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Gem club rocks out with show on North Whidbey

Dick James displays a number of the jewelry pieces, belt buckles, cabochons and more that he created through the Whidbey Island Gem Club.  - Rebecca Olson / The Record
Dick James displays a number of the jewelry pieces, belt buckles, cabochons and more that he created through the Whidbey Island Gem Club.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson / The Record

Entering the Sweetheart of Gems Show is like opening a chest full of treasure. Wire-wrapped arrowheads, intricate earrings, belt buckles gleaming with polished stones and even beaded praying mantises will turn the Oak Harbor Senior Center into a treasure trove.

The 48th annual Sweetheart of Gems rock and gem show is set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10 at the senior center, located at 51 S.E. Jerome St., Oak Harbor. Admission is free.

The show features work by members of the Whidbey Island Gem Club a well as vendors and demonstrations. Vendors include Bend Beads, Natural Gold and Jade, RRR Sunstones, Colonial Lapidary, The Opal Guy, R&T Crystals and Ludemann’s Lapidary.

There will be a silent auction, door prizes and food and drinks.

Work by club members will be available to purchase at the show and will be demonstrated, along with cabbing and intarsia, stone bead making, wire wrapping and knapping and primitive tools, said event organizer Chip Batcheller, who has been a member of the club for about seven years.

“It’ll have a little interest for everybody,” said Dick James, club member for 10 years.

The Whidbey Island Gem Club is open to everyone. It currently has about 100 members. The rock shop, located next to the senior center, offers club members an area and the tools to turn rocks into art. The shop is open from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The first two days of work are free for members and shop fees are $2 per day after that.

“We teach everything they need to know about making cabochons and provide the material for the first couple,” James said, pointing to the heaps of colorful polished stones called cabochons. Anyone interested can make a cabochon for free to see if they’d like to join the club.

A wire wrap class takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. every Thursday in the senior center. It’s free for senior center and club members. A knapping group meets to create paleo-arts like arrowheads out of obsidian or agate.

“They meet for doing stuff like the Indians only better,” James laughed.

James said he is especially enthusiastic about the new silversmithing classes that the club began offering last year.

“It’s really simple to do but it’s involved. You’re limited only by your imagination as to what you can make,” James said, adding that one club member made a double-sided pendant cast in silver with handmade stones in it.

The process of silversmithing isn’t hard to grasp, James said. He makes a wax model and casts it, using heat to dissolve the wax. Silver is melted and fills the lost wax model while being spun in a centrifuge.

For love of rocks

Another enjoyable aspect of the club is the field trips members take to find materials. The junior club for kids focuses on field trips and geology education.

“Other than just being plain old fun, it’s healthy, you get to go outdoors, meet people,” James said of the club.

“It’s not expensive,” Batcheller added. “You can make it expensive but the basics aren’t expensive.”

The Whidbey Island Gem Club provides materials to members at minimum cost, and proceeds from the Sweetheart of Gems Show raises money for the club and the scholarship it funds for graduating seniors going into a geology-related field.

Another benefit of joining the club? It’s for people who just plain love rocks.

“I’ve collected pretty rocks from probably age 6 all over the countryside, when I was in the military, all over the world,” Batcheller said.

“I don’t think there’s anybody, male or female, who hasn’t picked up a rock and said, ‘Darn, that’s pretty.’ We just take it a step further and do something with it,” James added.

“A lot of rocks you see don’t look like anything,” Batcheller said. However, once they are polished and cut, they shine with a variety of colors that can even form scenes.

James held up a polished tiger’s eye rock that gleamed amber and brown. Streaks and shapes in the rock formed the image of an ancient desert city and anything else the imagination could determine.

But it started out as a dusty, ugly rock, James said.

After mastering the art of creating a cabochon, club members can move on to making belt buckles, bugs and more.

“We all have a good time,” James said, adding that new members are always welcome.

To join the club, show up at one of their sessions or call Batcheller at 360-679-9397.

For information about the knapping group, call Joe Higgins at 360-675-4943.

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