Northeast Nebraska Rock & Mineral

A STATE BIRD IN STONE
By June Culp Zeitner
Contributing Editor

   "The Northeast Nebraska Rock and Mineral Society of Norfolk wanted a club project. They wanted to do something impressive, so citizens of their area would know what the gem hobby is all about, and that there was an active hobby club in the area. After some discussion, it was decided to do a mosaic for area shows, eventually to have a permanent home in the popular Norfolk Public Library. Someone thought the state bird, the Western Meadowlark, would be appropriate, and the idea took flight.
   Club member Carl Muffly worked out a basic design, a 14 by 18-inch portrait of a meadowlark singing on a fence post, a site and sound familiar to and beloved by Nebraskans. The Western Meadowlark is scientifically known as Icteridae Sturnella. It is actually not a lark at all, but belongs to the family of birds as the oriole and the blackbird. Its habitat is the open country, grassy fields and meadows of prairies and western Canada and Mexico.
   After several months of careful work by 26 families, and being featured at well-attended shows, the bird landed safely at the library and was joyously received by Lucky Waugh, head librarian.
   The original pattern, drawn from life and photos, was divided into numbered sections, according to color, light, shadows, textures, and position. Gem materials were chosen for each section, to match as nearly as possible, color photographs of the handsome bird. One of the club members, a taxidermist, was very precise in picking materials, which would give a lively and feathery appearance. For example, lots of finely grained Niobrara wood, a local material, was slabbed to find sections, which closely resembled the tawny, sleek wing feathers of the meadowlark.
   The bird was made from 43 pieces of stone, all of local Nebraska materials, except for the shining black jade eye, from the neighbor state of Wyoming. The breast and yellow area of the throat were cut from golden calcite onyx from Plattsmouth. Slabs were cut to uniform thickness, about 1/8 inch and of sufficient size so that if a mistake was made another piece could be cut. There were extra slabs for matching also. The beak was made in three pieces; the head includes 17 pieces.
   The club members found much of the material for the meadowlark themselves. The wood, which is of excellent quality, came from a rough wooded area near the junction of the Niobrara and the Verdigre River. It is found in black, white, brown, tan, ecru, ivory, and several other tints and shades. Sometimes the grain is prominent and detailed, and again it is barely discernible.
   Among those who did work on the club project are the following. In some cases an entire family helped instead of only the name mentioned. Lila Fletcher, Emma Kumm, Scott Hale, Walter Lederer, Alvin Cumm, Harold Alexander, Lloyd Brown, Frank Caauwe, Herb Geary, Harlan Hult, Lowell Hale, Douglas Klein, Elmer Kaiser, Walter John, Norman Lehman, Henry Leu, Carl Muffly, Norman Gehrke, Wilson Wenke, David Hamer, Elwin Fletcher, Jack Putters.
   Each piece was exactly cut and brightly polished. Then the numbered pieces were assembled intarsia style, fitting edge to edge as a jigsaw puzzle. Epoxy was used to hold the pieces together and to hold them to the Masonite backing, which was chosen as the base for the picture.
   Instead of making an intarsia background, the club members chose to use crushed rock as a background for the sky and ground. Colors of crushed rock were blue, green, and white. There were several group meetings to check progress, and a big session for assembling the bird. No one made an estimate of the time involved, but all agreed the project was so interesting that time had not seemed an important factor.
   A contemporary wood frame was used, and since the stone sections had been thin, and the background material very fine, the finished product was light enough in weight that it could be hung the same as the more usual paintings which use oils or acrylics instead of stone.
   Those who worked on the meadowlark were gratified to see it displayed at shows and other local events, and to hear the surprised comments of people who discovered for the first time that pictures could be made of stone. Keith Hockett, club president, was delighted to see that the project generated much local interest and enthusiasm, and even resulted in increased show attendance.
   When the new Norfolk library was completed this spring, Hockett presented the meadowlark on behalf of the club. The picture was spotted where it would get maximum attention, and has since been viewed by both the general public and the proud members of Northeast Nebraska Rock and Mineral Society.
   After seeing how well their project has been received, the club may decide to work together on something else. There are always more ideas forwarded after a project is complete, about how it could have been done. For instance, since the Nebraska State Gem is blue agate, blue agate could have been used for the sky. And a piece of black Nebraska wood from near Valentine could have been used for the eye instead of Wyoming jade. Perhaps prairie agates could have been used for the ground. In that way Nebraska's State Bird would have been made entirely of Nebraska materials, featuring their State Gem and material.
   The Northeast Nebraska Rock and Mineral Club was organized in 1960 and has been a member of the Midwest Federation since then. The club serves a large rural area and several small towns near Norfolk, a lovely, small city on the Elkhorn River.
What's next for this imaginative club? It could be a mosaic of their state flower, or a stone portrait of their state fossil, or a landmark of the state, but whatever it is, the club and the community will gain from people working together in the lapidary hobby."

Article from the LAPIDARY JOURNAL October 1977


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