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From STONES comes jewelry & a great deal of joy

By on October 29, 2018 in Arts with 1 Comment

Bernice Bernatz sells her jewelry at the Manson Farmers Market on a warm fall morning.

By Vicki Olson Carr

Bernice Holmes Bernatz worked for the United States Forest Service for 29 years.

After she retired she looked around for an interesting and challenging hobby. Her first passion was horseback riding and she still owns a horse named Lola, but Bernice’s riding days are over. Now her foremost passion is creating and showing stone jewelry.

Many years ago her identical twin sister Beverly invited her to come along on a trip to St. Joe in Idaho to look for star garnets.

“The people there said they would cut them for us and showed us some dome cuts with two-point and three-point stars in them. And we did get some nice garnets with four- and six-point stars showing in them,” Bernice remembered with satisfaction.

Bernice’s next rock hounding happened along the Missouri River in Montana just north of Helena. “We paid a fee so we could dig and wash rocks in the river. I met Margaret Reed, an internationally-known faceter on that trip. And we did find some prime sapphires there by the river… In fact, for 10 years I took gem stones to her to be faceted,” Bernice explained.

With her growing interest and curiosity about gems and stones, Bernice decided one day to go to a North Seattle Rock Club Show. Husband Joel had retired also from his work as a forester with the U.S.F.S.

“I call him an amateur geologist,” Bernice said with a smile, “and he came along too. He thought it would be interesting to look at the suppliers’ specimens of rocks, stone cuts and beads.” The rock show gave her some new ideas about how to use gems and stone beads.

“Back when I was working, I had fellow workers interested in buying what I had on — you know, simple natural stone bead necklaces I had made,” Bernice said, “so that’s how it all began. And then I went to a bead shop in Tacoma where I bought stone beads and other supplies, and took some training.

Bernice made this necklace of variscite stone cuts, a blend of turquoises, cream and copper colors, mined in Utah and Africa, with complementary copper and verisite beads.

“I took my work to a few Christmas shows, then the Chelan Evening Farmers Market. And before I knew it I had people interested in my jewelry.

“I buy a lot of matte finish beads… unpolished material. My matte lapis is brought by donkey or horse out of the mountains in Afghanistan. That’s a country with rebels hostile to the U.S. and I feel a little uneasy about that,” Bernice added.

“Other main sources of material are Africa and Brazil, which has nice, well-cut stones, smooth with no rough edges.

“My favorites are lapis and the various jaspers that are pretty much available from places all over the globe,” Bernice said.

“I buy 16-inch strings of stone beads. Sometimes I’ll buy a string just because I like one particular bead on it. I buy a lot of every-day beads with black, brown, blue and green tones. Sometimes I’m looking for colors that will accessorize what the hot colors in the fashion industry are at the moment.

“But I touch every bead I buy. It’s just something I do, to know they are pristine and good enough for my work. Overall, I know what will sell — although sometimes I’m ahead of the game a year or two and have to wait for the fashion trends to reach the West Coast.”

This two-strand necklace features natural, highly polished carnelian, a
semiprecious stone found commonly in Brazil.

Bernice has a jewelry-making studio in her home with all the necessary tools. When she settles down to work there, she feels excited and happy to be quietly and carefully doing what she loves — creating beautiful things with stone beads and rock cuts.

What is created depends a lot on what she has at hand. The colors in the rock cuts determine which stone beads will be added to the piece. Sometimes the creations are whimsical with one thing leading to another until her creative eye tells her the piece she is working on has the balance and design she wants.

Bernice finds it difficult to explain what makes her creativity flow, but says emphatically that she uses all natural materials.

A few coral pieces in her early work were dyed red, but she now avoids artificially colored materials.

She also enjoys the satisfaction of making customers happy when they discover and purchase a bracelet, necklace or pendant they want for themselves or to give as a gift.

Bernice said she has loved every minute of jewelry making.

‘‘I’ve had lovely customers this summer — and I have a good following. I’m going to have to look into buying online perhaps. Wholesale shows that used to have about 50 vendors, now have only five to 10 vendors for buyers like me who want to make bead jewelry.

“But, you know, Joel and I don’t spend much time or money on entertainment or recreation. I’ve got all that I need with my jewelry making and the social interaction I get at farmers’ markets where I show my work,” said Bernice, who has found pleasure and purpose in a new artistic adventure later in life.

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  1. Deb says:

    Great article and so inspiring to see how people make a good life!

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