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Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained. Or, Just Do It

So, I did.

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Why?  Because!

I am terrible at self-promotion, and I always have been.  Since I never win anything, I don’t enter contests.  (The only time I ever won an award was when I not only didn’t enter but didn’t even know it existed!)  As I wrote on Facebook, however, there was a kind of convergence of events that prompted me to take advantage of the last day of nominations.

So I nominated myself.  Since the nomination form requires all kinds of information about oneself, one’s history in the handmade “business,” and so on, self-nomination is the only kind that really works, so I didn’t feel too awkward.  I’m not sure that I gave all the right answers, but you can judge for yourself if you click through from the badge above to my profile page on the award’s site.

I have been a rock hound all my life, and I grew up in a family of do-it-yourselfers.  My grandmothers knitted and crocheted.  My mother sewed.  Handmade Christmas ornaments were a tradition on all sides of the family, whether they were Styrofoam balls with sequins pinned on, reindeer made from clothespins, or walnuts painted like strawberries.  It never occurred to me as a child to be ashamed of or embarrassed by handmade stuff.  I loved having one-of-a-kind.  Maybe that’s why I still have my dolls and especially all the handmade doll clothes.

By the time I approached adolescence, I had an inkling that part of the reason I had a lot of one-of-a-kind, handmade clothes was that we didn’t have a lot of spare cash for a ready made store bought wardrobe like most of my friends.   There were a few nice hand-me-downs, and I appreciated those, but they came with an understanding that someone else had more than we did and felt kind of sorry for me.  I preferred to have less, but to have it be handmade.

The same held true when I was on my own.  I took pride in making do on a slim income.  Making my own clothes, making my kids’ clothes.  Making quilts, even if they weren’t from intricate patchwork patterns.  Crocheting afghans and knitting sweaters.  In many cases if I didn’t make it, we didn’t have it.

I signed up for my first craft show in November 1975, when I was six months pregnant.   The $10 entry fee entitled me to one 10-foot table.  I brought no table cover, and I had barely enough inventory to fill the table.  Not my best showing by a long shot, and I barely made back the entry fee.  I remember that the weather was terrible; even though the show was indoors, people were kept away by wind and freezing rain.  A few years later I did the same show again with a bigger and better inventory, and better results.

Then we moved to Arizona.  With its really neat rocks.  As I made more jewelry and became more proficient at the craft, I ventured to apply for larger shows than the small local events.  Some were successful, some weren’t.  There was no way to be successful, however, at a show I didn’t even apply for.

Even so, when I learned about the Martha Stewart AmericanMade award, I hesitated for a long time.  Do I qualify as a business in the Martha Stewart sense?  I don’t know.  I have a business license.  I pay taxes.  I have a website and an Etsy shop.  Is that enough?  I don’t know.

Last week my daughter-in-law, photographer Shonda Hilton of Clinton, Washington, wrote her own blog post about the value of professional photography.  She wasn’t really saying anything I hadn’t said and thought myself for many years, but because she works in a different creative field and was speaking from a slightly different angle, her justification resonated with me.  Sure, I’m selling a stone I went out in the desert and picked up off the ground, but my contribution doesn’t stop there.  (By the way, Shonda took two of the photos I used in my AmericanMade nomination; I don’t do white backgrounds very well!)  There’s a lot that goes into making a stone into a piece of jewelry, both before and after picking it up.

After reading her blog post, I began to think some more about the Martha Stewart award.  Why not?  It wouldn’t cost me anything, not even an entry fee.  Just the time to fill out the form and nominate myself for the chance to win $10,000.

What sealed the deal was the baseball game Sunday night.  Jessica Mendoza had been hired by ESPN as a baseball analyst, the first woman to hold that position, and was announcing the Cubs/Dodgers game.  Yes, the NFL had recently hired their first female official and the Arizona Cardinals had hired a female football coach.  But I’m a baseball fan.  White Sox more than Cubs, but that’s beside the point.

Well, no, it’s not beside the point.  It’s actually part of the point.  Because back in the 1960s, it was the Chicago Daily News newspaper, in conjunction with the White Sox, who sponsored the annual contest for batboys.  There was an official form and I think you had to write 150 words about why you wanted to be the batboy, and then get a parent’s signature.  Everyone who entered got a baseball, and two lucky boys would be chosen.

No girls allowed.

That didn’t seem fair, so prior to the 1961 season — I was in seventh grade — my friend Sue S. and I decided we would enter.  We would somehow forge our mothers’ signatures on the form and enter in defiance of the rules.  I did it, she didn’t.  Of course I didn’t win.  I didn’t even get the free baseball.  Maybe the newspaper just automatically disqualified me because I was a girl, or maybe they figured out I had forged the signature.  At any rate, I didn’t get to be batgirl for the White Sox.

But Jessica Mendoza’s presence in the announcer’s box reminded me of the fearless 12-year-old I’d been.  So as soon as I got up yesterday morning, on the last day of nominations, I wrote out all the stuff you see on the linked profile and nominated myself for the Martha Stewart AmericanMade award.

Of course I won’t win.  But maybe someone will see what I’ve written and understand what it means to make something yourself and then share it with others.  That’s the whole point of being in business.  Oh, sure, making money is part of it because we can’t get by without some kind of income, and that’s why we make our hobbies into businesses.  For me, though, a good part of it is the sheer joy of playing with the rocks, finding them, turning them into wearable art, and then sharing with someone else.  Especially sharing them with someone who might not be able to afford the more expensive baubles traditionally touted for the ooh and aah factor.  I’m going to give people something no one else can buy anywhere else for any price:  One of a kind.

 

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Summer is a-windin’ down

Believe it or not, August is almost over.  In just another week, summer will be unofficially over.

For me, it’s been a very busy summer, and reasonably productive!  I’ve made some new jewelry pieces.

 

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In fact, my inventory going into the 2015 fall art show season is larger and more diverse than it’s ever been before.

Thanks to the new Lortone rock saw I purchased this spring, I started cutting into the vast stockpile of material accumulated over the past 30 years of Arizona rockhunting, not to mention what I’ve acquired from gem and mineral shows, estate sales, and gifts from friends.

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I’m also learning my way around social media a little better.  Those of you who know me are familiar with my kind of one-woman-show style, where it’s me on the stage and I just kind of talk at you.  You’re always welcome to chime in with questions or comments or even disagreements, because dialogue is how we exchange and expand our knowledge.

That’s why I’m going to invite some friends, and their artwork, to join me.  Let’s see what some other folks are doing with their rocks, or what other arts and crafts they create.  I’ll still get up on stage now and then — I’ve got a blog post in draft mode right now on diamonds — but I really want to put the social in this media.

Do you have something you’d like to get some additional visibility on?  A crafting problem we can maybe work out together?  What can we do to help each other, not just with “like” and “favorite” games, but with real assistance.

You know my philosophy.  You know how I’ve attempted to integrate my arts and crafts endeavors with that philosophy.  It’s time to stop philosophizing and start doing.

 

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Amethysts and Arizona

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The mountain is called Four Peaks. I can’t quite see it from my house because Superstition Mountain rises between us, but a walk or drive of less than a mile brings Four Peaks into view. Though it’s rarely covered with snow, this truly purple mountain majesty is readily seen all over Arizona, and in fact anywhere an Arizona vehicle drives. Four Peaks is featured, appropriately in purple, on our Arizona license plates.

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The sunset on the mountains isn’t the only reason for the colorful description. Four Peaks is the location of one of the world’s most famous amethyst mines, and the only commercial amethyst mine in the United States.

Amethyst used to be considered a precious stone, along with diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire. Those latter four continue to be precious because gem-quality material remains relatively rare. Amethyst lost its “precious” distinction when huge deposits were discovered in Brazil (see sample below) and other parts of South America in the 18th century. Amethyst’s loss is our gain, because abundant supplies means lower costs!

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Diamonds are carbon crystals. Rubies and sapphires are corundum; emeralds are beryl. Amethysts are silicon dioxide, or just another variety of one of the most abundant minerals on earth, namely our old friend quartz. It’s not really surprising then that amethysts show up in many localities around the world, and especially in Arizona.

Several years ago, my late husband and I were rock hunting at a location where we had previously found some purple jasper and some crystal-lined geode fragments. Putting the two together, I thought it quite possible that we might find some amethysts. Maybe not gem quality crystals, but who knows? When I spied a baseball-sized chunk of rather nondescript rock that looked like it might have a vein of agate running through it, I asked for the rock hammer.

“I wanna whack this rock,” I said.

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He laughed. “You think you’re gonna find amethysts?”

With a confident grin, I replied, “No, I don’t think so. I know so.”

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They’re very pale lavender and they’re cloudy rather than clear, but they were really amethysts! How did I know they were there? To this day, I can’t tell you. But I just knew. Later we found a few more similar light-colored crystals in the same area, but never anything like Four Peaks!

A few years ago, I acquired some raw Four Peaks crystals from an elderly friend who had collected them himself 40 or 50 years ago. Photographs can’t do them justice.

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Because amethysts get their lovely purple color from traces of iron that mix with the silicon dioxide of quartz, some of the crystals from Four Peaks are coated with hematite, an iron oxide, in the form of a shiny, sparkling reddish-brown crust.

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To fully appreciate these gems in the rough, you have to put them in perspective.  How big are they?  They can be pretty darn big!

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One of the characteristics of Four Peaks amethysts is that they often have a red flash.  This means that when faceted, the finished gem will show a spark of bright red when moved to catch the light.  I make no claims to be a great photographer, but I did catch just a tiny bit of the red flash in this little rectangular cut Four Peaks amethyst, photographed in bright early morning sunshine.

 

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Not all of Arizona’s amethysts form nice big distinct crystals like the jewels of Four Peaks.  A few months ago I purchased a slice of amethyst and citrine that came from a mine in western Arizona.  Here the individual crystals are smaller and mingle in a more massive formation.  Citrine and amethyst often occur together, and when in the same crystal they are called ametrine.  In this cabochon you can see the crystals in the formation, both purple and yellow-orange.

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Held up to the light — in this case, the rising sun — the color variation is even more dramatic.

 

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Because the amount of iron varied as the silicon dioxide crystals formed, amethysts range in intensity of color from the pale lavender of my whacked stone to the deep purple of that little rectangular faceted stone.  And as you can see in the photos above, an individual crystal may fade from the very dark purple at the termination point down to almost white at the base.  Here’s a nice sized — but imperfectly cut — round amethyst that exhibits a not uncommon streaking of the color.  That’s a good indication this is a genuine amethyst and not a fake.  Fakes — usually glass or a vibrantly colored cubic zirconium — tend to be uniform in color and flawless.  This stone not only is streaked with darker and lighter bands of purple, but it also has inclusions and other flaws that are rarely present in lab-created gems.

 

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Arizona has several other purple gemstones besides amethyst.  The Burro Creek and Sheep Crossing rock collecting areas produce lovely purple agates.  Though I haven’t been to Burro Creek — yet! — I’ve been to the Sheep Crossing and it’s everything the guidebooks say . . . and more!  Maybe next blog post we’ll go there.

 

 

All photos copyright Linda Ann Wheeler Hilton

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Come in, come in. The door is open!

Welcome to Arizona Angel Feathers, a very special kind of gift shop.

Here you’ll find not only the distinctive Angel Feather agate jewelry but also all kinds of wonderful, beautiful, unusual gems and jewelry as well as other delights and treasures from the natural world.

But be warned: The owner of this shop has been known to expound on a variety of issues, some of which may be a little bit controversial. She is a passionate advocate for art and artisan crafts, everything from (gasp!) crocheted pot holders on up. Stained glass, wheel-thrown pottery, wood carvings, fiber art, quilting, fine art photography, painting and drawing: Eventually you’ll find all these and more discussed on the Angel Feathers blog.

So come in, take a look around, set a spell, and enjoy!