A Modern Interest In An Ancient Art

By Melissa Wynn

Since mankind has been able to dream and invent, there have been knappers of glass like stone. The most popular of these, known as conchoidal fracturing stones, is obsidian, the beautiful gift from the volcano. Conchoidal describes the way that brittle materials break when they do not follow any natural planes of separation.

Obsidian is born when molten lava cools rapidly with minimum crystal growth. Forming in a variety of colors from the purest black to the local favorite, rainbow obsidian, formed when magnetite is present in the molten lava flow.

The earliest cutting and slicing tools were shaped by chipping obsidian in to thin, sharp pieces, with river rock chosen for its round shape and density. Obsidian is one of earths sharpest substances and can be many times sharper than even a surgeons scalpel.

Westwood local Jeremy Mayes has been knapping obsidian for the last few years and was kind enough to offer me a fascinating demonstration. Opening his very minimal tool kit , Jeremy first placed a thick piece of leather over his thigh to protect himself from cuts and slivers. He then began knocking small pieces off his chosen chunk of the gorgeous rainbow obsidian with a copper topped, rounded wooden tool he called a bopper.  As he tapped, Mayes explained that shaping this rare and beautiful glass of the earth depends solely on the angle and force of each strike made by the knapper. It takes hours practice of master the finesse of exactly where and how hard to strike your project next to whittle your way to the desired shape and texture.

Jeremy gained his modern interest in this ancient art after spending some time with Milford resident Quinn Street of Volcanic Treasures. Street earned a Masters Degree in Geology and mines the beautiful rainbow obsidian from an ancient lava flow in Northern California. A very talented obsidian artist himself,Quinn has passed his knowledge and interest on to many young men in our area, including Mr. Mayes. Arrowheads, knives, free form sculptures, jewelry and many other works of art have been crafted by this wondrous group.

Several photos of their amazing works and more information can be found by visiting Volcanic on Facebook.