The artist, Michelangelo believed his task as the sculptor was not to create, but simply to chip away the excess, to reveal the figures he made from stone. A visit to Touchstone Gallery in Sedona leads one to ponder such things.
Ancient, undiscovered beauty hides within an unassuming grey rock or lies just underfoot in a dinosaur-era lakebed where modern man may seldom travel. Working with paleontologists, quarry masters, mine owners and even the old-timer ‘rock hounds,’ gallery owners, Joe and Sue dedicate themselves to revealing such treasures. Joe often comments, “Mother Nature is truly the oldest Master. Our preparators have done world class jobs of removing the excess to reveal the natural masterpieces Mother Nature created.”
During a recent interview with ARTSource, Gallery Manager, Heather Hakola explained, “So much of what the owners do means working directly with those who are involved in unearthing the specimens. Each treasure is natural history art and we offer certifcates of authenticity with all the pieces because they are very collectible.”
Joe added, “I always like to talk to customers about the demanding life of the 186 individual folks that we work with to find the collections we present for them to consider. These folks work almost entirely in very lonely and remote areas of the world. They work long days in often searing heat conditions to unearth these treasures. For every piece that is genuinely worthy of Touchstone customers, they remove ‘excess rock’ weighing many tons.They then spend most of the winter ‘prepping’ the pieces, often removing tiny bits of excess with sandblasting-type equipment.This life is very demanding and you can understand that getting a décor-worthy natural history piece involves significantly more work and expertise than just about anything a customer is likely to consider for display in their home.”
Art within the Art — The “Curators”
Joe and Susan work as conservators for the prizes they offer, using their many years of experience with gemstone, mineral and fossil collecting.The business began 40 years ago in New Mexico. October 2019 marks their tenth Anniversary in the Uptown Sedona location.
Heather commented, “We work diligently collecting, designing and planning the ways we present these specimens. We create the stands and museum mount brackets to integrate the individual pieces, but ultimately they are museum- quality. All are authentic fossils; many pieces are truly world class like the Green River palm fossils and the giant petrified woods. We like to think of Susan and Joe as curators who showcase exquisite minerals and fossils, it is their special art form, and we are proud to offer the very best of what both nature and man have to offer.”
She added. “We invite everyone to join us in celebrating Touchstone Gallery’s tenth Anniversary! For this special event, we are featuring a wide range of minerals and fossils found within the state of Arizona.”
Touchstone Gallery dazzles visitors with a full-spectrum of minerals, fossils and jewelry creations. Incredible human size amethyst geodes are often part of the eye-catching display of nature’s art. Heather and the knowledgeable staff are eager to offer tours of the collection with special insight into unusual mineral compositions and how the crystals and fossils formed.
One of the larger treasures on exhibit is a megalithic amethyst geode ring with deep purple points surrounded by a matrix layer of green copper oxide and chalcedony. Heather exclaimed, “We designed and built the custom stand so it rotates. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece and the latest treasure to arrive here and is so much fun to see! There’s also the super-rare geode from Brazil with green copper oxide around the exterior which is a very unusual formation. The wings themselves weigh about 75 pounds each and we built custom museum mount stands for their life-size presentation.”
Amethyst is found in ancient volcanic areas. As lava cooled it created gas bubbles in the basalt. Over eons, minerals and moisture filled in the gaps and became crystals. Specimens are acquired through hard rock mining and are hand selected, prepared in special ways and mounted to best present their beauty.
“The art within the art is that we present each specimen so they can be enjoyed and viewed from anywhere in the room and the bases are designed around the mineral structure, as with the citrine geode cocktail table,” Heather said.
Collectors, curators and interior designers especially appreciate the idea of nature as art.
Many unusual natural items pair well with wall art and other unique items such as the petrified wood mounted on bases. Peacock marble vases and hand-carved cave onyx vessels are stunning focal points for design.
“The quarry where rare cave onyx is found is in Southern Mexico. A young member of the family that owns the quarry is the artisan who carves out the stone to display the natural formation. So first, nature creates; it takes the Earth many millions of years to form a piece of onyx this size. Quite a number of these were formed in caves where there were stalagmites and stalactites. Over time, the ‘bowl’ almost filled in solid. Quarry masters with really good eyes spot these particular stones and set them aside.”
The surrounding matrix and material that filled the “bowl” is meticulously removed, combining nature and craft. “The particularly large specimen in the photo was a unique solid boulder that had all this beautiful banding and a natural rind on the edge. We have these in various sizes and they are among our most popular collections. They’re such unique, spectacular pieces that people often design entire rooms around them.”
Touchstone also offers a large selection of contemporary gemstone jewelry, each made from individually selected, genuine stones and fossils. Gallery owner, Susan works with Southwest artists to modify, design and create exclusive signature, necklaces, limited edition jewelry using natural color tourmaline and other enticing stones that showcase the relationship between nature and art.
The Fossils — Captured in Time
Arizona Petrified Wood
“Back in the day everybody who went down Route 66 with a station wagon gathered some rocks in the back with the kids — you know it was a ‘thing.'” Heather laughed as she stood next to an impressive, rainbow-striped cut stone. “This is the largest single petrified wood specimen available right now; it’s over six feet long and over three feet wide with natural bark on each side.There are only two places in North America that have the equipment to make the larger cuts like these.”
Petrified wood is Arizona’s state fossil and the rainbow-colored specimens were named after the state. “Only in Arizona do you get this kind of coloration, and it is the most sought-after on earth because it displays all these natural colors that go all the way through the specimen. It’s amazing — it’s 180 to 225 million years old!”
We consider petrified wood a fossil because it formed when the plant material became buried by sediment. This sediment protected the wood from decay brought about by exposure to oxygen and organisms. Minerals such as silica, calcite, and pyrite in groundwater owed through the sediment, and replaced the original plant. The result is a fossil with preserved details of the original wood or other organic material.
Giant Palm Frond
A great example of Nature’s craft are the rare giant palm leaves, fossilized complete in their original form in fossil plates so large that when prepared for display they dominate a wall.
“There is a quarry here in the United States that has two paleontologists we have worked with over many years and we acquire their nest discoveries. This really is Nature’s art and as with the custom design work for displaying the minerals and fossils, there is special engineering involved in designing these structures for display. Again, it’s the best of human and nature.”
Another large piece showcased the impression of a banana leaf with several small, unfortunate sh fossilized during a time when a large freshwater lake covered a portion of North America. Heather described how the entire continent was closer to the equator, so it was much more tropical and that’s why you see the giant palms and things like banana leaves fossilized in lakes similar in size to our modern Great Lakes.
“While we may have some of the most impressive fossils in North America right now, we also have hand selected a number of other fossils and had them custom framed for us with different burl woods to complement them. They are very handsome in a home library or an office environment and are affordable,” Heather added. “Many people who invest in fine art also collect natural history art because they flow together so beautifully. You can have a priceless painting on the wall and compliment it with a beautiful sliced petrified wood table or any of these unique mineral formations.”
Some of Touchstone Gallery’s most intriguing treasures of nature are the rare animal fossils, such as mammoth tusks and the Mosasaurus fossil, an extinct carnivorous aquatic lizard which Heather explained was ‘the T-Rex of the ocean.’ “They were giants. This is an ultra-rare specimen in the gallery! Where else can you go see an entire Mosasaurus skull? It’s like visiting a natural history museum, there’s something here for everyone and we encourage people to touch and experience the nature that is art!”
Visit TouchstoneGalleries.com for more information.
Nature As Art – Touchstone Gallery | Sedona ArtSource Volume 4
By Lynn Alison Trombetta