Tuesday, 20 July 2021

On The Rocks!

Have you ever wondered where that expression originated?

As with all the truly great things in life great things (curling, single malt scotch, golf) this phrase was born in Scotland. By the way, did I mention that I also originated from there so we should probably add that to the list. In fact, I have actually acquired three square inches of the peat bog used by the Laphroaig Distillery- an investment that nets me a dram of whisky a year in "rent"!

Scots love a wee dram and many prefer it chilled. Winter drinking presented no problem as half the time the drinker was lying in a snow bank to begin with so chilling ingredients were "at hand" (and at foot as well I guess). But even in Scotland, there is a very brief period called, laughingly, "summer" and here is where innovation was needed in the days before refrigeration and readily available ice.

Those canny Scots came up with a brilliant idea- go down to the nearest ice cold stream and grab a few cold rocks from the stream bed. Plunk them in your glass and you were in single malt heaven. Inns would gather some each evening and so the idea of ordering a drink "on the rocks" was born.

Later, ice replaced the rocks but the expression remains.

However, although progress brings convenience, it does NOT always bring improvement! As ice melts, it turns into something called "water" and the effect is to dilute the potency of the beverage. This would not be a problem for most Scots as the drink is gone long before the ice has a chance to even START melting. But other cultures often linger over their tot so many people have gone back to using actual "rocks"

As a lapidary, this caught my interest and I have some cooling in the fridge at all times (just in case...). Recently, I shared a single malt with a relative and they apologized for not having ice so I set out on a mission to make him some of the good stuff.

Now, this is not as simple as it might seem. Some rocks are porous and so might suck up some of the ambrosia and that would be a tragedy. Other rocks could flake off, giving the drink a "gritty" taste and still others actually add a taste and if you're drinking single malt from Islay that would constitute what the Bible refers to as "a sin against the spirit (Matthew 12:31)

So you must carefully choose your rocks. For this attempt, I had the perfect starting material- a section of diamond drill core (a 1 inch "tube" of rock) that consisted entirely of  brecciated green jasper. I had enough for 6 "rocks so the first step was to cut it on my Hi-Tech saw. Here are the results.

However, even after the edges had been ground slightly on my Cab King, there was still a chance that the edge could break the glass resulting in a loss of scotch and, well heartbreak!

So I threw them into my Lot-O-Tumbler with a load of regular rock and created the final product.

So while ice will be gone in short order, these babies will be around to cool drinks for millions of years!

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Gina Halteman-Formica...a great artist!

 A few months ago, a lady in a beautiful part of Pennsylvania saw one of my finished cabs on line and asked to buy it. I sold her the piece and asked if she would send a picture when it was completed...and she sent TWO!

 The stone was the one in the middle of these three- a stunning example of Mexican Crazy Lace Jasper!

So the artist- Gina Halteman- Formica- took the stone and made it look even better by creating an amazing, unique setting. (Sorry for the picture quality but it is hard to photograph silver.)

And I absolutely love her connector- a hand fashioned sliding bail that attaches to the back of the setting so the stone seems to "float".

I really enjoy her work because, like me, she makes a lot of her own findings and connectors and she does a lot with upcycled copper. You really should check out her work at lovegwireworks.com

I'm back on the CabKing and here are some recent pieces- part of my 100 Cabochon project. This diverse grouping of agate and jasper are all local! What amazing material I have to work with!

And just a reminder, if you are travelling near Digby NS, we are now open most days.


Monday, 28 June 2021

Shop Update and Opening

Hi all. We have been given permission to open and our province has decided to let some travelers cross the NS border so on the off chance we might encounter a tourist, we're open!

Right now, most of the action is centered on my shop- The Lap of Lapidary- where I am getting around to cutting some of the finds brought to me by "She With The Agate Eye". And I have to say there is some pretty cool stuff!

The last one is a real mystery. I don't know if the outer "shell" is a weathering effect or not but it's all silicate. If anyone has suggestions, let me know!

So now I am defining shapes and using the trim saw attachment on the Cab King.

There will be some beautiful cabochons if I can get it done without any disasters. I'll keep you posted.

And if you are in the neighbourhood, drop by. My "free tumbled rock" box is overflowing!


Friday, 4 June 2021

My Summer Lapidary Project

 I am blessed to live in an area where there is beautiful rock- agate, jasper, amethyst, carnelian, petrified wood- you name it and "She With The Agate Eye" will find it!

Because of Covid, this summer promises to be pretty quiet tourist wise so I felt it was a good time to work with some of my "inventory", a small fraction of which is shown here in my hi-tech plastic bag rapid retrieval system.

So my goal for this summer is to produce at least 100 top quality cabochons!

The first step was to fire up the Hi-Tech 10 inch slab saw (as shown here - mine ain't quite as clean!) It's a win/win as after I have done a bunch, Vickie cleans out the sludge and uses it to make pigment for her (real) art. She even sells the stuff!

I am cutting slabs and slices and then after a close examination of the rock, choosing the best possible shapes and sizes to maximize colour and patterning. They then look something like this.

Then I install the trim saw attachment on my Cab King. Honestly, I now do this in under 5 minutes- start to finish.

I love this saw for several reasons. First, it is an excellent trim saw and the Cab King blade is REALLY good. Secondly it is easy to clean. And lastly, putting the saw on the right I can still use the coarse grinding wheels at the same time I'm using the saw. Now don't get the idea that I'm good enough to cut and grind simultaneously but sometimes it is handy to move from the saw to the wheels and back.

So then I end up with a bunch of what are called "pre-forms". By the way, notice the extensive use of plastic meat trays!

As you can see, I make lots of small cuts to minimize the amount of rock I have to grind away thus saving wear on my coarse wheels.

Sometimes, if a rock is really small, I'll attach it to wood blocks to make it easier to handle and I find that, with a little practice, you can cut thicker slabs in two when you want thin slices for earrings etc.. I use double sided Gorilla Tape but it's not really vital.

So the project has begun and I'll update you on my progress and try to show as many pics of the finished product as I can.

Hopefully, at some point, Covid is in the rear view mirror and you can come and visit in person but in the meantime, if you see anything you like in our shop (www.seawallemporium.com) or on the blog, just let me know.

Monday, 31 May 2021

What's New at The Shop?

 Like the rest of the world, we have been in a state of suspended animation and isolation. We thought we would have the shop open all summer but then we had another total shut down and now it looks like early July might be our opening- if we open at all this summer. We sure do miss all our visitors!

Anyway, life goes on. I am back in my Lapidary workshop- the Lap of Lapidary- and have had both the 10 inch Hi-Tech saw and the Cab King Lapidary unit along with the trim saw attachment humming at various times. I have cut a LOT of rock, which I'll show in subsequent posts but today I'd like to show some of my recent completed projects. Last year I cut a beautiful piece of rhodochrosite from a mine in Argentina and I've just completed a set using one of the pieces.

The rock is so beautiful and since it was found in a silver mine, I thought it appropriate to combine it with sterling silver. I just love the way it turned out and I have two slices left!

I have also worked several stone to completion. The one in the center of this pic was sold to a lady who saw it on Instagram. It is a great piece of Mexican Crazy Lace Jasper and I can't wait to see what she does with it!

The weather here is still not great- sure wish global warming would show up! But the tumbler is on its third load and I have spent the really cold days making Viking knit chain in copper and sterling silver.

Just love the way they transform when drawn through smaller holes on the draw plate.

So we're keeping busy and if the shop ever opens, will have plenty of great pieces for you to see along with our amazing selection of hand dyed premium Seawall Fibres yarn.

In the meantime, check out our on-line shop- The Seawall Emporium, at www.seawallemporium.com

Stay safe and sane!

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

The Value of Imperfection

 Perhaps it's been being married to an abstract artist but as I "create" more, I've come to see the value of imperfection. We live in a society where perfection is in high demand- a perfect diamond, perfect smile, perfect teeth, perfect skin- the list is endless. And while perfection may be beautiful (and expensive) imperfection intrigues me more because it's ...interesting. The stone I am currently working on is a "perfect" example.

I love working with agate but agate is never symmetrical and it's the impurities that create the amazing patterns and colour shifts. Without them it would be a bland piece of quartz. This stone is a highly imperfect local agate. If you look closely, you can see a fissure in the center where the crystals have grown together and there are areas of inclusions and impurities. But these all contribute to the structure and banding and make the stone interesting. I'd look at it a lot longer than I would a flawless gem. 
I set the stone in upcycled copper that starts off looking like this.

I'd love to leave it looking like this but people don't like copper oxide rubbing off on their clothes! So I do the next best thing- I leave imperfections. Look closely at the copper setting above and you can see some scratches and areas where I haven't removed all the patina and the forms are not identical. I have the equipment and materials to make it flawless but I choose to leave it slightly imperfect because it makes it more interesting.
My shop is called The Artist's Mark NOT because my name is Mark (a question I get regularly from visitors) but because I want people to see the mark of the artist in the finished product.
Don't get me wrong, I am not denigrating those who set perfect gems in perfect settings. They have their place and require patience and expertise I admire but don't possess. But think of it- we remember imperfection- the crooked smile, freckled skin, unruly hair. So I'll stick with my style and, hopefully you will find the pieces...interesting!

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Solveig's Song

 Solveig was a unique and amazing woman whom I was fortunate to meet through my wife's family. She, like they, was Norwegian and lived in Montreal, where she had a beautiful apartment downtown and a rural chalet in St. Sauveur that was straight out of the mountains of her home country. She was an impressive woman in many ways, having married five times and standing at least 6 feet tall with a truly striking appearance- in other words, she looked like a modern Viking.

But Solveig had another side. While very wealthy, she valued and enjoyed simple things and she especially admired intelligence and determination- two traits she had in spades.

In Montreal, there was an entity known as the Norwegian Seamans' Church and while ostensibly a church, it became the hub for all things Norwegian in Montreal, including the many Norwegian sailors who visited the port. At that time, many Norwegians were emigrating to Canada and my father-in-law, Thorleif, was one of them. He arrived in Montreal with little besides a dream, having left his wife and small daughter, Wencke behind until he could afford to bring them over. And that's where Solveig came into their life. She was an active benefactor of the church and tried to help get people established. She helped Thorleif and when his family arrived, showed them much kindness as well. 

She took great interest in Wencke and even helped pay for her McGill tuition. She and her husband Larry shared Wencke's love of reading and especially science. And Solveig and Wencke both loved art and became accomplished artists. They shared another thing. Both had Norwegian names that Canadians found hard to pronounce so Wencke became (my wife) Vickie and Solveig became Silvia.

Solveig was an extremely accomplished artist and sculptor and it's a shame she didn't get to see Vickie's talent or this piece I created but I just know she would have loved it- both for its beauty and the fact that someone she knew had acquired the skills to make it. So I give you Solveig's Song.

 The necklace is made from a copper Viking Chain that I wove from 24 gauge copper wire and drew through a series of draw plates until it was 3 times as long. Then, in honour of this modern Viking, I hung a Viking axe charm framed by copper beads and spacers.

Finally, I finished it by adding lengths of metallic copper, premium leather cord (for comfort) and finished it with a hand made clasp. I can actually see Solveig wearing this and treasuring it as much as her diamonds and jewels because that is who she was.