Last weekend (June 18-20) rockhounds from all over the country descended on East Whittier for a gigantic event, Hidden Treasures, a national gem show and convention.
The North Orange County Gem and Mineral Society (NOCGMS) holds a show every year, usually at the La Habra Community Center, but this year’s event was an extravaganza.
The local rock club is part of the California Federation of Mineralogical Societies, which, in turn, represents one of seven regions in the national American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (AFMS). Each year the national group holds a convention. This year it was California’s turn to host the national gathering, a monumental undertaking that fell to the La Habra club.
Note: The slideshows in this post are hosted on Flickr. You can see them there, complete with captions, by clicking on the name of the slideshow that appears in the black box before the show begins. The one below, for example, is titled “Hidden Treasures.”
Too large to fit in its usual venue, the La Habra Community Center, the show was held instead at the Southern California University of Health Sciences, known to many locals as the former Lowell High School. Displays filled the cafe and gym, demonstrations were set up in the courtyard in front of the gym, the multi-windowed pavilion was filled with fossils and petrified wood, speakers held forth in the lecture hall, and hungry folk gathered at picnic tables under tall trees and ate hot dogs and hamburgers grilled on the spot.
A small encampment of six or eight motor homes sprang up in the back lot of the college. Other out-of-town guests stayed at the Anaheim Park Hotel in Fullerton. And of course there were many locals.
I met Lydia Pattison of Orange at a display of jasper in the cafe. When I asked how she became interested in rocks, she said, “A lot of little things kind of led me down the road and I ended up here.” She went from “crafts to beads to necklaces to rocks… Rocks are addictive.”
First, she said, you cut your rock with a diamond blade saw, then you grind and shape it to make a cabochon, a gem that is ground and polished rather than being faceted. The cabochons can be wire-wrapped, but Pattison prefers beading,
The tools can be expensive.
“That’s why you join a club,” she said. Club membership give you access to tools as well as to the expertise of members and organized field trips.
In the courtyard outside the cafe, amid demonstrations of geode cutting, faceting, wirewrapping, and making cabochons, Lisa Murphy of Palmdale was fusing vivdly colored dichroic glass.
“The blue is cobalt, the orange might be copper,” she said. “My mom (Cheri George) says, you want to remember it, just say, die-crow-ick.”
“It starts out with just cut pieces of glass that I put together, put it in the kiln, heat it up to about to about 1600 degrees, and then when I’m done it comes out nice and round and pretty,” she said.
Between the hot kiln and the sharp glass the enterprise seemed a bit daunting. Does she ever cut herself?
“Yes, all the time. Sharp little things. I cut myself this morning right here,” she said, and pointed out a recent mishap.
I found Don Eschbach, a neighbor I’d never met from East Whittier, demonstrating silversmithing. While Pattison began with an interest in crafts and discovered rocks as a material, Don Eschbach worked the other way around. First came the rocks, then came the craft.
After taking early retirement about five years ago, he tried something he’d been curious about for a long time, prospecting.
“I love the outdoors. I knew I wouldn’t get rich quick.”
Then he found some cool rocks and thought, “I bet they’d look really good cut and polished, so I started that way.”
He doesn’t sell the finished products, he gives them to family and friends.
“You know, when you retire, you retire to enjoy life. If you start doing something as a business then you’re right back where you started from. To me it’s not worth it.”
Fossils and petrified wood
The pavilion, a charming, circular building with lots of windows looking out on lawns and tall trees, was packed with an impressive display of fossils and petrified wood, including many examples from the extensive collection of Walt Wright, a well-respected paleobotanist who just happens to live in Brea.
How to get involved
This is a hobby with something for everyone. If you’re interested in rocks, in jewelry, in crafts, in the great outdoors, in learning new skills or making new friends, then check out the North Orange County Gem and Mineral Society. They hold workshops and classes and organize field trips. Visitors are welcome at their meetings, held the second Tuesday of most months, but not July, August, or December.