Monday, September 23, 2013

Tourmaline, From Mine to Pendant!

      A few weekends ago I headed out south towards San Diego and pulled off into the Pala Mining District. My destination was the Oceanview Mines, where for a mere $60 one gets access to a massive pile of mine tailings and all of the equipment necessary to screen and wash as much rubble as you can stand to haul over the course of 4 hours! 

     The road to the mine winds through orange groves; it was a clear, beautiful day!

     The tailings pile and screening stations overlook hills that must surely be packed with tourmaline! I was ready to find some of my own! 

After A brief "how-to" lecture, the group of eager rockhounds was set loose on that pile. I ran bucket after bucket of gravel through these screens; first a coarse screen to sort out larger gems, then a fine screen to get the smaller ones. It was HOT, dirty work! The more buckets you screen, the better your odds of finding good stuff! People were finding plenty of good stuff!!!

Even if for some reason you didn't find good stuff, there were huge crystal specimens set out all around to admire, and converted cargo container mineral shops to pick up some extra-choice mineral specimens from the local mines and abroad as well! 

So, by the end of the day my back and legs felt like jelly, and I wasn't sure I had really found enough to have justified the trip! But that first impression changed when I got home and cleaned up my colorful little bits! I found a good representation of all of the minerals that the area mines are known for: Black Tourmaline, various Quartz specimens, Morganite, Kunzite (my absolute favorite mineral right now; I'm so excited to have found one!!!), Lepidolite (the sparkly purple bits; I also bought some big chunks of this from the shop!), Spudomene,  Aquamarine (six lovely pieces!), and some colored Tourmalines (green, pink and raspberry; not "gem grade" but I don't mind!). The most common stone in the pile on the day of my visit was the black tourmaline; I brought home way more than is pictured here. Much of it displays a fine dark blue translucent "skin" in strong light! 

Energetically, Black Tourmaline is known to dispel negative energy, and encourage a positive attitude. Who can't use that? I found one particularly special "stick" of Black Tourmaline that I really wanted to wear as a pendant, so I got down to business and drilled a hole right through it, and strung it on some nice gunmetal ball-chain. Negative energy be gone!  I'm really into the idea of making simple, drilled crystal pendants that just allow the mineral itself to shine; no hokey wire wrapping or prong-mount stuff... just the rock, plain and simple! I can't wait to get back to that mine and look for more!!! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Work in Progress: Papier-Mâché Whale Vertebra Part One

      Before leaving Northern California for good in September I made one last trek out to my favorite beachcombing spot near Point Reyes National Seashore to collect a few more buoys.  While rambling along the rocky coast I nearly fainted when I made one whopper of a discovery: a massive, decaying whale carcass. I had always hoped to run across a lone whale vertebra washed up on the shore and here was not just one, but indeed an entire whale's worth!

      Now, it isn't legal for an individual to possess any part of a whale, and the vertebra pictured below was way too heavy, oily, and stinky to drag back up the cliff with me anyway, so I was satisfied to take a few pictures of my find and call it a day.

      Back home, while editing the photos, I couldn't shake the desire to add that whale vertebra to my nautical collections, and I determined that I would try my best to duplicate my own (legal and less smelly!) version in papier-mâché! I guess I had papier-mâché on the brain, having recently watched a video about how one of my favorite artists, Mark Dion, and his team of sculptors recreated in papier-mâché all of the gear used in a little-known 1908 expedition to the Far East.

     Working from my photographs and using the buoys pictured above for scale (I did take those and that wicked-looking gaff hook home with me!) I drew out a full-scale template for all of the elements that I would need to build a sturdy interior structure upon which to layer the mâché. Fortunately, at the time I was working at the Oakland Museum, and was permitted to use the woodshop and some discarded wood to create parts that I would be able to take home and assemble when I was ready to start the project!

     I am now happily relocated (once again!) to Los Angeles, working for a super-creative, awe-inspiring company, and settling into my new life here; it seems the time is right for getting to work on that whale vertebra! I'm so glad I took the time to figure out all of the mechanics of the interior structure while I had access to a woodshop; all of the elements screwed together just as I had envisioned, and before long I had a rock-solid "skeleton" for my new papier-mâché project! 

     The next step will be to cover most of the structure with wire mesh to further fill out and refine the shape of the vertebra and provide a good, textured surface onto which the mâché may be applied. 

      I will post an update as soon as I start the process of applying the papier-mâché!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Recent Projects

A Hopi-style Katsina I carved from a length of Cottonwood root that my Nephew and I collected along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. It has a base coat of white Kaolin clay and is ready for further painting and adornment.

The time I recently spent in New Mexico reinvigorated my appreciation for the arts and crafts of the Native American tribes indigenous to the area. I discovered a terrific book on the subject called "The Native American Curio Trade in New Mexico"  by Jonathan Batkin at the Case Trading Post in Santa Fe's Wheelwright Museum and was inspired to start a series of small gouache paintings depicting objects typically offered for sale in a classic New Mexico trading post.

My interest in painting the Navajo Rugs was inspired by the myriad small rug paintings that originally hung in the trader's office at the historic Hubbell Trading Post. The project really came together when I discovered a box of delicate antique wood frames in the garage of an estate sale; they were a perfect fit for the paintings! I have many more in the works; here is what I have painted thus far:

Navajo Moccasins. I purchased the pair that served as my models at the City Electric Shoe Shop in Gallup, New Mexico.

Pottery Sherds. 

A Navajo Rug. 

A Zuni Silver and Turquoise Ketoh.

A Hopi Katsina. 

A Navajo Rug. 

A Zuni Knifewing Pin. 

An Acoma Pot. 

A Navajo Rug.

A Hopi Katsina. 

A Navajo Rug. 

I really like the way they look  as a group. I have several more curios to paint before the series is finished! 

A few weekends ago I finally got around to soaking my rawhide drum head and lacing and assembled this drum based on a style of souvenier drum that was crafted using the circular wooden boxes that rounds of cheese were shipped in. It sounds great; very loud and resonant. I made the beater from a Redwood branch and deerskin. 

And finally...  I have been looking at examples of Dentalium shell necklaces made by various Pacific Coast tribes and have started assembling my own versions using beads from my collection, Dentalium shells, and abalone pendants. I collect the abalone on my beach rambles in Northern California and pick out the best pieces to shape and polish for the pendants. This is one of the more colorful versions.

Thanks so much for looking!!!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Expedition: Estate Sale!

Looks like I'm well-equipped for a fine expedition: Sturdy canvas rucksack? Check! Plenty of glass vials for collecting specimens? Double check! Significant length of hefty hemp rope? Certainly!

Well, the truth is I've just returned from a brief expedition, and the provisions pictured were acquired along the way! Last Friday evening I noticed that an estate sale was to occur several blocks from my house first thing Saturday morning, so I set out at dawn to see what the day might bring. I took a brisk sweep through the first and second floors of the Craftsman-style home and found nothing of interest until I reached the kitchen and noticed a staircase leading down to the basement, which is generally the part of the home I enjoy poking around in most (besides the garage) when I visit estate sales.

Allow me, please, to attempt a brief explanation of the allure of estate sales (it is a complicated topic for me, so I must err on the side of brevity if I'm to keep this post moving along!) I'm very drawn to things, especially old, curious things with a history of some sort. I certainly enjoy antique stores and flea markets, but in these places one is apt to be confronted with a random and often overwhelming jumble of objects that have been stripped of any historical context, while the objects at estate sales have, in a sense, been "curated" by the former owner, creating the possibility of happening upon ready-made collections of interesting objects if you can manage to arrive at the sale early.

A true estate sale occurs when the resident of a home has passed away and the remaining family members, after dividing up heirlooms and special items that hold meaning for them, are faced with the task of clearing out everything else that the departed has accumulated over the course of their life. Strangers are invited into the home to purchase whatever they may find, a process that the family may find upsetting, and so the whole operation is generally carried out by some estate liquidation outfit that is equipped to deal with hordes of Saturday morning bargain hunters keen on discovering that rare Ming vase that the family surely overlooked!

The thrill of the hunt is powerful, true, but I am most moved when I discover that I share some interests with the deceased and thus happen upon that collection of odds-and-ends that, as I mentioned before, was seemingly curated with the sole intent to surprise and delight me upon its discovery, as when I pick out from amongst the clutter a few old books on whaling or Native American culture, or some choice mineral specimens. During the brief time I spend in the vacated home picking up small surprises, I privately celebrate the life of the former occupant, promising to offer a new appreciation and home for the objects they once held dear. Estate sales also offer a reminder that our time on earth is very limited indeed; all of the interesting curios and souvenirs I have picked up along the way that hold memories and meaning for me will eventually end up in one of two places: the dump, or in the hands of someone else who will appreciate them. I hope for the latter, and so I mostly aim to choose my acquisitions judiciously!

Aha! Back down to the basement we go, where our former master of the estate presided over an extensive collection of engines, power tools, welding machines, gun-making and maintenance equipment, mineral specimens and just about every manner of screw, nail and other hardware imaginable. The estate sale operator hadn't bothered to sort through drawers and drawers of stuff, nor to price anything, so, this experience being rather akin to mining, I donned my hard hat and dug right in!

Here's a general tip for those looking to acquire stuff: visualize whatever it is you want, and know that it will be yours one day; perhaps not within a day or week, but most likely when you've just forgotten you wanted it, it will appear. Remember how I used to be so interested in the history of whaling, and even went so far as to craft a faux display bottle of whale oil? That project was inspired by a visit to Mystic Seaport and the fact that I wasn't having luck finding any real whale oil, which, in the past, was used for everything from candles to margarine. Just so happens it also makes a superior gun lubricant, which is precisely why I happened upon a bottle labeled "Sperm Oil" in a drawer containing other gun-maintenance accoutrements. It was in a self-labeled bottle, true, but the oil within bore the very mildly fishy smell and tiny suspended white spermaceti crystals that left no doubt as to its authenticity!

I'm a sucker for old bottles and vials of any sort, and I found plenty of those; I don't yet have anything in mind for them, but they came in a couple of colorful vintage cigar boxes which was a nice bonus! The large old canvas rucksack makes the perfect beachcombing bag, while a smattering of rough turquoise specimens from Nevada, some wonderful, thick old hemp rope, a few little antique brass containers, and a jar of reflective glass spheres round out the morning's finds; not bad for ten dollars!

This next batch of items came from the home of an elderly gentleman who had many interests; according to his daughter, who was handling the sale personally, he was a locksmith, artist, engineer, jeweler, traveling salesman and avid flea market enthusiast. My heart nearly stopped when I spied a set of Native American-themed jewelry stamps of the sort used in Navajo silver jewelry. I grabbed a nifty old wooden box from a nearby desk and put the stamps inside, then happily poked around the crowded workshop for another hour or so picking up a few more odds and ends: a jumbo fish hook (a size commonly used for catching sharks I've since been told), a terrific book on whaling, and a fun vintage "ancestor mask" from Papua New Guinea. The whole lot was just five dollars; the deceased gentleman's daughter was happy to have a little help clearing a few more items out of the house-- just a few items, true, but at least they were destined for a new a new life rather than the dumpster out front!

I've already put those stamps to use; below is my first attempt at doing some stamping on copper... maybe when I get better at it I will move up to silver!

Thank you ever so much for joining me on this little expedition! If you should happen to have access to sea urchins in your area, you may enjoy my upcoming tutorial... coming soon!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Trash or Treasure: Copper Tube Contents Revealed!

Several weeks have passed since I first happened upon this mysteriously battered, verdantly patinated copper tube on a secluded stretch of Northern California beach. Those curiously folded ends surely concealed some wonderful prize, but what? Diamonds? Gold? A treasure map sealed in wax? Before opening the tube, I allowed some time to pass during which I could do a little research and pose the question of "What is it?" to my knowledgeable team of FinderMaker followers.

Alas, the tube seems to be a mystery all around, though a co-worker had a rather alarming theory: that it had washed up from one of several offshore radioactive waste disposal sites in the vicinity of the nearby Farallon Islands. He may have been kidding, but after looking into the matter, I found that radioactive materials are sometimes encased in copper, as it is a very stable metal that is resistant to corrosion. I had the tube with me at work, and was suddenly very concerned that I was exposing myself and everyone around me to radiation. Thankfully, it was nearly the end of the day, and my geiger counter was ready and waiting to deliver the final verdict back at the house. The results were.... Negative. No radiation, thank goodness.

With that scare out of the way I decided that it was time to carefully open one of the folded ends and find out what was concealed within! The ends had developed some nice bright new coloration as saltwater leaked from within and evaporated on the surface.

I wrapped a portion of the tube in canvas to protect the surface, then secured it in a vise.

I had a variety of tools on hand; I was able to wedge the tip of a small chisel in the seam of a fold and carefully pry open the seal.

For the first time in who knows how long, the interior was exposed, and I was able to get a look at what was inside (please let there be diamonds hidden in that dirt!)...

Sadly, no diamonds. No gold. No treasure map encased in wax. Just dirty old gravel.

I let the gravel sit out to dry then saved it in a jar. The mysterious tube sits on the bookshelf, its ends once again neatly closed. Am I disappointed? Yes. Deeply. But that won't discourage me from hunting for treasure, in fact, I'm about due for another trip to the coast!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Trash or Treasure? Please Help!

WOW! It's been ages, right? I mean really... it's just been rather too long! I've been busy like you wouldn't believe since relocating to the West Coast, and will at some point soon compose a post aimed at keeping my faithful readers abreast of all of the current projects brewing at FinderMaker Manor. Until then, however, I have just one question for each and every one of you: What is this thing???

Frankly, I'm stumped. First things first, though...

This weekend I felt compelled to embark on a spur of the moment drive up the coast to one of our usual beachcombing spots; it is remote, and requires a near life-threatening scramble down a cliff face to access, so it is rare to see another soul and common to find weird stuff washed up.

We survived the cliff-face scramble down to the water and commenced to ramble along the rocky coast some distance until the geography presented an insurmountably rocky outcropping, which I, ever eager to discover more curious objects, determined that I would simply have to surmount. Surrendering my preference for keeping dry, I took a few minutes to study the swell and retreat of the waves and, in a moment of relative calm, picked my way out around boulders submerged waist-deep in cold water and made my way back in towards a tiny secluded beach on the far side of the outcropping. I quickly scanned the area for any odd detritus (looking specifically for buoys on this trip but always on the alert for anything interesting at all) and honed in rather quickly on what looked like a rosy, metallic rib poking up among a cluster of surf-lapped rocks; I made my way over and immediately dubbed the thing "Jonah's Rib" and determined it worthy of closer inspection back in the company of my cohort.

It is copper; that much was easy enough to surmise, but beyond that I was unable to determine its age or any concrete purpose. What intrigued me most were the closed ends. Please humor me here and examine each end closely; you'll see just as I did that they appear to have been folded closed purposefully. What is being held inside by those folds? A treasure map? Drugs? Lead weights? Sand? Nothing?

The thing has some nice green patina on it and may have been fully covered in that green patina at one point; I've started to think that as it washed close to the shore, it may have rolled around on the rocks and sand for some time, rubbing away much of the patina and exposing the bright copper beneath.

When I first discovered it, the exposed copper was bright and rosy colored like a brand-new penny; over the past few days, however, the copper has dulled and darkened considerably. It isn't particularly heavy, but then it doesn't feel empty either. It doesn't rattle when shaken or bend easily. Oh yes, and it is 13.5" long x 5/8" wide and ranges from 3/8" to 1/2" on the side depending on where ones measures (some parts are more squished than others).

Questions foremost in my mind:
1) How long must copper be submerged in salt water to acquire that crusty green patina?
2) When was copper tubing invented? Although the thing is sort of a flattened, beat up tube-shape, it is definitely tubular, which is to say that it was formed as a tube from the get-go and not as a sheet of copper that was rolled and soldered, as there is no seam running along the length. Figuring out when copper was first extruded as tubing may help me determine the age of the thing.
3) What, if anything, is inside?
4) Can any of my readers help me figure out what this thing is? Is it trash or treasure?

I'm going to give myself a few weeks to do more research, and then I will perform as delicate a surgery as I am able to open up the object and see if there is something concealed within. I will post the results of my findings right here on FinderMaker, so please check back in the next few weeks and if you have any thoughts on what the thing might be, please send me a message; I need your help!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

So You Want to Buy Some Pueblo Pottery...

I was back in New Mexico for a few days around New Years to load up all of our stuff that was still in storage in Santa Fe. Shortly after my arrival, my brother, a connoisseur of book stores, took me to a great one on Central Avenue in Albuquerque. I like finding inexpensive vintage books and magazines on Native American culture, and this place had plenty!

I was excited to find a beautiful magazine from 1961 called "Indian Life". It was published by the "Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial Association", which produces the yearly Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial Exposition in Gallup, NM. I guess the magazine served as sort of an informative guide to the Ceremonial and souvenir of the event. It is printed in full, blazing color, and has amazing photos and some fun articles. I didn't have an opportunity to read the whole thing until a few weeks ago, and was delighted to discover a big article about pottery inside! Given the theme of my most recent blog posts, I figured it would be fun to share it.

It was written in a different time, remember, so you'll have to excuse certain outdated, wince-inducing turns of phrase (the "unsophisticated Indian potter"? yikes!) Oh, and next time you are shopping for a piece of pottery high on the mesa at Acoma, you probably shouldn't "wet your finger and run it along the paint" --trust me, that "paint" isn't going to run, though you may have to if the potter catches you subjecting her art to your dripping finger!

Clicking the images below takes you to the Picasa album, where you can use the magnifying glass icon to make them bigger!

"The pottery bug is virulent and there is no known cure" the article proclaims; and rightly so, I'm sure, though my current budget certainly keeps the bug quite in check. If only a fine piece of pottery could be had today at the prices of 1961!

I really enjoyed sharing my experience at Felipe's studio with you all. For the advanced potter wishing to try their hand at micaceous pottery, Felipe does sell and ship his micaceous clay in 25 pound bags for $50.00 plus $10.00 shipping. I didn't realize that until after my visit. The morning before our moving day, I felt compelled to rush back out to La Madera to buy a bag. When I pulled up the smell of cooking bacon greeted me; breakfast at Owl Peak was in full swing!

The clay is supplied with dried squares of clay to be re-hydrated and used as slip; it is an extra sparkly clay dug from a pit that has a higher proportion of mica.

Not only is Felipe a renowned potter, sought-after medicine man and all around nice guy, it turns out he also opens up his home as a Bed and Breakfast! That morning the table was crowded with visitors: a young man who directs commercials in Los Angeles, a writer, a purveyor of high-end lumber, another local potter, etc... all happy to have found themselves together, enjoying good coffee (from micaceous pottery mugs!) and good food under the roof of one very talented and generous "master of ceremonies", Felipe Ortega!

As I departed, this time for good, with my bag of precious clay, a retired couple was ambling up towards the studio, excited to procure a fine piece of micaceous pottery from the source. As he did with me, Felipe greeted them warmly and ushered them in out of the cold morning air, and just as it was for me, I know that day will be a highlight of their stay in Northern New Mexico!