Rachel & Rocks

Updated: Aug 5

My Own Stone Story

I have worked intimately with stones, rocks, gems, fossils and such for way more than thirty years. I decided to reflect on my relationship to these natural objects. Do I know when it all started? Do I know how it became my career? Early childhood memories include creating environments for the toads we caught as kids. Sticks, rocks, dirt were the key elements. It felt like playing House to create a space for the creature. The next memory that surfaces is a family camping vacation near a shallow river. We spent hours choosing rocks to bring home and add to the garden. The rocks had to have a special meaning in order to be brought home (Mom’s way of reducing the load).

That idea resonated with me and I chose the “Slice of Bread” and the “Slice of Pizza” and the “Tornado” rocks as my contributions.

Geology per se did not speak to me, rather the beauty of nature, no matter what its scientific name. So even now, I cannot say if “Slice of Bread” is chert or sandstone, shale, limestone, dolomite or fireclay. I might guess that “Tornado” was a form of clay caught in a vortex before solidifying into its rock hard entity that I found in that river.

Memory forward to Sweet 16 and my parents gave me a 10k gold ring with a black star sapphire gemstone. My first real jewelry. In fact I do not have memories of jewelry adornment in childhood. Hmm. I have never thought about that fact. Entering university at age 18 with determination to study art, I dove into Crafts as a major. The University of Illinois had three craft disciplines: ceramics, glass and metals. I immediately gravitated to metals. The first piece I made was a 14k gold ring with an amethyst gemstone.

All the other students were making pieces out of brass or copper for budgetary reasons. I was not cash-exceptional, but what I had I spent as I chose: clothing from Salvation Army, gold from a pawn shop and a splurge on a gemstone from a jewelry store. This felt real to me. The gold wedding band from the pawn shop I cut open, flattened out and sawed up with a jeweler’s saw and formed the pieces and soldered them together to create a new ring.

The rest of my education in Urbana- Champaign, Illinois consisted of many projects, usually using silver and occasionally a gemstone. The studio off of Green Street or Springfield Avenue, I forget, would order a “pick box” from a lapidary(person who cuts gemstones) in Indiana. I was fascinated by the pick box, which I did not understand until I got the explanation: many gemstones in the box, each has a price, box gets sent back with the leftover gems and payments for gemstones purchased. I held myself back due to financial constraints, but I did pick one or two from each shipment. I picked them out of a feeling of love. I couldn’t leave my little favorite rocks in the box! A faceted garnet I made into a brooch for my grandmother, an agate of some sort became a ring that a friend admired, so I gifted it to her, a funky, conical cut hematite I made into a very cool bracelet for myself. These are the ones I can still conjure these 30+ years later.

I don’t think I knew that I was meeting the tip of the iceberg of my career at that point. I was just having fun making beautiful objets d’art. The post-college years consisted of working a social work job and two and a half years in West Africa serving in the Peace Corps. Beads! When I went to open air markets, I was utterly enthralled with the beads. Many strands of glass beads, plastic discs, agate gemstones, antique clay and the unaffordable on my Peace Corps salary, large amber beads. I purchased many beads, but interestingly, I didn’t make them into new objects. I cannot come up with a reason that I did not create something new from the strands except to say it wasn’t my genre.