Rocks in Our Heads

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You know the old expression “You’ve got Rocks in Your Head”? Well, my friends, I believe my dear husband and I may actually have rocks in our heads.


We have been discussing taking up the hobby of lapidary. As far back as I can remember, I’ve taken to rocks. They don’t, necessarily, have to be shiny or semi-precious or even clean. I just have had an interest in looking at them and studying them. It’s not every rock that piques my interest, either. Today, I have stones and rocks that I’ve picked up in places that were “important” to me. I have one from my childhood home, a couple from Eagle’s Nest Mountain in North Carolina where we had a home until it burnt to the ground, and some good-sized specimens from our former home in Georgia.

One of the “Eggs”
(from the Smithsonian website)

 On a trip to Washington, D.C. when I was in grade school, we visited the Smithsonian. I was smitten by the Museum of Natural History. Yes, I saw the Hope Diamond, but what really got my interest (and I remember with great clarity) were two, carved, rock-crystal eggs. They were set in very simple, elegant stands Of course, when we went ruby mining in North Carolina when I was still quite young, I was in rock-hound heaven. I only remember going to a ruby mine once as a child. I have no idea what happened to the rubies, sapphires and garnets that we found that day at a small mine near Frankin, but I was hooked on the idea from that point on.


Fast forward nearly forty years, and I’m back at the flume with a wire tray in my hands shaking it in the fast-running water to clear the dirt away from my precious rocks. The best part of the whole thing is that my husband is sitting next to me, doing the same thing, and seemingly enjoying it as much as I was. We were at Gem Mountain near Spruce Pine, NC. We really hadn’t “planned” to go mining, but we were visiting in the area and decided it might be fun. Naturally, I was all for it with my memories of looking for treasure as a kid. Maybe there has always been a little “Boojum” in me. (Boojum? Go back and read a blog I did awhile back about Smokey Mountain legends:–-boojum-the-mystery-on-eagle’s-nest-mountain/ .)


That brings us up to today. In the past few years, we’ve gone to several “rock and mineral” shows in the area. We’ve talked about a hobby that we could be involved in – especially during the winter – and both enjoy. Many of the exhibitors at the shows we’ve visited have been couples. We decided to look into lapidary. We have already purchased our first equipment – a tumbler. Now, we have to get some rocks (other than the ones in our heads) and get started.


We thought that it might be prudent to go and talk to some folks at a local gem and mineral show which was held last weekend. This show was put on by the club that we were considering joining, and figured it would be a great way to meet some of the members, ask questions about some of the rocks we have, and find out more about the hobby. What a great idea it was!


When we first arrived at the Livingston Gem and Mineral Society (LGMS) show (which was held at the former high school which also houses the club), we were met by some wonderful, friendly folks. There was a silent auction set up and the final bids were to be called in only a very few minutes. I was astounded at the items that were available. (I must interject that the carving society was doing a sister show at the same venue, so they had combined the efforts.) We placed our initial bids and went off to start exploring the show, checking back intermittently to make sure our bids were still the highest. We were rewarded by having the winning bids.


One was this amazing totem, walking stick. Each segment of this piece was carved and painted by a different individual. Each is intricately carved in three dimensions. Most of the segments also turn. Obviously, this is strictly an ornamental piece, but what a find!

Another silent auction item we won was this, stone-inlaid, “lazy susan.” I can’t identify what all the stones are that are in it (hopefully, I will learn quickly), but it’s so beautiful, it really doesn’t matter. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.


There were two distinct areas set up in the show. One area was where the retail sales and finished products were set up. There were quite a few vendors set up and they had some amazing things for sale. There were eggs and orbs that were fashioned from stone. There were carved animals, faceted gemstones, rough stones, tumbled stones, wire-wrapped jewelry, and even a globe where each country was shaped from different minerals.


It was in this area that we found a couple of beautiful, rough Petoskey stones (the Michigan state stone). They’re wet because the fossils show better when the stones are wet before they are finished and polished.

We also found this pretty heart made from snowflake obsidian. Obsidian is not native to Michigan. It is a rock which is formed from cooled magma. It has been used since prehistoric time for arrowheads and sharpened tools, among many other uses. This little heart was so pretty, and the price was so reasonable, we bought it. I had thought to make a piece of jewelry out of it, but I think I might just keep it as a “worry stone.”

I found my first piece of jewelry made from snowflake obsidian at a roadside market in the mountains of Arizona near Sedona. Some Native American women had set up tables and were selling their handiwork. I, naturally, gravitated to the rock jewelry. My purchase that day was a snowflake obsidian arrowhead made into a necklace with elongated beads.


The second room was where the LGMS meets. There were all kinds of wonderful machines there for shaping, grinding, and buffing stones. This work-room and all the machines are available for the use of the membership. There were several members working on projects in the workroom. They were demonstrating different specialties. One lady was making wire-wrap jewelry. A silversmith was working, and another lady was making semi-precious gemstone beads.


One gentleman was demonstrating copper wire weaving. What exacting work that is! I was mesmerized by the intricacy of each wrap. I couldn’t help but buy this necklace and earring set after seeing the amazing amount of work that goes into each millimeter.


As we were winding down, we found a gentleman who has been working in lapidary for nearly 30 years. I would guess that he is nearly our age, so he’s been a hobbyist since he was a very young man. He explained cutting the stones, using the equipment in the workroom, finishing and polishing different stones, and he, also, told us all about club membership. With people like him (and all the other members we met), we feel very comfortable that we could learn quite a bit and greatly enjoy membership in the organization.

On our way out, I noticed a piece of polished rock on the workbench of our new friend (Bob). It had bits of quartz in it along with several other colored minerals; however, what really caught my attention were the brilliant flecks of copper. It turns out, there were actually two pieces. Bob had found this rock in an old copper mine in the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan). He had cleaved it in half and polished the faces. I guess they are supposed to be bookends, but we decided to put them on our mantle with both of the polished sides facing out.


So, stay “tuned.” I hope that, before too terribly long, I’ll be sharing photos and stories of our new hobby.


Up Next: A Spinning Rant


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