Winter Newsletter 2020 – Where There’s Sulfur, There’s Fire

Ode To Iceland – 14.5″ x 20″, 2019
In The Studio

I was up to my elbows in sulfur – cutting, grinding and gluing – when Stu burst into the studio. “What’s burning in here?” he asked, wrinkling his nose, concern written all over his face.  Nothing was burning – it was just the sulfur in the air, in my clothes, and somehow even permeating my rubber gloves…  I knew I was going to smell like sulfur for days.

But Stu’s false impression was understandable.  We trust our noses when it comes to fire.  Have you ever smelled sulfurous gases emanating from a volcano? I remember the first time I was on the rim of Kilauea and suddenly this acrid gas hit my nostrils.  I smelled it again at the fumaroles near Geysir in Iceland.  Sulfur dioxide is forever seared in my memory as linked to volcanism.

But using sulfur crystals in my art is not about the smell, but the color.  Its vibrant canary-yellow color is unmatched among minerals (affordable ones, anyway). So when I created the geologic piece of art, “Ode to Iceland” I wanted to use it in the divergent boundary between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The Iceland hot spot is represented by another bright yellow mineral, orpiment, in a banded arsenic sulfur calcite sphere from Indonesia.  There is a lot of energy released between these two tectonic plates and I wanted to capture its feel through the flow of a variety of colorful minerals including copper, bornite, and pyrite. This is the second piece related to the existential threat of volcanism, which I initiated with The Enemy Within: Mt. Erebus Volcanism and Ozone Depletion in 2017.

The challenging part of this artwork was trying to piece three slabs of Newman Jasper so that the foliation tracked across the design.  To ensure that it looked the way I wanted and that it fit the pattern, I photocopied the pieces of stone and made a mockup. Although it took a few iterations, of both resizing and simplifying Iceland, I finally got the foliation to flow and the pieces to fit!

Grinding sulfur pieces
Simplifying Iceland’s convoluted border
Newman Jasper slabs before piecing
Making the Iceland mockup with “paper” stone
In The Field

At the end of our field work near Jordan Valley, Idaho last fall we heard about a remote area with striking geologic formations a little over an hour northwest.  So the last evening of our time there, we drove out to Leslie Gulch which is part of the Honeycomb Wilderness Area. The rhyolitic tuff has formed towers, pinnacles, and ridges winding along the creek as you head down to the Owyhee River. At sunset it is a surreal landscape and there was not a soul around.  Standing in awe of majestic formations always takes my breath away. 

Leslie Gulch Sunset
Towering tuff formations

In The Exhibit Hall

As I mentioned in my previous newsletter, we will not be exhibiting at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show this year.  I am going there for a buying trip in 10 days and hope to find a venue more amenable to my lapidary art.

In June we will be exhibiting at the AAPG in Houston.  So stay tuned for more information about that.

In The Gallery

I was delighted to have Pocket XIII: Star Cluster accepted for the annual Members’ Show at Foothills Art Center in Golden, Colorado.  It runs from January 24th through April 26th. Please stop by if you are in the area!

Wing of Whimsy – 14.5″ x 5″ x 2.25″, 2020
All the best,
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