure it out, procure the necessary tools and materials, and complete the piece. I mounted the Buddha to the base on a Saturday, and reveled, for the moment, in my triumph. By the next Saturday the statue had been sold at auction, Adi Da saying that he didn’t like the countenance of the Buddha, his smile was silly. I have to admit, I was disappointed for a moment. But then I thought of Krishna’s instruction to Arjuna, and Bhagavan’s own admonition, “Cling to nothing”. And my mood became one of appreciation for a relationship with one who would provide a circumstance for me to see the usefulness of this teaching. This simple moment changed my disposition, my orientation to the "things" that I was making. If your intention is to throw everything to infinity I am sure that would include Buddha bases.

Sacred Fires


n the most natural way Adi Da guided my art service, and I began making sacred articles for Him to use, and for use in the temples and sanctuaries. I made malas (rosaries), padukas, canes, staffs, hamsadandas, Shiva lingam bases, etc. And every project seemed to require a new skill set, facility with some new material. So, I was constantly researching, experimenting, and finding new ways to duplicate old techniques. You know, OJT.

Photo of hamsadanda with esoteric anatomy depicted via inlay

In the very early days of my service Adi Da sent me a list of all of the projects that He wanted me to accomplish. The list was extensive, covering two yellow sheets. I looked it over and realized that I could not accomplish it all in my lifetime. In response to the list I wrote a long letter to Bhagavan suggesting the need of a sacred arts guild, one that included artists with many different talents. I went into length about organization, apprenticeship, and other details I felt were important. Bhagavan Adi Da said “Sounds good. Do it.” My reaction to His response was, “Who? Me?” I had absolutely no authority or position in the ashram. I had figured on Adi Da, Himself, communicating to leadership that this should happen, and then they would see to it. However, a few years later I would participate in the creation of Sacred Fires. I had volunteered to take on a complicated jewelry project, a pendant depicting one of the logos of the ashram, that could be duplicated and that Bhagavan could give as gifts to devotees.

I had no experience making jewelry, but there were devotees who had various skills. So, the Sacred Fires guild was created. I registered it as a business, and asked Beloved if I could make sacred jewelry for sale to devotees in order to finance the costs of equipment, materials, and overhead. When He offered “Sacred Fires” He commented, “I am giving you that name because you serve me and my community of devotees”.

Photo of painting of ganesh on ivory and set into sterling silver lotus with matchning earrings

I had the good fortune of falling in with a unique enclave of world-class goldsmiths that lived and worked in Sausalito. I stood behind the chairs of each of them for hours on end, watching them work. They were all most generous and supportive in spite of my never-ending presence and questions. One of them commented that after I left their studio “there was nothing left but eyeballs on the floor, staring up at the ceiling”. I had sucked everything out of them.

Dozens of devotees contributed their talents on hundreds of projects. I was absorbing everything that I could from everyone. I lived in the studio, sleeping on the floor many nights, working on impossible deadlines, and stretching beyond my abilities constantly. By 1987 I had thousands of hours of experience in wax working, casting, finishing, stone setting, and many fabrication techniques. However, the skills required in jewelry making are very refined if you want to do fine work, as I did, and I had not mastered them yet.

Another Blow

T hen, in the spring of 1987 my studio was robbed. I had acquired a small inventory of precious metals and stones and other materials that I used to make jewelry and other objects. It was my life savings, my entire inventory. I had no money and no means to make money, pay rent, or buy groceries. This event provoked a quiet crisis. I sat in my Volkswagen bug in the driveway of the house that I was renting in San Rafael and contemplated what I should do without any sense of what it could be.

Eggsecution on Naitauba

That changed after the robbery. It was as if a switch had been tripped. I found mastery. That is to say, I could feel the materials I was working with, the gold, the wax, the stones. I wasn't struggling with it. I was cooperating with it. Every material has its characteristics. It will yield this way, but not that, it will cut cleanly if you apply pressure to the blade just so.

It wasn't just my hand skills that matured. My design sense, the ideas and the directions, opened. I had spent the last fourteen years working in very exacting and constrained circumstances, repairing and duplicating traditional art and making sacred images, or duplicating jewelry pieces selected from books surveying the entire history of jewelry in ancient and modern cultures; pieces in varied styles, from Byzantine, to Art Deco, to African. The yoke was removed. I was designing freely, without constraint.

I felt that I had to sell my work in the world at large. I heard about a curator in San Francisco, Michael Bell. He was curating the Museum of Modern Art. I was told that he took on private clients from time-to-time. I made an appointment to see him at his apartment near the museum. The only work in my portfolio was what I had been doing for Bhagavan. I had selected several pieces that were not of too personal a nature, and presented them. When I showed him my portfolio he immediately accepted me as a client.

Ice Cave pendant, large druzy chalcedony set in gold and ornamented with round diamonds

In order for Michael to represent me I had to agree to enter three competitions each month. Before I could do that I had to produce a body of work that could be shown. I didn't feel that the kind of work that I had been doing would show or sell well. It was all sacred or esoteric in nature. I felt that most people would not be able to relate to it. So, I designed jewelry for a secular audience, and I was immediately successful. I landed commissions from The Rockefeller Foundation, and then more commissions from their contacts. My work was selling in luxury galleries in Palm Beach, Beverly Hills, and San Francisco. I had “made it”, but my heart was not in the work the same way as it was when I was making art for my spiritual master.

I met with Michael once a month. I reported on the competitions and shows that I had entered. Then I would show him my portfolio. He would look over what I had been doing since our last meeting. Ten months or so into our relationship Michael was perusing my portfolio when he looked up and commented, “What happened to your work?” I was a bit surprised. I knew that the pieces that I was doing were strong. I had been selling and winning competions. Still, I immediately knew what he was talking about. The very quality that attracted Michael to my work had been eliminated.

Bush Jewelry

I'm your Avon lady

I n 1989 I was asked to be Adi Da’s driver and personal attendant. When He returned to Fiji I was invited to accompany Him and continue my service to Him there. Shortly after arriving on the island I gave Bhagavan the pieces that I had entered into competitions, some of them winning awards. He said they reminded him of the stuff the Avon lady used to sell door-to-door when he was a kid.

While in Fiji I practiced “bush jewelry-making”. I continued my creative work in addition to my other services. I was forced to adapt to the circumstances of being on a tiny island in the middle of the Koro Sea. Indigenous materials were incorporated into my work. I also observed the traditional techniques of the Fijian Islanders. They have beautiful hand skills, and I used some of their methods and design elements in my pieces. Bush jewelry is not crude.

I had a tiny bench in a tiny thatched hut, only a few steps from the beach. It served as my home and studio. The main room was 5’ by 10’, plus a small closet just large enough for a single mattress. Home, sweet home!

Many nights mine was the only light lit on the island as I labored over one project or another. The sand flies chewed on me from head to toe while I gold soldered delicate fabrications. It was a great place to practice focusing the attention while breathing through bodily discomfort. Then, a moth would kamikaze right into my flame and contaminate the solder joint, requiring that I clean up the metal and start the process all over again. This happened repeatedly. It was difficult and frustrating, but I loved it.

From Nara


ince that time Jeff has continued making jewelry, his artistic work has never stopped. He has also been working with wood again, making art Jeff Polson at his jewelry bench frames, tansus, and jewelry using wood. His portfolio spanning the years is impressive, it covers so many different styles that it doesn’t look it was possibly made by the same person. Fellow artists that know him well call him “a renaissance man” because he can work with any material and turn it into something beautiful. He is passionate about form, texture, and design. He has a natural interest that pushes him into uncharted waters often. He approaches his work not to be famous or rich, but out of love for it, and the desire to create pleasing, meaningful pieces that will be treasured. He never does anything the easy way, he sees the vision for a piece, and then figures out how he can make it actually happen. He fabricates most of his jewelry pieces, as he likes to get his hands into the manipulation and shaping of the gold. His skills are in the line of the old masters, hand skills that are seldom found in this time of 3-D printing. Jeff considers each person that he is designing for, each art piece is designed specifically for them, with their qualities and interests taken into account.

Kick Out the Neanderthal, Drawing by Nara Pilgrim Wood

Early on, when Jeff was first working on Adi Da’s art collection, he picked up a small Tibetan statue of Padmasambhava’s image, to take a closer look at this very old bronze piece. He was struck that there was no artist’s sign or maker’s mark on the bottom of it. He instantly resonated with the Tibetan artists’ tradition of not signing their work. The art they made was not for them, or for the accumulation of fame and wealth. It was just about making the art, and making it well for the purpose that it served. The mystery of the unknown maker of the statue struck Jeff, and he never forgot that moment. This was a tradition that inspired Jeff, and informed his relationship to the works that he created. He would rather be anonymous, the art is the marvel, not the maker. As the gold is transformed, so is the maker.

Bhagavan said that giving a gift of jewelry was bringing love into life. That sums up the purpose: serving the Sacred and bringing love into life.