The Beauty & Wonder of Jasper
Precious stones have captured people’s imagination since antiquity. Their vibrant colors, clarity, shimmer, and above all rarity have made them the treasures of kings, nobles, and merchant magnates who have used them as repositories of wealth, prestige, and power.
Despite their historic monopoly by the elites, the masses have also been drawn to and beguiled by these stones. Neither in the past nor today are people able to resist their allure or stifle their own sense of wonder and awe when presented with a diamond ring, a string of pearls, or the humongous geological miracles housed in places like the Tower of London or the Dalí museum in Figueres.
Not all precious stones are gems, however, and not all are so ostentatious and dazzling. Jasper is a semiprecious rock with a more refined nature and a wider variety of species and “looks.” It’s flowing bands and frosty rings have been compared to the ocean, fire, jungles, and the earthen landscape itself. Jasper has been a prized medium of jewelers for millennia, and more recently has inspired painters, sculptors, photographers, and artists of all kinds. In many ways, jasper is more revealing of the reasons why people are so fascinated with shiny and colorful rocks than are the more hallowed diamonds, emeralds, and rubies.
Agate & Jasper Macro Photography
I have always enjoyed abstract nature photography and take every opportunity to find interesting colors, patterns and shapes found in nature, creating a small part of the nature photography prints I produce for collectors around the world.
When Covid struck, the majority of the world isolated at home for what seemed like forever. The creative outlet that nature photography provides me was severed. One day while browsing the internet I ran across an image of a beautiful stone with incredible abstract qualities. I decided to purchase the stone to see if I could photograph it, creating an abstract art piece in the process.
What started as an experiment, quickly grew to a small obsession, seeking out larger, rarer and more beautiful stones in the process of creating a gallery of these natural abstract images. I have met many interesting and very kind people along the way, many of them very passionate collectors of the worlds finest semi-precious stones. After photographing each piece, I place it back on the internet for sale and the cycle continues, looking for the most interesting stones I can find. Many of the very best stones cannot be bought, as they are priceless treasures for those who collect them.
A Short History of Jasper
Jasper is a silica-based mineral composed of chalcedony and quartz. When this mixture is translucent, it is called agate, when opaque, it’s known as jasper.
Jasper is nearly as old as the Earth itself. Stromatolites, fossilized remnants of the planet’s first algaes and over four billion years old, are made of jasper. Jasper artifacts have been found in archaeological sites dating back over seven thousand years, and the stone saw widespread use in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt and many other early empires. In the Americas, it was used by indigenous societies as a talisman of health and rebirth. By the medieval period, it had spread across Europe and become part of the standard catalog of precious and prestigious minerals.
Because of its widespread use, there are dozens if not hundreds of historic names for the stone, which have gradually coalesced into the modern English “jasper.” This is also a result of the large number of mining locations for the stone around the world, some of the better known varieties coming from India, Madagascar, Brazil, Australia, Uruguay, Egypt, Russia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, and the United States.
Though used and valued in the Americas for over a thousand years, many of the mines in the U.S. are new, having been discovered after 1800. The mines of the West, in places like California, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and elsewhere, are especially well known, and specimens originating from these areas are among the finest and most visually stunning of all jaspers. It is these western jaspers which showcase best what had made them so popular and sought after over time.
My Favorite Three Types of Jasper
Morrisonite is in the Oregon family of jaspers. Oregon’s beaches are littered with agates and other forms of chalcedony, and its interior geology is likewise dotted with hidden deposits.
Quite often a certain gem stone or mineral is named for the person by whom it was first discovered. Being new, it must be given a name, and what is more fitting than that it be given the name of the one who first brought it to public notice?
And that is the reason one of the most outstanding ornamental gem stones found in Malheur county, eastern Oregon is known as "Morrisonite," named for James Morrison, who for a half century has made his home in a canyon of the Owyhee river some six or eight miles above the discontinued post office of Watson. During those years Mr. Morrison has explored much of that rugged area known locally as the Owyhee breaks. Deeply interested in Indian lore, Mr. Morrison has accumulated a large collection of Indian artifacts most of which he found at old campsites and in caves along the river.
Word of his findings reached a gem club in neighboring Idaho, which then publicized the find. Despite the massive popularity of this variety, it has only been found at a single site which has, decades later, still yielded only a small collection of specimens. Since the BLM took ownership of the area, safety concerns have led to the whole area being closed off.
Morrisonite jaspers are known for their soft blue coloration which may appear as scalloped, overlapping areas or large unbroken fields. These are usually flanked by golden or ruddy fringes which serve to frame and enclose them like azure pools. In other specimens, gold bands crisscross the blue areas, creating a marbled effect. Still other less common varieties showcase an interplay of reds, yellows, and especially pale spring greens. These latter can at times be almost translucent, making them seem similar in appearance to agates or even jade.
Blue Mountain Jasper
Blue Mountain jasper is found in Oregon, on the south end of the Blue Mountains, just a few miles north of McDermitt, Nevada. This jasper has color combinations similar to those of the morrisonite found about 80 miles to the north. While morrisonite is formed in veins, the Blue Mountain jasper is more nodular in shape, even though the two types are formed in similar rock. Leonard Kapcinsky put the deposit under claim in 1967, and he still has two claims in the area. The deposit worked a couple of times, but no new material has been mined for over 30 years.
Whereas Morrisonite is known for its more gentle and lighter blues, Blue Mountain jasper has a much darker color palette, full of emerald greens, teals, and shades of olive. These hues are usually organized in banded or concentric gradients which move from almost blackish greens up to pale greys and shades of seafoam. These colorful patches are, in turn, surrounded by a more mottled and rough crust of beige and brown, often making specimens appear similar to geodes.
Blue Mountain Jasper is seen as one of the finest of the “picture jaspers”—jaspers whose unique characteristics resemble landscapes or other geological formations. Blue Mountain specimens can, at times, look like rolling hills, deep forests, or forming shorelines seen from above. In this way, collecting Blue Mountain and other kinds of picture jaspers is much like collecting works of art.
Willow Creek Jasper
Willow Creek jasper hails from nearby Idaho, mined just north of Boise in the area around Boise National Forest.The Mine is owned by Larry Ridley and mined by him and his son Kevin. This kind of jasper is formed inside natural spheroid conglomerations called thundereggs. Some of these thundereggs are up to 10 feet in diameter. The outside is a hard Rhyolite. The thundereggs must be broken opened using drills, sledgehammers and wedges. Unfortunately not every egg found contains the prized Jasper, in fact only about 7 out of 8 of the eggs do!
Unlike Morrisonite or Blue Mountain, Willow Creek jasper is a porcelain jasper. Porcelain jaspers are defined by their resemblance to shards of porcelain which have been glued back together. Soft fields of white and shades of pink are linked by darker lines into something which truly does resemble a repaired dish. Less common specimens also include bluish greys, pale greens, and yellows.
While less gem-like in appearance, Willow Creek jasper is renowned for its delicate pastel colors and flawlessly smooth fields of color. Much of the Willow Creek for sale on the internet is forged or low quality, and the specimens which live up to the reputation ascribed to this type command high prices.
The Beauty of Jasper
Jaspers are appreciated not only for their history, rarity, and variety, but for the unique character of individual pieces. While diamonds and other translucent gemstones may be interesting from a technical and geological perspective, the allure of jasper is thoroughly artistic.
Some artists working in the realm of sculpting have used expert cutting techniques to bring out the hidden landscapes in certain jaspers. They then frame or hang them and present them as artworks in and of themselves. Painters have drawn inspiration from jasper as well, drawing ideas and inspiration from the ordered randomness and using them as the basis for works on canvas.
Photographers have been especially taken with jasper’s wild forms and the delicate interplay of shades and colors. Many have used macrophotography to capture this minute world of chaos and harmony, blowing the images up to create fine art prints resembling both the redrock canyons of the American Southwest and the fiery storms of Jupiter.
These more modern and abstract kinds of rock art are part of the magic of jasper—something both of the earth and a reflection of it. People will always be on the hunt for new deposits of these semi precious wonders, and with all the different varieties and locations already known, it’s easy to find something which speaks to you as either a collector or an artist.
A World of Amazing Stones
Aside from the Jasper's listed above, I also found great interest and photographic subjects in other semi precious stones including Tiffany Stone, Clay Canyon Variscite, Laguna Lace and many other agates and thundereggs.
For Those About To Rock
For my fellow photographers who may be interested in trying out their own hand at jasper photography, I have a few recommendations. You will want the stones to be flat. These lapidary slabs are often bought and sold to those who cut and polish them into jewelry of different forms. The largest and most beautiful slabs are sometimes saved from the chopping block and highly polished to become display pieces. These are my favorite and the easiest stones to photograph.
There are natural cracks & crevices, surface scratches and textures that make the process of photographing many stones well a challenge. If they are polished, half of these distractions are eliminated. If unpolished, I found painting water onto them with a paintbrush or submerging them in water or denatured alcohol, achieves a similar effect to polish, although it is a greater challenge to create sharp images this way.
A Special Thank You
I want to say thank you to those who have gone out of their way to help educate me along the way and who have sold me some of the most beautiful specimens I was able to photograph including Travis, Thomas, Ashley & John & Ken. I'd also like to thank Orion, Chee & Michael for purchasing many of the stones from me once I was done with them, allowing me to continue on the quest for more.
The artwork I produce is high-end, large museum quality artwork, putting it outside of the standard market for most rock enthusiasts. If you are a collector or rock hound and would like to discuss purchasing smaller, less expensive prints of this collection, please send me a message and we can work something out!