Excerpt from the Preface to June Culp Zeitner's book             "Gem and Lapidary Materials"

June Culp Zeitner

   "There are often discussions about whether lapidary is an art or a craft. Like oil or watercolor painting, it is both. Every painting is not art. Artists must know their craft and be able to use it well to convey their feelings to others. The true artist not only knows the basics, scale, proportion, rhythm, focus, perspective, harmony, unity and color, but he knows how to use these tools to present an original emotion or observation to draw the ultimate viewer into the picture. Certainly the best lapidary work is as much art as the best paintings. A cutter of highly polished domed oval cabochons, is not an artist, but neither are thousands of "Sunday painters" artists, who dab watercolor, oil, or acrylic on paper or canvas. Conversely, if a lapidary's work is fresh, original, and done with skilled craftsmanship, and if it conveys a feeling of awe, wonder, understanding, or curiosity to the viewer, it is every bit as much art as when a painter is successful with his work on canvas.
   We have today, the best craftsmen ever in the lapidary field. Many of our cutters are innovators and will be copied for generations. That is art. Our carvers are producing meaningful works in hard material, which are the equal of many master-works in hard material, and which are the equal of many masterpieces of the past done in marble or other soft material.
   The standards of what is art have changed so that the National Endowment for the Arts calls experimentation art, even if it is ugly or biased, or absurd.
   Lapidaries are naturally ahead of much of what passes for art, because their medium is gem materials, the most colorful and beautiful bits of this earth. With love and imagination, lapidaries through the ages have made their craft an art, and that art has never flourished as much as in the second half of the 20th century.
   For some reason, art galleries have been slow to accept lapidary work as art - which may be because lapidaries are outnumbered so greatly by those who work with paper, glass, or clay. This is changing now…. As people become more familiar with stones other than diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald, … the appreciation and acceptance of lapidary as an art will grow, and may well become a leading art form in the next century."

June Culp Zeitner, the "First Lady of Gems," passed away on October 11, 2009.

Excerpt from the Forward to Anna Maria Giusti's book       "Pietre Dure" by Alvar Gonzalez Palacios

   "Until quite recently, there were few scholarly studies on the Italian decorative arts, and those which did exist were, for the most part, the work of amateurs. As far as academic research was concerned, there was a kind of barrier between the history of the so-called Fine Arts and that of what in Italy, until a few years ago, were called the 'minor' arts. However, until the end of the nineteenth century, this division had been unthinkable, and archivists had continued indiscriminately to investigate all fields of artistic endeavor, regardless of their classification as 'major' or 'minor'. The documents unearthed by these studies were soon buried again in erudite publications whose content was ignored by art historians. This gave birth to a curious phenomenon of mutual exclusion; parallel studies were carried out by men who were ignorant of each other's existence, resulting in two types of publication. In one, the documents were published in full or summarized by scholars who were either unfamiliar with the works referred to in the archival material or had not taken the trouble to discover their whereabouts; in the second were the objects themselves, but inadequately described because the critics had not consulted these archival studies. This paradoxical state of affairs has gradually been righted. Art historical criticism is now no longer undertaken without reference to contemporary documents, and the derogative and meaningless category of 'minor' arts is rarely referred to in Italy. In fact, if there is a European nation and a period where the division of Art with a capital letter and the work of artisans and decorators never existed, it is Italy in the long centuries before the Risorgimento, when various reigning families who divided up the peninsula gave much attention to the embellishment of their palaces. To this end, these princes employed men of genius and talent without distinguishing between artists and artisans. The history of hardstone inlay which in modern times began in Italy between Rome and Florence provides an excellent framework for the understanding of that freedom from intellectual constraint which allowed princely patrons to use for their own ends whoever was capable of providing ideas or crafting objects. A careful reading of Anna Maria Giusti's book will reveal the continual interaction between celebrated painters and artisans whose names will be unfamiliar to most. Who was the more important of the two for the creation of the marvelous artifacts examined here: the painter who prepared the cartoon, or the craftsmen who gave masterful expression to it? It would be useless, and perhaps tendentious, to attempt to give an answer to this question because even the great artists were forced to alter their ideas when they found themselves confronted with technical problems beyond their control. The objects that are analyzed in these pages, like most of those which form the great European decorative tradition, are works where the roles of artist, craftsman, administrator and patron come together to form, as it were, a perfect geometric figure with many sides. It is pointless, therefore, to rank them one above the other. We do have, however, the task to define the part played by each, but the important thing, that astonishes and delights, is the final result."

Alvar Gonzalez Palacios
Rome, October 1991

Introduction to Edition 1.0

   What you see here are examples of some of the finest artwork and most durable masterpieces ever created. Little known outside their small circles, these fine artists labored long and hard to create beauty, only for itself and not for monetary gain, fame, or even recognition (although some have achieved such). Their dedication, humility, perseverance, and skill reflect what true Fine Art is all about.

   The medium used is the hardest medium known: gemstones. The use of hard stones takes patience, supreme skill, and true love of the creative process. The natural colors, textures, and patterns of these pictures made of stone are exquisite and far superior to any man-made paint or other media.

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   This form of artwork is derived from the great Italian tradition of Florentine mosaics or pietre dure. There are practitioners of this art left in Italy, but those that still use the traditional techniques are few. Here in America, this art form has been revived by a group of dedicated artists beginning in the 1930's, who developed their own techniques using whatever tools and machinery were available. In order to produce these difficult and time consuming masterpieces, years of living and experience are necessary to develop the mind set required; so most of these artists are or were elderly and retired from the workplace. However, among several tribes of the Native American community, this tradition now spans into a fourth generation.

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   These commessi di pietre dure e tenere (intarsias) represent one of the highest levels of creative achievement in American Art History.

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Introduction to Edition 2.0

   Welcome to American Masters of Stone Edition 2.0. This edition is an upgrade from the first edition. It not only includes many improved images and additional images from the artists represented in Edition 1.0, but there are a number of new artists as well. Many of them are from a new generation of American Masters of Stone.

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   Specially featured are many more Native American artists. These include several members of the fourth generation. The workmanship and artistic sensitivity of these new artists is second to none.

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   In addition to the two-dimensional work featured in Edition 1.0, we have included stone-to-stone (intarsiate) sculpture from some of the finest lapidaries in North America. They include a few of the artists previously featured, who have produced both two and three-dimensional work, as well as several masters who specialize in sculpture.

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   Since the variety of work created using natural gems and minerals is immense, an effort has been made to be as representative as possible of this fact. The criterion of inclusion in this edition is not limited to only the commesso, but gemstone micro-mosaics, pebble-paintings, sculpture, and some high-end channel-work are also featured. Although the vast majority of the artwork demands the more challenging stone-to-stone techniques, it is not limited to only that technique. There are bits of grout or silver channel in some of the artwork.

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   As aforementioned in the previous edition, these are examples of some of the finest artwork ever made and now this fact has been recognized.

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