LAKE SUPERIOR GEMSTONES: A SURFACE-FOUND GIFT
The gemstone and beach stone beads we use are all surface-found and released by the waters of Lake Superior. They are never mined, which can destroy the beautiful land and rocks on the shore. I feel if they are meant to be found the Lake will gift us with them! I have been walking these shores near Grand Marais and all around the Lake for many years; walking, exploring and sailing to remote islands off of her shores. I have found beauty and magic that I feel is a gift to me to transfer to my jewelry. In the mid-1970s people began to bring to me, sell to me and trade with me these stones; Thomsonite, Chlorastrolite (Isle Royal Greenstone), Agate, Lintonite and the many other gorgeous oddities of Lake Superior. In no other place in this world are found so many gemstones of such beauty. Through the years, I have pondered the fact that there is, to my knowledge, absolutely no mention of these gemstones in any Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) stories or history, adding another layer of mystery to them. It seems that they were too special to even talk about. To this day, I still do not understand that part of the story, and that is ok. Not every mystery needs explaining!
THE GEMSTONE BEADS
All of these stone beads may seem common, but they have been chosen very carefully for shape, color and texture. Many are gemstones that MAY have a beautiful pattern inside but in my opinion the beauty of the outer shell outweighs the chance for a treasure inside. It is like you are carrying and protecting hidden treasures sometimes with a bit of color or pattern peaking out at you! After being found they are sorted, marked for the correct drill hole on both ends with much consideration to the fulcrum so as to hang perfectly when used. They are hand drilled which is a long process, especially the stones drilled length-wise. Many of these beads are sent to Asia where the technology for drilling far surpasses any that we have in this country. It is still a mystery to me as to how they are done! Many times it takes 2-3 years to get them back. The beads drilled here in the studio can be broken in the process and also can destroy valuable diamond drills. The most difficult are Agate, Granite and the numerous other harder or fracture-prone stones such as Lintonite, Prehnite, Jasper or Amethyst. The retail cost to have a individual stone drilled commercially can be up to and more than $20.
I have found many of these stones on my extensive explorations of the north shore of Lake Superior, often while sailing the uninhabited Islands and wilderness shores of the lake, north of Thunder Bay and along the south shore of Lake Superior, near Bayfield and the Apostle Islands. Many of these beads come from the private collections of early pioneer families and fisherman, some over 100 years old! Many of my Lake Superior bead necklaces will have stones from all around the Lake. Many of these beads are left unpolished because I often find the irregular and matte textures to be very intriguing. I hope you agree! Some of these Lake Superior stone bead chokers or necklaces are sometimes examples of a lifetime of collecting from one particular beach or a collection of beaches from all around the lake such as in "Paradise Found" above! I often remember the origin of these individual beads that tells a story of my life and experience of exploring this Beautiful Lake and part of that story is that this Lake is the most valuable and beautiful body of water in the world and begs us to protect it. These stones say "here, take this gift and tell my story, tell of how you must protect me and all of my tributaries as if they are the very blood you need for life."
THE LAPIDARIST (cutter and polisher of gems)
Many of my rare gemstones are very old collections and have been cut and polished before. I re-cut them for shape and aesthetic. I have become adept at "seeing within the stone" or knowing instinctively what to do with a given stone. Sometimes it takes weeks to decide, sometimes it takes several different cuttings, sometimes it is done in 15 minutes!
What NOT TO DO with LAKE SUPERIOR GEMSTONES
Do NOT tumble stones you believe to be very good or rare, stones showing deep color or dramatic pattern. Bring them to me to gently "birth the stone"! Tumblers cannot control the depth of pattern and color removal, and I have seen tens of thousands of dollars worth of Thomsonite and Chlorastrolite ruined by tumbling. Look through your treasures carefully, and send me a photo! Then choose the ones that go into the tumbler.
Do not try to crack them open thinking they are a geode as there are virtually none found in the Lake Superior area. They are generally solid and you will ruin them by hammering. That said, don’t try to hammer them out of living bedrock. It is not their time yet, let the Lake do it!
Well this is not really a "don't do" but a "you can do"! Do not start working good stone until you become proficient at it. I teach classes in lapidary, please reach out for more information. A class typically only takes one day.