Notes to Edition 2.0

   The criteria for artwork to be included in this database, is that the work be made of rocks and minerals. The assembly of the stones should be without grout or channels, and the stones should fit precisely next to each other. This includes the commessi (intarsias), inlay, crushed stone pictures, and jewelry. Although in some instances there are exceptions. Some works have epoxy fillers, some feature creative metalsmithing, and others include some glass or wood, the main focus is still on the stone to stone techniques.

. . . . . . .

   Several techniques and styles are evident in this database. Some artists, like Richard Blow used the traditional Italian pietre dure technique, with the use of only hand tools, wire and grit to do the cutting, and traditional glues for assembly. A few Americans, notably Walt Heinz and Leonard Perkins used Italianesque stylizations, some artists use traditional Native American designs and inlay techniques, while others developed their own styles and techniques entirely. Since much of this work was created in isolation from any formal school or tradition, unlike among the Italians and Native Americans, the techniques tend to be peculiar to each individual artist or club.

. . . . . . .

   The first step in the creation of this type of work is to find the necessary material. Since one cannot go to a store and find a tube of blue rock, much searching, either in the field or through networking among fellow rockhounds and gem dealers is necessary to secure the materials needed to make a picture. This process can take many years to accomplish.

. . . . . . .

   The next step is to slab the rocks into usable slices of the proper thickness. The Italians and Native Americans generally use thin slices. Many other artists use thicker slices, either those that are slabbed for cabochons or a slightly thinner slab used specifically for making commessi. Slabs available on the market are usually of the thicker variety, since most lapidaries make cabochons and not commessi. Some Italians still slab their material by hand with a wire saw. On the other hand, Americans use modern slab saws in order to slab sufficient material of the right thickness for assembly. This process can take thousands of hours over a period of several years to have enough material to produce pictures.

. . . . . . .

   The next step is to cut and fit the pieces together. Here the techniques are as varied as the artists themselves. The Native Americans generally use ancient Zuni techniques. The members of the San Francisco Gem & Mineral Society use a modern router assembly for inlaying the stones. The Jewelry & Allied Arts Club of California developed many specialized techniques using a whole range of machinery and handwork. The Castro Valley Club members use a Fab-U-Lap machine for precise fitting, and others developed several unique methods on their own. The one thing that all of these artists have in common is that whatever technique is used, it is extremely labor intensive and the larger pieces can take thousands of hours just to assemble.

. . . . . . .

   The final steps are to lap the surface smooth and apply the final polish. This can be done by hand or machine. Either way it is the most time consuming process of all. Meredith Jones of the Kitsap Gem & Mineral Society developed a unique method for his creation of exceptionally large commessi. In order to lap such large pieces, Meredith built a large circular petrified wood table and lapped it and his other large commessi together by hand, an extremely time consuming technique. Hundred of hours were necessary for that process. Other artists use large or small lap machines, flat, overhead, or vibrating, with either diamond laps or with silicon carbide grits of graduating fineness. The final polish achieved can be a high gloss finish, if only hard stones (pietre dure) are used, or a matte finish, if stones of varying hardness (pietre dure e tenere) are used. Still others have applied carnauba wax, resins, mylar, or a Krylon spray to the surface.

. . . . . . .

   Many different how-to articles were published in various magazines and a few books had small chapters on this subject. Several artists, Olive Colhour, Joe Phetteplace, Meredith Jones, Dr. Charles Irvin, Leonard Perkins, William Grundke, Walt Heinz, Charles Smart, Al & Myrl Cook, and many others wrote or had written, articles or series of articles on how they created their commessi (intarsias). Colonel John Irvin, Phillipe Mutrux, Herb Duke, and Conrad Grundke created step-by-step displays of their techniques. Also, Phil Magistro and Ruth Pitman made videotapes teaching their methods. On the following pages are excerpts from several of these how-to articles, including a recently published article by Conrad Grundke, in Rock & Gem Magazine.


back to top