By Ann Gilligan Elmore, March 24, 2018
Someone asked me the other day how I started making jewelry. I had to stop and think, because I’ve always strung beads and feathers and rocks together and worn it, even when people looked at me like I was a freak. I actually had a little side hustle in high school making feather earrings and selling them to class mates. In truth, my obsession began much earlier than that.
I’ve always had a fascination with rocks. One of the first children’s books I remember was one my grandfather gave me when I was about 3. It was about a lonely little girl that lived in a big city. She had no friends. Then one day, a family with a daughter about her age moved into her apartment building. She tried to make friends, but the little girl was shy. Long story short, they eventually made friends because the first little girl found an ordinary plain rock that glistened and gleamed with color when it was wet. They called it the Magic Friend Maker.
Today, I like to think that the rock was Labradorite from the description I remember all those years ago. It’s funny, because in my life, it’s been the creek that was the magic friend maker. This is a tale about creeks, rocks, friendships and love, and how everything comes full circle.
Kids in the country grow up outside. From the time I was 5 or 6 years old, I was in the creek almost every day during the summer. Our house sat on a hill with a creek in the front and another in the back. It was heaven. You could fish, look for rocks, catch salamanders and crawdads, cool off on a hot day, and even swim your pony! My best friend and I would ride our ponies in the deepest parts of the creek and there’s nothing quite like riding a swimming pony. She also had 2 creeks on her farm and there was a fresh water spring on the backside with a tin cup for anyone that needed a cold drink.
I began to wonder about all kinds of rocks after a particular camping trip on Red Creek in Tucker County, West Virginia. Today there is a public Red Creek Campground near Dolly Sods, but no so back then. There wasn’t even a road in from the backside of Blackwater at the time, but my dad grew up there so he knew all the old fire tower trails. As usual, I was playing in the creek, and I found a fossil! A perfect fossil. A perfect fossil of a moth! That was it. I was hooked.
As soon as I got home I started reading everything in the house about rocks and minerals and fossils. Then I checked out every book in the school library and devoured those. Then everything at the public library…this was before the internet kids, you had to want it! I was fortunate because my mom was voracious reader, and she never hesitated to take me to town or buy me a book I wanted.
I learned about igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. I learned about the geologic timetable and plate tectonics. I learned about how fossils were formed, and how different minerals in the surrounding rocks can alter the color of gemstones. And all this was in elementary school! Later, when I was in college, my science electives were geology and metallurgy – a little odd for a business admin major.
Fast forward to my final year of college. I met this guy. He was a rock hound too, but rocks of a different sort. He hunted for artifacts, like arrowheads and other prehistoric tools and weapons. Often these items are found along, you guessed it, creeks (and rivers). He taught me a whole new skill set, where along creeks to look for these treasures, the difference between a knife and a point, and the archeological timeline. We also did some prospecting, panning for gold along the glacial drift paths in Ohio and Kentucky. And the best part? In less than 1 mile along a subsidiary creek of the Scioto River, we found gold, arrowheads and fossils! Talk about a great date.
So, what does all this have to do with me making jewelry? Here’s what. Shortly after I met that guy, who is now my husband, I decided I wanted a trilobite pendant. Not just wanted but had to have. Trilobites are ancient marine fossils over 500 million years old. They kind of resemble modern day horse shoe crabs.
Like I said, this was waaaaay before the internet, and the Montgomery Ward catalog wasn’t teaming with pages of fossil jewelry. Fortunately for me, my high school art teacher wasas not only a fabulous artist, but also a master silversmith. And even better? We had remained friends after I’d graduated. Her name was Margaret Ann Osborne (I was Ann Margaret) and she graciously invited me into her home and shared her tools and her gift with me, and I never looked back.
In a few weeks I had learned enough to set my trilobite and to this day it’s one of my favorite pieces and I wear it often. And because I’m really a nerd at heart, I’m still making trilobite jewelry to this day. My fine silver and white topaz trilobite ring was created from a mold of a fossil my husband and I found on that trip to the Scioto Valley many years ago. It was on display at The Parkersburg Art Center the summer of 2017.
Fun fact: Mrs. Osborne was also my husband’s art teacher and encouraged him to enter one of his drawings for an art scholarship and he won! He had graduated several years before I ever met her, but it definitely made for great conversation during our first few dates. She was one of his favorite teachers too. Sadly, we lost Mrs. Osborne on my birthday in 2004.
While working on another project (I’m always working on something), I recently ran across a picture of me and my Grandpa in a creek in 1973, and that sent me down a rabbit hole of searching for other pictures buried deep in my memory.
It took a couple of weeks, but I found very similar pictures of my dad in 1947, and of my grandfather and grandmother in 1910. And today, here’s my daughter Ayla in the creek with her friend Danielle.
So, as you can see, it’s all come full circle. For me at least, creeks and rocks are very special, and hold many precious memories of sunny days gone by. Perhaps more importantly, they represent friendship and love, and they’ve helped shape who I am and why I do I do. Over 100 years in photos ~ playing in the creek and making memories!
Are you a fossil hunting nerd? Did you have a special place you went or thing you did as a child that has directly influenced what you do for a living? Do you still like to play in the creek (or river, lake or ocean) once in a while?
Did you go outside and do something you’ll remember today? Comment below, I’d love to hear your story!
Visit West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest for more information on Red Creek Campground and other fun places to make memories in the Mountain State.
For a downloadable article about fossil hunting in West Virginia by Hope Hart from West Virginia Magazine, click here.
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