Artists make jewelry from Ford byproduct, other gems

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Artists make jewelry from Ford byproduct, other gems. Photo by Deb Wuethrich.

Long-time Tecumseh residents Bill and Cathy Stone have recently added a new facet to their retirement ventures. The couple has taken classes at the William Holland School of Lapidary, located in Young Harris, Georgia, and use their skill as artisans to fashion jewelry and art pieces from stones, gems and minerals. Their work is displayed in the Michigan Wares space at Grey Fox Floral.

With a name that blends well with their interests, the Stones have both had experiences that serve them well now. Bill, a retired crane operator from the Ford Rouge Steel Plant in Dearborn, has always collected rocks and fossils.

“I’m just a rock nut,” he said.

Cathy spent more than 35 years as an artist working with ceramics. Her specialty was designing buildings for model trains to one-quarter-inch scale, many on commission. She worked with the former owner of Lionel Trains, and said he opened a lot of doors for her. Another experience in that career was working with Ward Kimball, one of the main Disney animators. He was also the voice of the character Jiminy Cricket. Together, they created a depot that was used in at least two Disney films, and then was moved to Kimball’s back yard. The Stones were once invited to his home to see their creation.

A few years ago, Cathy leveled off from that type of work. “I couldn’t just not do anything, so I had to find something else,” she said. About five years ago, she and Bill started traveling around the country to find gems.

“We’d watched that show Cash and Treasures on the Travel channel, and we saw someone doing this and said ‘If they can do it we can do it,’” Cathy said. They have turquoise from Arizona and other states, as well as jasper and agates and sapphires. “We also buy from a couple of regular sources in the industry,” she said.

“It’s the thrill of the hunt,” said Bill. “You never know what you’re going to find.”

Cathy said the raw gems are typically not worth much until something is created from it, like a piece of jewelry.

The couple said they were attending a rock and gem show when they discovered some material called Fordite or Motor City Agate. The product was made from the paint slag that was used to paint the Ford cars in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The cars were placed on tracks or skids and they were spray painted by hand. This would cause a large deposit of overflow paint onto anything in the paint bay. They would then be moved to the paint ovens to cure the paint.

After as many as 100 times, the paint build up would be enough to obstruct progress and workers would have to clean it off. Along the way, someone with an eye for beauty realized that the unique byproduct might be worth salvaging. It was super-cured, patterned like psychedelic agate, and could be cut and polished.

“The patterns look a little like Peter Max’s psychedelic posters,” said Bill. Cathy said she knows she couldn’t paint anything as unique as these patterns.
Cathy was talking with her eye doctor about the hobby she and her husband engage in, and the doctor asked if she knew anything about Fordite. She was reminded of what she’d seen at the gem show, and began searching eBay for some.

“It’s becoming really rare and it’s not going to be around forever, because they don’t paint that way anymore, they use robots,” said Cathy. “Once it’s gone it’s gone.” But she found a piece for approximately $300.

“In that first one, we recognized Bill’s father’s automobile from the 60s,” said Cathy.

“It was a 1965 Mercury, turquoise with a black top,” he said. They’ve managed to score a few more pieces and are now fashioning the material into one-of-a-kind pendants.

“I do most of the designing, and Bill does the cutting and grinding,” Cathy said. The jewelry is especially popular with former and present Ford employees, often given as gifts.

When the couple had a display at Appleumpkin, Susan Serafin approached them about selling their jewelry in the Michigan Wares shop. She owns Dip Stix and Stuff and partners with Jan Fox to operate a Michigan Wares shop at Grey Fox Floral, 116 S. Evans St., Tecumseh.

“It’s a great outlet for us and we’re having some success here now that people are finding out about the shop,” said Cathy. The couple also fashions jewelry from Murano Italian beads and Swarovski crystals. “We always pick the best stuff to work with and we try to price the pieces reasonably. This is a cool shop,” she added.

Bill said it’s fun to travel and find new materials to use. “I also like to grind and polish them. It’s a little like woodworking. Gems are accomplished in much the same way and you can see the results immediately. And it’s a lot of fun.”

Serafin said the Michigan Wares section of Grey Fox now has products from at least 30 vendors, with everything from food items, note cards, to fabric items such as handbags and art made from ties.

“There are so many talented people right here in Michigan,” she said. “We like to feature things made in Michigan as well as Michigan artisans.”




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