Whidbey club shines at Sweetheart of Gems show

Mary Carlson works on a rock creation in the Gem Club’s shop next to the Oak Harbor Senior Center. - Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times
Mary Carlson works on a rock creation in the Gem Club’s shop next to the Oak Harbor Senior Center.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson / Whidbey News-Times

From wearing rocks as jewelry to connecting with another era through rocks transformed into arrowheads, rocks have a way of being artistic and compelling and the Whidbey Island Gem Club wants to show the community how incredible rocks can be.

The Gem Club will roll out a variety of special rocks, from shiny jewelry to elegant pendants and even wire-wrapped insects, at their 47th annual Sweetheart of Gems show, on display Saturday, Feb. 11 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Oak Harbor Senior Center, located at 51 Jerome St. Admission to the show is free.

The members of the Gem Club, which has been around since 1938 and partners with the Senior Center, collect rocks then cut and polish them at the shop next to the Senior Center, bringing out gleaming colors that make the rocks look like gems.

The shop is filled with the roar of machines and club members hard at work transforming rocks into works of art by shaping them into ovals, hearts and rectangles. These polished stones can be wrapped with wire to make bracelets or used in belt buckles and rings.

Other club members prefer knapping, which means “flaking rocks” and involves creating arrowheads and other primitive arts, said event organizer Chip Batcheller, who wired-wrapped some of the arrows to make one-of-a-kind necklaces that will be on display at the show.

The show will also feature rock and gem dealers, door prizes, silent auctions, food and demonstrations including silver smithing, cabbing and intarsia, stone bead making, wire wrapping and knapping and primitive tools.

“There’s going to be a lot of nice stuff at the show,” said Dick James, a club member.

Proceeds benefit the Gem Club’s activities and their scholarship fund for local students.

Anyone age 14 and up is welcome to join the Gem Club. The first lesson on wire wrapping is free and materials are provided. Wire wrapping classes are held every Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Senior Center.

Membership is $15 or $20 per family annually, plus a minor shop fee, said James, who’s been in the club for nine years.

“I just always had an interest in rocks. Everybody does, you pick up a rock here and there,” James said.

The best part of the club is the people, James said. The club has approximately 80 members.

“They’re from all walks of life,” James said.

Sara Gray joined the club five years ago when she and her husband moved to Whidbey Island. They were looking for something to do together that would also help them meet people.

“This is perfect,” said Gray, who is now the club secretary.

Club member Millie Johanson recently learned how to make Viking wire, a technique involving weaving stiff wire into flexible jewelry. She plans to teach it to the rest of the club, which is how the club works.

“If I get something, I share it with them,” Johanson said, adding that many of the members teach themselves techniques then share those with the rest of the club.

There’s also a junior club for younger children that involves field trips and learning about rocks.

“It’s really good for kids because they love to go out exploring,” Gray said.

For information about the club, visit the Sweetheart of Gems Show or call the Senior Center at 279-4580.

“People should come; it’s just the greatest!” Johanson said about the club.


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