Walking across any desert in the world, one could find rocks and fossils of many kinds, but every late January in one specific desert, some of the most dazzling and largest rocks–often with the hidden treasures of crystals inside–are found in the desert of Tucson.
The Tucson Gem, Mineral and Fossil Showcase features 45 different shows held in large white tents and hotel rooms across Tucson. The event brought in $120 million to the Tucson region in 2014, according to Dan Gibson, the director of communications for Visit Tucson, and this year’s showcase expects an attendance rate of about 50,000 people.
“It’s such a big deal for our community because it puts us on the map for two weeks,” Gibson said.
What makes the gem showcase unique is the people from many different cultures and countries who come to Tucson to show their talents.
“I think the gem show thrives because of Tucson’s multiculturalism and I think Tucson is a little bit better for having that multicultural influence as well,” Gibson said.
Here are a few of the stories of people who make their way to town each winter:
The eagle has long been a symbol of freedom and strength in America, and this eagle carving made from various gemstones, is physically as hard as a rock.
Daniel Venturini is an artist who creates birds carved in stone in Brazil, which come in all different species, sizes, and especially, colors.
All of the sculptures are carved entirely out of gems, a realization that makes his largest piece, a sculpture of an eagle, seem all the more impressive.
“I love eagles,” Venturini said of his inspiration for the piece.
The bird is perched on a tall Amethyst crystal and the eagle itself is carved from many different minerals, including Black Dolomite, White Calcite, and a beak made of Agate.
To carve these birds, Venturini uses diamond tools in many different sizes.
The piece cost $18,000 and according to Venturini, took two months to complete.
“All my life I’ve made this,” Venturini said of his stone bird business.
Venturini’s father started making birds from stone 40 years ago, according to Venturini, and at 11 years old, he joined his father in the family business.
Her long hair is made of bike chains and flows down her back effortlessly, pulled together in a ponytail.
Her body forms a network of small metal pieces, filled by gaps of negative space, like a full body armor suit, melding together.
She looks out into the distance and outstretches her fingers to release a butterfly from the palm of her hand.
This woman, is titled ‘Serenity,’ a metal sculpture of a woman, made by artist John T. Benedict, for his business, ‘Some Distant World.‘
Benedict uses engine parts, steel pieces and recycled items in construction mills to create his art pieces and sculptures.
“That was a bit of a challenge because every piece, I had to bend it anywhere from four to nine times to get it to go right,” Benedict said of the metal pieces that make up ‘Serenity.’
Making ‘Serenity’ only took two weeks, according to Benedict, who also completes many of his other projects fairly quickly.
“I’m pretty serious though, when I’m working on it,” Benedict added.
‘Serenity’ is also only one of Benedict’s many metal art pieces, which also includes animals, insects, and a fully playable chess board.
“Ideas are as easy as breathing for me,” Benedict said.
Gifts from the Heart
Some come to the gem showcase in search of things to buy and sell for their business, while others have a different idea of what it means to buy gems.
Nahemah Patrou, an artisan, makes and sells hanging ornaments with mirrors and crystals for window decoration.
While Patrou sells her ornaments for profit, she also gives back in another way by making gifts for people as “blessings,” often for spiritual purposes.
Patrou, along with Carlitos, another artisan, who doesn’t have a last name, make bracelets and other gifts to give out randomly to people, similar to the idea of Ben’s Bells.
These gifts are “just random acts of kindness,” Patrou said. “and you should see people’s faces light up when we give it to them.”
Patrou calls these “medicine pieces,” which can often be necklaces or small objects.
“Sometimes we just leave them just for someone to discover,” Patrou said of the medicine pieces.
“We just randomly give them away to bring a smile or hope, or something like that to somebody,” Patrou said.
Branches of Light
Something that can been done as easily as the proverbial ‘flick of a switch,’ like turning on a lamp, may not ordinarily be seen as revolutionary or as a piece of art, but for Chris Jafferis, it is.
Chris Jafferis and his wife have been building wooden lamps for nearly 42 years.
“Every one is unique,” Jafferis said.
These lamps are not ordinary ones you can find at a store, but are specially crafted by Jafferis in an intensive process that insures the highest design and quality.
“It all starts with the coolest wood on the face of the planet, you’ve got to go find it, and that’s what we do,” Jafferis said. “Every year I spend anywhere between 50-100 days cutting the most unique wood I can possibly find, in seven different states and three countries.”
The biggest hurdle, according to Jafferis, was creating unique pieces that could support a business, but that people could pay for at a reasonable price.
First Jafferis cleans the wood and then preps it. Often, he said, this is the part that takes the most time, since the wood has to weather naturally for its bark to fall off.
The process, according to Jeffers, includes cleaning the wood with water, pressure washing it, cleaning the wood with sand, sanding it, and then applying the finish to the wood.
“It took me 20 years to perfect,” Jafferis said.
Jafferis’ intensive process is what he credits for the creation of his one of a kind products. Knowing wood types, dry times, cleaning procedures and dryness testing are all important factors, according to Jafferis, in producing “first class, top of the line products.”
Jafferis also creates mineral lamps in addition to wooden tree lamps, hence his company name, ‘Sticks n Stones.’
“I’ve always been a real freak on light. I love light. I like all kinds of light,” Jafferis said. “ I’ve been lighting up sticks and stones my whole life.”
Maggie Driver is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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