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Gem Profile August 19: Picture Jasper
Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip for
August 19, 2011
Picture Jasper, also called Landscape Jasper, Scenic Jasper
one of a series, The Wonders of Jasper
I am sure that some of you wondered how I could write an entire article on just picture jasper, but there are so many different varieties and interesting names and stories about this beautiful rock, that I have had to link certain articles into mine! I hope that the following information will help you identify jasper material that you may not have known the name for, as well as give you conversation fodder to share with your potential customers.
How is Picture Jasper Different?
As we learned in The Wonders of Jasper: About Jasper, jasper is a massive fine grained variety of cryptocrystalline quartz with lots of mineral contaminates. While the material was forming, the manner in which these impurities layered often appear as impressionist pictures that resemble scenic views of a landscape. Some of these mineral colors can be viewed as images of the sky, water, mountains, trees, hills and even plants and animals. Most often picture jasper is given a name to identify the location or region where it is, or was, found and sometimes the name chosen is associated with the unusual color of the jasper. Although there are many, many different names for picture jasper, this article will highlight the varieties most often used by wire jewelry artists.
Scenic jasper from the northwestern states of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon is a very popular lapidary material. The Pacific Ring of Fire geologically includes Sherman County, Oregon. The entire area is composed of volcanic material where successive layers of lava helped form the famous picture jasper known as “Biggs.”
The story of the Biggs jasper find is very interesting. Most accounts tell of the material being discovered in 1964 when road construction crews working on Interstate 84 exposed huge quantities of beautiful picture jasper. However my research found the article “The History of Biggs Jasper,” in which the author interviewed several of the original miners of Biggs and tells the real story. Being a rockhound who has sought out and listened to stories from old-timer rockhounds, I really enjoyed the information and I hope you will take a few minutes to click and read it too!
No matter which tale you personally wish to relate to, Biggs jasper is amazing! The material includes extravagantly detailed patterns of swirls, curls, arcs, bands and scallops outlined in chocolate brown or rich charcoal on background color combinations of pastel blues, rosy beiges, tans, yellows and pale greens. The resemblance to the local landscape where it is actually found is both mystifying and beautiful! Sometimes called petrified mud, this jasper has also been described as silicified volcanic ash.
I am also privileged to have a student-friend who lives in the Biggs jasper area, Barb Hiatt. Just for this article, Barb and her partner Jimmi did some research and set out to take some photos to share with us, and yes they also brought some rough home to cab for Barb’s wire jewelry designs too! Barb is also honored to be associated with a well-known rockhound, Arlene Handley, who owns and runs Handley Rock & Gem shop. Arlene kindly gave Barb permission to photograph several specimens for this and future articles. Barb’s photos are as follows:
Deschutes Jasper is also found in the same general area as Biggs. Identified by “Hoot” Elkins, it was actually the first picture jasper recognized from that part of the country. This variety of landscape jasper has been described by lapidaries as the best material from that region due to the facts that it is harder, more compact, and richer in color. The difference in color between Deschutes and Biggs, is that the former shows more red-browns interspersed with dendritic plants and what appear to be dark blue skies. This material can also change color from dark to light without a break in the pattern. (This jasper is also mentioned in the article by Dale Rhode, that I linked to above.)
There are many other scenic jaspers that are labeled with their specific locality. During my research I happened upon an amazing website specifically devoted to the beauties of jasper, to which I have linked several jasper varieties, because the photography is amazing!
Cripple Creek Jasper from Homedale, Idaho is known for its sharply defined curved hills and horizons of brown and tans with skies of bluish-gray, which is similar to the Wild Horse Jasper found in the same region but rather than scenery, it depicts small tan and brown spots like those seen on a “wild paint horse”!
Owyhee Picture Jasper is found in the Owyhee Mountains on the border of Oregon and Idaho (south of Homedale). The beautiful scenery found in this jasper is most often brilliantly colored with defined blues, tans, and browns. Obviously this area of the country is loaded with all types of picture jaspers, and each has its own name like Bruneau and Willow Creek, and the specimens found in western Oregon remind one of watercolor paintings! These include Rim, Vistaite, and pieces found on the Marston Ranch.
Faux Picture Jasper, and Picture Jasper Locations
There really is no need to try to duplicate picture jasper with inferior materials such as clay or glass, but there is sometimes controversy over what is called a jasper. For example, the lapidary material known as Disaster Peak found in McDermitt, Nevada holds lovely pictures, but it is a fine-grained sandstone and not a jasper. As you can imagine, I could go on and on, but I think if you want more information you now have a good start on where to look for yourself!
All of the picture jaspers that I have talked about are found in the United States, but this article wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention some of the amazing scenic jaspers that are found in other countries. India, Russia, and Australia all boast beautiful jaspers, but one of my personal favorites is a recent find from Egypt called Royal Sahara Jasper.
In 2006, this beautiful form of porcelain jasper was discovered by Oasis Prospecting Company in the eastern Sahara Desert. Similar in scenic looks to original Biggs or Deschutes, when cutting Royal Sahara it does not have any waste! The outer rind is rather thin and the inside of each and every nodule is loaded with pictures, found in every single cut. To learn more about the history and properties of this new picture jasper, I invite you to read this well written article, “Royal Sahara Jasper,” by my friend David Federman. Personally, I also played a small part when this amazing material was introduced to the United States, by being the first lapidary wire-artist to work with it! Instead of rewriting my experiences, I would like to direct you to the full article, including photos of my work, that was in the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Colored Stone magazine titled: “Royal Sahara Jasper Gets Wired!” (PDF download, 226KB).
Now, if I didn’t list your personal favorite picture jasper, I do apologize, but I could write literally pages on the different names and colors! Also, notice that I did not claim any of the jaspers mentioned in this article to be the “King” of jaspers, although many folks would like to claim that title for one type or another. (I think it might be another “sales” tool.) To me, all jaspers are gorgeous!
Next week we will learn a bit about jaspers that have been named because of a specific pattern; flowers such as poppy and chrysanthemum, and animal names like zebra, leopard skin, snakeskin, Dalmatian, etc. Have you wire wrapped Poppy Jasper, Zebra Jasper, Leopardskin Jasper, Dalmatian Jasper, or any other jasper named for its pattern, before? Send pictures to email@example.com and they could be featured!
- Peterson Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals by Frederick H. Pough, ISBN-0-395-91096-X
- Colored Stone, January/February 2009, Interweave Press
Gem Profile by Dale "Cougar" Armstrong
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(our suppliers distinguish between Picture Jasper and Scenic Jasper, but they are both beautiful jasper specimens of picture or landscape jasper)