There’s more than one way to enjoy fossils and minerals.
Replicating nature’s colors with pulverized gems, minerals and fossils, Alaskan artist Steve Cross shows off the beauty of the materials found in and on top of the earth with the paintings he creates.
“My artwork is a mix of not only gemstones but also very rare biology, everything from ocean, things like cephalopod inks–that would be octopi and squid, things like that,” he said. “I also use a lot of flowers. Anything that either bioluminates or floreses I collect for my artwork.”
See what Cross can do with a handful of precious particles at the 22nd Street Mineral, Fossil, Gem and Jewelry Show, where he has a booth. The show runs Thursday, Jan. 26, through Sunday, Feb. 12, under the white tents at 993 S. Freeway, near West 22nd Street and I-10.
The 22nd Street Mineral, Fossil, Gem and Jewelry Show is a cross-section of the city’s gem shows, with 500 vendors selling minerals to meteorites and dinosaur fossils to jewelry. Buyers and sellers come from around the globe to visit this venue and the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in general.
“The Tucson Gem Show has always been a common meeting ground for mineral, fossil, gemstone, jewelry and meteorite dealers, buyers, and collectors from all corners of the world,” said Heather Grana, a sales manager and customer relations agent with EonsExpo, the sponsoring organization. “Anyone remotely related to the industry is well aware of its purpose and its presence.”
That’s what originally brought Cross from his Good Migrations Studio to Tucson almost 20 years ago; he wanted to use the real deal in his artwork.
“(The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show) is the greatest meeting place of every corner of our planet with the world’s rarest rocks and gems,” he said.
He even grinds down dinosaur fossils to use as pigment for his paints.
“Dinosaur bones collect a lot of irons and other minerals,” he said. “You’ll see everything from petrified woods to dinosaur bones are usually a reddish or brownish color. It usually makes a beautiful iron oxide.”
All those rare and natural ingredients add up to a painting with depth that looks different every time you look at it.
“Every day you look at (my painting) it actually shifts colors based on the lighting in the room,” Cross said. “They bioluminate at night. They glow by themselves when the sun goes down because of certain materials in them.”
Cross hopes viewers understand he uses natural ingredients. For example, when he creates a piece featuring a Gambel’s quail, he incorporates natural materials found in the desert where it lives, such as saguaro cactus ribs or nearby minerals. Although he paints the wildlife we might see, Cross favors the rare, the compelling, the exotic.
“My work has to tell a story,” he said. “If I’m creating a wooly mammoth as a piece of artwork, it is guaranteed to have the DNA of a wooly mammoth inside of it. I’ll use the fur that they’ve found in the ice, the actual DNA, the bone or the ivory or the tusk of the wooly mammoth. Everything I do is indigenous to that piece that I’m making.”
Prices for Cross’ work begin at about $30 for a small piece and go up into the thousands.
Michigan rocks and minerals
As with Cross, Cory Cotter has art pieces that begin at about $25 and go up to the price of a fairly nice house.
He’s not a painter, however. Cotter is a geologist who specializes in mining copper ore from Michigan. His specimens are not penny-size ore, although he does have small pieces for anyone who might like a doorway into collecting. What Cotter has is art. He has pieces that can weigh in the hundreds of carats, making them fairly large pieces. They’re beautiful, too, and Cotter knows how to bring out their best.
“It’s from the ground to the gallery,” he said. “I’m not only finding the pieces, I’m power washing them. Then I’m polishing them. I’m making custom stands. The value added is not just the mineral but all the work that I put into it.”
Cotter was a geology professor but found there wasn’t a lot of money in that, so he went out on his own. On any given snowless day when the ground is clear, Cotter sweeps the ground with his metal detector. If he’s lucky he will come up with a solid hunk of copper that was ripped out of the ground by a passing glacier during the ice age.
“We use metal detectors to find them in what we call the glacial till,” Cotter said. “They’re different than the Arizona copper where it’s in the ore. These are large chunks, sometimes 1,000 pounds or more.”
How does he get them out? It isn’t easy.
“We do it all by hand,” he said. “The terrain is such that you can’t, for the most part, get excavators or things back in the woods. It’s inaccessible. We take four-wheelers back there but most of it is just walking after you get to a certain point.”
He has pieces of copper that cost close to $1 million. For this show, Cotter expects to bring between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds of mostly Michigan copper.
That translates to 250 to 350 pieces in various shapes and forms, he said. Some are crystalized. Some weigh between 1 and 3 pounds; others 300 to 500 pounds. The most expensive piece comes in at more than $100,000.
Those who buy high-end pieces receive a custom-forged and -welded stand, something he created in his shop, and art in its own right.
Look for Cotter’s booth in the middle of the showroom, he said.
The thing to remember about his wares, he said, is that none of it is bought by the pallet wholesale. Nothing wrong with that, he said, but his is mostly a one-man operation, though he does have a small staff to help find the ore.
“I’m the largest retailer of Michigan rocks and minerals,” Cotter said. “There are some other wholesalers who will sell to a local gift shop (for example) pieces by the flat.”
That is not what Cotter wants to do.
“I specialize in the unique, high-end, home decor, the art, the esthetic pieces,” he added.
Although the weight is mighty, Cotter said shoppers would not buy his pieces to melt down as copper.
“It’s worth much more as a specimen,” he said. “Some of these pieces I’m bringing, I’ve had them tested. (One) has over a dozen different minerals in the specimen so it’s copper, nickel, silver, titanium. It’s a real rare, unique combination of native elements.”
The 22nd Street Mineral, Fossil, Gem and Jewelry Show
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, to Sunday, Feb. 12
WHERE: White tents, 993 S. Freeway, Tucson
COST: Admission is free; parking is $10