Gem & Mineral Show features intricate work by stone artists

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When it comes to how art is created, you might that there is no single method set in stone -- unless you are making stone intarsia.

Those familiar with intarsia have most likely seen it as wood inlays made of tightly joined sections of differently colored and grained pieces. Those wood bits are then set tightly together to form a single pattern or picture. But wood is malleable, bendable and even soft. Stone is not. And that makes this type of artwork all the more challenging for stone intarsia master Linn Enger.

"The difficulty is in fitting them together. In intarsia the glued joints have to be precise, because you don't want your joints to show," Enger said.

To be a stone intarsia creator, Enger must possess the qualities of an artist, machinist, rock hound and inventor. The latter is to create the tools he uses, because so far he hasn't found anyone who sells them.

"You can't go in to the open market and buy machines to do this," Enger said, "You have to piece them together yourself."

He re-adapts stone cutting and grinding machines to help him create works that sometimes have close to 300 pieces, some no larger than three millimeters.

As for the patterns, on occasion Enger will borrow a design from another art form that also tends to use straight cut pieces that are joined together to create a greater work.

"Some of the pieces I get the patterns just by looking at quilting patterns, but for the most part we just dream up shapes on our own," Enger said.

As for the types of rocks Enger will use, he relies heavily on agate, jasper and petrified wood, all of which are something he can use his rock hound skills to collect locally.

This weekend at the Gem & Mineral Show at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds, a collection of Enger's stone intarsia works will be available for viewing, along with with works by intarsia master Jerry Blimka, both of the men are from the Lewiston, Idaho, area.

In addition to displaying dozens of their works, the artists and craftsmen will gladly talk about what it takes to set stone against stone in a seamless fashion.

"I started out with something simple, just a square piece of rock with a couple frames around it, until I learned how to grind them precisely and how to glue them," Enger said.

To learn more and see for yourself, visit the Gem & Mineral Show at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds, Sept. 11, 12 from 10-5 p.m.

Admission is $2 for adults, children 12 and under are free.

In addition to the stone intarsia displays, 14 dealers will be selling gemstones, agate, jasper, opal, minerals, handmade jewelry and used lapidary machines. Demonstrations of wire wrapping, gold panning and cabbing will be given. The show also includes an interactive kids section, door prizes, rock cutting and a silent auction.

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