Winter Newsletter 2019 – Keeping The Glue Warm In Moqui Marble Heaven

In The Studio
While snow was falling at my studio near Morrison, CO, I was working under sunny skies in southern Utah, over 9 hours away. We were lured there by a rock (what else?), but not just any old rock.  A 1200 pound boulder of voluptuous Kanab sandstone was awaiting a new destiny.

Southern Utah is known for its striking sedimentary formations. The “Mighty Five” National Parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Bryce, and Zion) are major international destinations.  But within the nooks and crannies of these extensive formations are geologic anomalies that are unknown elsewhere in the world. A special example are the golf-ball sized iron concretions (cemented mineral masses), known as moqui marbles, which erode from the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. 

The Big Kahuna: 1200 pounds of Kanab Goldenstone sandstone at the Western Hills Stone yard

If you ever wanted to be in moqui marble heaven, there is an area known as Spencer Flat where, at one time, you could have viewed these concretions stretching for hundreds of meters. Sadly, in 2011, a few prospectors took a front-end loader into this area and stole huge amounts of these unique marbles and destroyed their environment forever.
I did not know anything about this until I met Dr. Marjorie Chan last year.  Dr. Chan is a geology professor at the University of Utah, and a specialist in sedimentary concretions.  When these criminals were prosecuted, she provided scientific evidence to help the case.  As the case closed, a number of recovered moqui marbles were released for educational purposes.
The University of Utah’s Geology and Geophysics building is a glowing testimony to Dr. Chan’s vision for geologic education.  It is an unparalleled showcase of fossil and mineral displays artistically rendered with the intent of telling geologic stories and stimulating scientific curiosity.  Dr. Chan invited me to create a sculpture with the moqui marbles to tell their story and the importance of geoconservation.
I was very fortunate to help bring this vision to life.  After considerable discussion, we decided to showcase the moquis by creating a 3-dimensional sculpture with Kanab sandstone as the background.  Over the 6 months prior to assembly we tested the moquis by cutting and drilling them, experimented with various glues and epoxies, and investigated numerous metal pins to insert into the sandstone.  After several design renditions and production discussions, we were ready to take on the big kahuna!  So one cold November morning, we packed up every conceivable tool we could possibly need, and headed out to work on location in sunny, if not chilly, Kanab, Utah.

Top: Slicing a moqui marble on our tile saw (Left). The fascinating interior of one of the iron concretions (Right).
Bottom: Cut and whole moqui marbles laid out in size order at the Utah workshop (Left). Susan arranging marbles on the Kanab boulder laid on its back (Right).

Dr. Chan had chosen a boulder of Kanab “Goldenstone” from the Western Hills Company. Ken Brown at Western Hills very generously worked with us on the project, initially sandblasting curves into the boulder and then allowing us to use part of his shop to complete the project. Our goal was to attach an artistic arrangement of the marbles to the boulder. In an attempt to reveal the various stages in which the iron concretions erode out of the host rock, we inserted whole, halves, and even thinner slices of the moqui marbles to the boulder’s surface.  We included both the round-shaped marbles and a few of the distinctive “flying saucer-shaped” ones as well. We also incorporated some broken ones to show their very curious interior colors and patterns. The hard, banded iron veins coursing through the soft sandstone presented challenges in locating the moquis on the boulder, but we eventually learned how to work around them.  The cool, 30-plus degree mornings, however, made for more creative remedies to keep the rock and glue warm 😉
To see the sculpture in person please visit the University of Utah’s F.A. Sutton building when you are in Salt Lake City!

Top: Stu drilling holes for pinned marbles in taped locations on sculpture front (Left). Dropping glue into a drilled hole (Right).
Bottom: Susan heating the rock before gluing. Our heat gun and propane heater were necessary companions in the 30 to 40 degree days (Left). Dr. Chan standing with the finished sculpture in it’s new home, the F.A. Sutton building at the University of Utah! (Right)

In The Exhibit Hall

In February we will have our usual spot at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show! There are 46 stone-related shows in Tucson this year, and we are exhibiting at the Main Show in the Tucson Convention Center from February 14th – 17th. The booth we share with W.K. Peterson’s Accent Tables is #1702-1706.  It is against the east wall near the entrance to the Annex.  Before you get lost at those other 45 shows, please come by! 

Tucson Convention Center
260 South Church Ave.
Tucson, AZ  85701

BOOTH 1702-1706Hours:
Thursday February 14: 10am – 6:00pm
Friday February 15: 10am – 6pm
Saturday February 16: 10am- 6pm
Sunday February 17: 10am – 5pm

In The Gallery

The Nebraska Geologic map that I created for my client Jim Linderholm in 2014 is on loan to his alma mater – the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The art work is on display in room 126 of Bessey Hall. The Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences published an article about Jim loaning the piece, which includes a geologic map quiz to test your knowledge. Last year Jim showed it at the Lincoln Gem and Mineral Show.  It really gets around!

All the best,

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