Author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, etc.
MARFA'S MOONLIGHT GEMSTONES
AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL GRAYBEAL
(APPROX 48 MINUTES)
C.M. Mayo: Welcome to the sixth podcast in the Marfa Monday series of 24 monthly podcasts, which run from the beginning of 2012 through to the end of 2013 [UPDATE: through 2016] I'm your host, C.M. Mayo, and these podcasts are part of the work of a book I'm writing about Far West Texas. Here we are in June 2012, and I don't have a title for the book yet, but if you're listening a couple of years from now well, I do hope the book not only has a title but has been published in which case I invite you to visit my website, cmmayo.com, and read all about it.
On my website at cmmayo.com/marfa you can also read all about this podcast series and listen in to the other podcasts, which so far include my introduction, posted in January 2012; an interview with Charlie Angell in the Big Bend, February 2012; an interview with Mary Bones, curator of "The Lost Colony" show of regional Texas painting at the Museum of the Big Bend that was in March 2012; an interview with a very talented young artist, Avram Dumitrescu, ran in April 2012; and last month, May 2012, the podcast was an interview with Cynthia McAlister about the curious native bees and the vital role of pollinators in this area, which is the northern Chihuahuan Desert. This month, June 2012, the podcast is my interview recorded last month with Paul Graybeal, the owner of Marfa's fabulous rock shop, Moonlight Gemstones.
Now I know some of you listening don't know where exactly Marfa is. But I'll bet you can picture the shape of the state of Texas: at the far left corner at the border with Mexico and the state of New Mexico, we have El Paso; over toward the far right corner of the state close to Louisiana, we have Houston; at the bottom, we have on the one side the Gulf of Mexico and on the south, Mexico. Now the border between Texas and Mexico heading from there back up northwest toward El Paso, in a wiggly wayindeed with the Big Bend in it is the Rio Grande. In the middle of Texas is its capital, Austin, so roughly a third of the way between El Paso and Austin is Marfa. If you drive from Austin west to Marfa, you'd need about seven hours. If you wanted to drive out east to Marfa from El Paso, that would take you about three-and-a-half hours. I always like to stop in Van Horn for the huevos con machaca and coffee at Chuy's, so it takes me about four hours plus.
In case some other towns are mentioned in this podcast, I want to give you a sense of where these are. Almost directly south and a little bit southeast of Marfa are the Big Bend Ranch State Park and the Big Bend National Park, which border on Mexico. The town of Alpine is about half-an-hour east of Marfa. Fort Davis is about a half hour mostly north, and Terlingua is about two hours southeast in the mountains- not on the border but very close to the border with Mexico.
As you might imagine, Marfa is a very small, very remote town. But it has become well known far beyond the borders of Texas for its art community, for the many accomplished artists and writers in residence full or part-time, with the Judd Foundation, Chinati Foundation, Ballroom Marfa, and several other foundations and galleries as well as a thriving music scene. I'll be covering that in later podcasts.
What I'm interested
in now, still at the beginning of writing of my book, is "the
lay of the land," by which I mean the greater Big Bend region,
which of course includes Marfa. And the land is, as historian
Walter Prescott Webb called it, "an earth-wreck in which
a great section of country was shaken down, turned over, blown
up and set on fire."
C.M. Mayo [to Paul Graybeal]: Well, so we're standing in the front part of the Moonlight Gemstones shop on highway 90 in Marfa. It's beautiful! Do you want to tell me what you've got here?
Paul Graybeal: Well, I guess, you know, a typical rock pile. I have things from all over found to be popular over the years, but the niche that I have that other rock shops wouldn't have would be a collection of local items. I'm probably one of the only persons that are really offering out to retail a nice variety of Texas agates, including Marfa agate, quite rare. You can see the bouquet type. Let me pull up a tray [SOUND OF TRAY OPENING] and this is just something you don't see in the marketplace.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, these are beautiful!
Paul Graybeal: That's my niche and these also.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, they're beautiful. Let's see how I would describe these to people listening. They look like crystal. They have little bits of leaves in them, but they're beautiful and shiny and some of them are black, and some of them are midnight blue, and smoky, and opal-like. And then the other tray over here has this beautiful burnt-orange color and coral color.
Paul Graybeal: This right here's the local pet name is bouquet agate for the floral patterns that they oftentimes take and the pastel colors. We have a variety of agates in each of the areas the lava flows that produce agate in the area. Each location, like Alpine, is quite distinctive and different from the Marfa material. There is some crossover. I mean, both sites have plumes. If you go down to Terlingua area, the Needle Peak agate is more of a sagenite and pseudomorphs, etcetera, yellows and greens as opposed to blacks and reds and yellows.
C.M. Mayo: I'm surprised that the Alpine and Marfa are so different because they're not that far. They're about a half hour on the highway?
Paul Graybeal: Well, they're about 15 miles apart as a crow flies, but these are individual geological events, which produce the agates.
C.M. Mayo: Are they both 35 million years ago, is that right?
Paul Graybeal: Approximately, yes.
C.M. Mayo: One came after the other or they were just separate events?
Paul Graybeal: Separate events. They would be different volcanoes producing the environment in which the agates formed. Like, south of Alpine you have two distinct geological features. One is called the cottonwood springs, which produced the red plume agate that the Woodward Ranch is famous for.
C.M. Mayo: So these reddish ones are from that ranch?
Paul Graybeal: From the Woodward Ranch, yes.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, now these are the polished... like they're oval shapes.
Paul Graybeal: We call these cabochons or cabs for short. Cabochon being a French word for dome, or a dome cut, as opposed to a facet.
C.M. Mayo: This is what you make the jewelry out of- earrings, pendants, bolos and cufflinks and things like that. Well, 35 million years old!
Paul Graybeal: Well, that's when the volcanic activity occurred. We don't really know when agates form. We assume they formed after the lava has cooled, or that while there's still heat active underneath these formations pushing steam or, you know quartz is water soluble in high temperatures, so one of the theories is that quartz is being deposited from hypothermal activity.
C.M. Mayo: The agates might have actually taken a very long time to form after the geological event?
Paul Graybeal: Correct. We don't really know how long it takes an agate to form. We have not produced agates in the lab, per say. Close. I mean we can produce quartz, but we still haven't produced the conditions where we have inclusions like this. And this is a different form of quartz. It's a microcrystalline quartz as opposed to cathedral quartz that they manufacture for the electronic industry.
C.M. Mayo: Can you tell me about what you have in the store? You are mostly specializing in agate?
Paul Graybeal: That's my main interest or what got me into a rock shop is collecting agate as a hobby when I first moved out here in the '80s. Of course, I grew up in the Black Hills and that's real rich in minerals and of course, fossils in Badlands and all that sort of stuff, so at a very young age I'm sure I was exposed to looking at the ground and looking for treasures on the ground sort of thing.
C.M. Mayo: Well, that's actually something very unusual for most people in 21st century America. I grew up in the suburbs in California, and I've lived in cities all my life. I mean, I'm looking at the sidewalk and if I'm not looking at the sidewalk, it's grass. [LAUGHS] So you really grew up going out searching for these things.
Paul Graybeal: Well, I'd be inclined to appreciate nature or less populated parts of the world. You know I tried living in cities a couple times, but I'm much better off out here in the wilderness.
C.M. Mayo: What made you want to come here?
Paul Graybeal: Well, I had taken a job at the observatory [McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis] and I worked up the nine years and that's where I started collecting agates as a hobby. Anyway, I lived on the hill and the hill itself had little quartz called chalcedony roses. They're shaped like roses and maybe had a little quartz of crystal on it. You know picking a few up around my house and I was informed about the Woodward Ranch and about the agates in the area and then one thing led to another.
I'd lost that job in '93, and I moved away for about three years. I had taken some various jobs. As a matter of fact, I moved nine times in those three years. At any rate, I worked my way back and found a place to rent here in Marfa and eventually, I bought this place here in just about 2004 perhaps, so somewhere back in...
C.M. Mayo: It's been about eight years?
Paul Graybeal: Yes, since I've actually bought in. Off and on I've had various opportunities to collect in a site south of town. I don't publicize the places out of respect for the landowners, not to have hoards of people approaching them about the privileges that I've been given. Technically, I'm allowed to collect in trade for jewelry back for the family, you know, or in a couple of cases where I've met new landowners, they're interested in their agates and have been out just to educate them and to show them hunting techniques and what to look for, those sort of things.
A lot of what I've acquired has been from purchasing other collections. That's happened on a number of occasions in the last 20 years where I've picked up a lifetime collection or I've bought out the inventory of several other rock shops in the area.
C.M. Mayo: I'm looking around and it looks really packed with all sorts of stuff. You seem to have all kinds of things in here!
Paul Graybeal: Well, I go to Tucson, which is the big show and then that's where I buy the things that I know sell well like the pyrite cubes. You know these are a big hit.
C.M. Mayo: It's bright silver. It looks like a die, like you know the dice. It's like a perfect little cube. It looks manmade, but it's not, right?
Paul Graybeal: It's a natural crystal, yeah, and they're very popular here in Donald Judd land. You know they
C.M. Mayo: Oh, right. Yes. It looks just like the Donald Judd cubes in the
Paul Graybeal: And everybody loves amethyst and it's a birthstone, so I have to have the amethyst cathedrals down there from Brazil.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, yeah, they're big. They're all along the floor. One, two, three, four, five, six of them. They look about two to three feet high maybe? They're purple like Kool-Aid grape juice and sparkly. And then you have a giant snail fossil.
Paul Graybeal: An ammonite. Yeah.
C.M. Mayo: An ammonite.
Paul Graybeal: In my front door I have three that are from, you know sitting outside, I have three of them that are from here in Texas. That one was actually from Morocco. It was nice I actually had a road worker bring me in a few from Texas. It's nice to have Texas fossils, and you can see in the middle room there are still more varieties.
C.M. Mayo: We're going into the middle room now.
Paul Graybeal: Fossil fish from Wyoming, they're very popular. Trilobites are popular with kids.
C.M. Mayo: Where are the trilobites from?
Paul Graybeal: Well, these are from Utah, and then these are from Morocco.
C.M. Mayo: They're bigger, the ones from Morocco. Are those shark teeth?
Paul Graybeal: Yes.
C.M. Mayo: Where are those from?
Paul Graybeal: Morocco, but I also have some here from a couple other locations, the east coast.
C.M. Mayo: I've heard you can often find them on the beach in Maryland.
Paul Graybeal: Yes.
C.M. Mayo: Then we have the west Texas fossils here, several of those. Oh, from Alaska!
Paul Graybeal: That was a collection of somebody who'd lived up in Alaska.
C.M. Mayo: What are these? These look like bugged-out arrowheads. They're like what four inches long?
Paul Graybeal: They come in a variety of sizes, but they're Latin name is orthoceras. This is a very old fossil, about 400 million years old.
C.M. Mayo: Four hundred million!
Paul Graybeal: Eventually curled up and evolved into ammonites. They were a squid-like creature.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, the ancestor of the ammonites.
Paul Graybeal: They're chambered exoskeleton.
C.M. Mayo: Here are the ammonite halves, these tiny ones.
Paul Graybeal: I have some bigger ones up here that have been cut and polished, and you can see the interior. Actually, geode in technical terms is that the hollow part of the rock has crystals.
C.M. Mayo: They're gorgeous... and then you have some strange things up here.
Paul Graybeal: We do have wild boars up here.
C.M. Mayo: Oh. Oh, that's a ?
Paul Graybeal: This is a wild pig and that's a small bear, a brown bear.
C.M. Mayo: These are skulls. We're looking at the skulls.
Paul Graybeal: Right there's a mountain lion.
C.M. Mayo: Ooh, he has teeth.
Paul Graybeal: Of course, I have some skulls out on my fence out there too.
C.M. Mayo: The teeth on that mountain lion skull, they look like they're for a dentist's office. They're just perfect and pearly-white. [LAUGHS]
Paul Graybeal: This thing was acquired through New Mexico Fish and Game. It's tagged.
C.M. Mayo: You have some big lumpy looking things. There's this rock that looks like little roses?
Paul Graybeal: That's that desert rose.
C.M. Mayo: Desert rose.
Paul Graybeal: The mineral is bladed selenite... and this aragonite and it's got some kind of iron coating.
C.M. Mayo: It looks like coral.
Paul Graybeal: Yes. Well, quite often people mistaken you can see the other aragonite, so actually these are probably calcium carbonate, probably the same as a calcite crystal. I think the aragonite is a missed nomenclature on this particular crystal form.
C.M. Mayo: How would I describe those? They look to me like exotic mushrooms.
Paul Graybeal: A coral.
C.M. Mayo: Yes, or coral. But if I saw that in a mossy forest I would think it was a mushroom. [LAUGHS]
Paul Graybeal: Yeah. Yeah. You know different fungi take different
C.M. Mayo: Then we have these shiny things. These are glittery like disco clothes.
Paul Graybeal: Fool's gold. And right next to it is fool's gold with copper in it, the chalcopyrite, and you can see iridescence to this.
C.M. Mayo: It's peacock or... beautiful!
Paul Graybeal: Multi-colored calcites are popular amongst people that don't know much about rocks, so you know, the shiny colors.
C.M. Mayo: To put it on your table in a bowl that would be beautiful. And the green, is that malachite?
Paul Graybeal: Yes. This is fibrous malachite. It's not something that we want to cut into gemstones. You can see it looks kind of like a tiger eye with the fibrous crystal structure.
C.M. Mayo: It looks almost like a sponge. I know it's not soft, but if you told me it was a sponge I would believe it. It looks spongy.
Paul Graybeal: All the minerals in here were part of a single collection that I acquired. It had been sitting in a storage facility for the last 15 years, but it was a collection at a rock shop in Alpine had bought and had displayed in a museum that was only open for a couple of years, Inda's rock shop. She'd acquired several collections and when she passed away, her daughter just put it all in storage and about 2 1/2 years ago, she cleared it out and I was fortunate that I was recommend. Inside there was a, like I say, the collection of Tom Harkey with his minerals, thousands of pieces. You can see a majority of them still in their boxes or flapped. I don't have space to put them out. Most of them aren't very valuable, you know, they're a lot of common stuff, but it's nice to have. You know out of it, there were 20 or 30 that were pretty remarkable, I would say. Of course, the most unique collectors coming in spot a good deal. I'm not a collector of minerals, so I bought this collection, I put it out for sale.
C.M. Mayo: Well, you must get people who are very knowledgeable. I mean, I'm pretty clueless. I'm just like describing the things I see, but you must get people who are really experts coming in here.
Paul Graybeal: Maybe once a month or so I'll get somebody that's well, you know still I'm on the front street in my retail store, and I'm really off the beaten path.
C.M. Mayo: Well, not completely, because anybody who comes into Marfa is going to by your store. You're right on highway 90.
Paul Graybeal: Still, it's a town of three thousand people and we don't have skiing. You know the only attractions we have are the Ballroom and the Chinati. Of course, we're between the parks, so I've always maintained a good track record with people visiting the natural beauty of the area and Marfa Lights. We have a very specific attraction, which I don't always get the people visiting the Donald Judd Foundation, let's say. You know, a person interested in minimal art might not stop at a rock shop with skulls hanging on his back fence. That's not hot art. [LAUGHS]
C.M. Mayo: Well, but some of the jewelry you make is extraordinary. I saw it on the website.
Paul Graybeal: Getting to use our local stones makes us quite unique and if you like the style that I do then I do have a niche. And if you'd like to see the outside for a little bit
C.M. Mayo: Sure, but before we go outside could I quick ask you what are these? They're green stones beautifully polished with lots of little bubbles in them.
Paul Graybeal: They call this ocean jasper. It's from Madagascar and you can see some big slabs over there. They come in big granite-like rocks and here in the last five or six years have been highly promoted at the shows and it's a good seller. So little orbs, sometimes they're little crystal structures that make it look like flowers around a dot in the stone, that's kind of a common pattern. They're not exceptional for cabochons because they end up having little pockets with small druzy crystal in them.
C.M. Mayo: They're lovely to display or to use as a paperweight.
Paul Graybeal: Right. A worry stone. This here, there about two bags of these and I'm down to six of them, but they're inexpensive and that's the nice thing about having the shop that I can have things that kids can afford and parents can bring their kids in and give them five bucks or 20 bucks each and about half-an-hour, that kind of thing.
C.M. Mayo: What are your favorite gemstones?
Paul Graybeal: I collect agate. And so my deal there is, I have a nice, it's small, but it's a very intense collection. If you wanted to take a look at it, we can go in the house.
C.M. Mayo: That'd be great. We're passing through the shop where you polish things and you have a lot of different equipment in here.
Paul Graybeal: A couple little trim saws and little grinders and of course, the workbench for the silver.
C.M. Mayo: Where you make your jewelry. And there's a sign for the Big Bend Gem and Mineral Show.
Paul Graybeal: Those are three years I hosted it.
C.M. Mayo: In 2006, '07, and '08?
Paul Graybeal: Yes. I hosted it here in Marfa since I moved back to Alpine. It's hosted by our gem club, the Big Bend Gem and Mineral Club or Society.
[ROCKS TUMBLING IN MACHINE]
C.M. Mayo: What is this machine doing?
Paul Graybeal: That's my tumbler. I've got rocks in there tumbling away for they call them broke stones. This is a slicer. Some of these I'll toss in the tumbler for a mass finish. If they're worth it then I'll go ahead and grind them into a shape.
C.M. Mayo: I wouldn't know how to describe that machine. It's turquoise-blue and it's got all sorts of complicated looking innards, and it's about what, 2 1/2 feet square maybe?
Paul Graybeal: This here is a 10-inch lapidary saw. It has a clamp, which holds the rock and it has a drive, which will drive this clamp through the rock. The blade has diamond on the edge of it, so it's more of a grinding action. It has an oil lubrication, an oil bath where the blade just picks up the oil as it rotates. You want the oil to keep the stone cool and to keep the dust down and things like that. The clamps in here will drive it through. I have a cross feed, so I can get accurate slices like a loaf of bread from the store. It has a chain on the switch, so when the drive pulls the carriage through, eventually the chain will pull the switch on, so I can walk away.
The second process is putting it into a kitty litter to clean the oil off and then from there it will go into soapy water.
C.M. Mayo: Oh. Okay, so I'm looking at a pan of... this is kitty litter.
Paul Graybeal: Yeah.
C.M. Mayo: Okay and then with a big metal spatula you toss the sliced rocks around in there to get the oil off?... What's your dog's name?
Paul Graybeal: Tonk, Honky Tonk.
From here I can kind of grade out and see what [SOUND OF SLICED STONES CLINKING] right now, I don't think I have anything really highly valuable that you know I'm going to worry about. Most of these next time I pick out stuff for my tumbler, I'll probably start here.
C.M. Mayo: This is a bench sitting out on the grass and they're drying in the sun, right?
Paul Graybeal: Well, that's just a staging area that prior to, if you look over there you can see I have slabs sorted into buckets. So if somebody wants a belt buckle or wants to pick something from a slab, then I've got that resource. They don't have to pick from a cabochon. We can look at pieces that are already in a slab.
C.M. Mayo: So a person with a ranch could say, "I want a belt buckle made from something on my ranch."
Paul Graybeal: Those folks usually bring me the rocks. The staging area is from here you know when I'm getting ready to cut from there well, I have a couple little trays here.
C.M. Mayo: They look like cake pans and they're full of polished slices of rocks.
Paul Graybeal: Unpolished.
C.M. Mayo: Well, they're getting so much sunshine they look polished!
Paul Graybeal: Right. If you want to see look like polished I would get them wet. Rock hounds they like to pick the rocks. Usually, I'll have
Ooh, that one's shiny. Okay, so we're spraying some water on
them. Ooh, they're so pretty. Turquoise and emerald colors and...
that looks like a Chinese smoked duck egg, like a milky color
and a marshmallow color and... Ooh, bright orange!
[DOOR OPENING AND CLOSING]
Paul Graybeal: This is a private collection of agate. The top shelf is Marfa material and then I have some from Alpine and some from Mexico and Alpine, a mix that's greener from the southwest. The majority of this is local to the Big Bend region or the Chihuahuan Desert. But I do have a few things from other locations.
C.M. Mayo: When you go into the Chihuahuan Desert well, I know we're in Chihuahuan Desert now, but when you cross the border and go a little bit further south, does the type of rock change a lot?
Paul Graybeal: We have some crossover where some of the material that I find here in Marfa can be found in Mexico. There are very distinctive fields down there that produce unique color banded agates. [CLINKING] This here's like they call that a flame agate, apache flame.
C.M. Mayo: It's beautiful. It looks like a flame.
Paul Graybeal: Each location I guess what I'm trying to say is, like Needle Peak, some of that formation will be in Mexico. You know it can crop up over there. I don't have a geological map to tell me exactly what in Mexico, but I do know that each mountain range produces like, you've got the Laguna agates and Moctezuma's and Percales, so you know you have about 30 or 40 different locations in the northern Mexico that famously produce agate and has for many years. When people think about agate it's usually a piece of Mexican banded agate or Lake Superior you know, another famous
C.M. Mayo: Oh, Lake Superior? That's a long way north.
Paul Graybeal: Right. You know there's only a few places where when people think of agates they think you know where they've been really highly promoted. Mexico is one of them. And some experts say that Mexico produces the most beautiful agate in the world. Well, I disagree. I think Marfa does, but the trouble is Marfa hasn't been exploited, it's not been made highly famous. Part of the reason is because it's all on private property and it's very difficult to get access. I don't think it's as widespread as the agate beds in Mexico where when they first started to produce there was enough for everybody who wanted a piece of agate to have a piece of agate and not have to pay a hundred dollars for it.
C.M. Mayo: Well, I would think the Marfa agate would become better known just because Marfa has a big presence on the Internet.
Paul Graybeal: Yeah, it's developing... and I you know over the last five years, I'm sure that I'm not a big promoter like Charlie Angell and I don't promote fieldtrips like some folks do. You know, I treat my privileges more like a person might have a claim. I make my living at it, so I'm not
C.M. Mayo: Well, you have a lovely website, which is very informative. I was doing a little research I know almost nothing about this subject, but I researched what I could this morning on your website, and you had pictures and explained the different types of agate very well. Yeah. I see though that there's more and more about I mean the minute I decided to write my book on Marfa, The New York Times did all these pieces on Marfa! [LAUGHS] It's funny, it's like, well, gee I seem to be one of the crowd here and I thought I had picked a place to write about that no one was writing about.
Paul Graybeal: No. Marfa's been highly publicized, but you know, out of all New York and LA-kind of articles, I've never been mentioned.
C.M. Mayo: I saw you on the Etsy video ["No Place ike Here"] though!
Paul Graybeal: Okay. There's
C.M. Mayo: That was a good video!
Paul Graybeal: Yeah, and I have about half a second.
C.M. Mayo: It's a great one!
Paul Graybeal: [LAUGHS] Yeah, but I'm not promoting my inventory through Etsy and I'm sure if I had they probably would've given me a little longer spot, but outside of that... oh, and I did get mentioned in an interior decorator magazine some 10 years ago that I had a line, kind of thing. I've come to find out that a lot of folks use rocks for interior decorating, that kind of thing, so that makes sense. You know anybody writing about the Marfa scene, I'm down there with the guy that's wearing the funny hat and walking the street looking for handouts kind of thing. [LAUGHS]
C.M. Mayo: Oh, no. I think it's a big part of the whole region is gemstones and I know people are really passionate about it.
Paul Graybeal: To the naturalist and I'll get my 10 percent from anybody across the board. It doesn't matter if you're a millionaire with a high art, if you have a rock bug you're going to make your way into my shop.
C.M. Mayo: Yeah. Well, you are the rock shop in Marfa. You've got to go a long way to find another rock shop.
Paul Graybeal: No. There's rock shops in Alpine, there's a [shop in] Fort Davis. Of course, Terlingua has historically we've got many stones down there and there used to be the Maverick rock shop, that's been bought by another rock hound who lives there part-time kind of thing. He does shows. He's not going to open a rock shop. But they come and go and this is a good area for them. You know every town can support a rock shop because we do get enough tourists and there are enough resources that, we get away with it. When people ask me how I'm doing well, I just say, I get away with it. I get to sell rocks in the desert. [LAUGHS]
C.M. Mayo: Let me ask you, what is that one that looks like an ice cube?
Paul Graybeal: That is a very, very clear piece of quartz, remarkably clear.
C.M. Mayo: It looks like water.
Paul Graybeal: Very exceptional piece.
C.M. Mayo: Beautiful. Then you've got one that's a triangle.
Paul Graybeal: This is a pseudomorph. This would have been originally a different type of crystal that was replaced with quartz. It takes the diamond shape of the original. I assume it's like a dog tooth calcite kind of crystal.
C.M. Mayo: Oh. That's just gorgeous with the mirror behind it and the light on it. It's like you feel different when you're looking at gems. When you hold them they kind of have a vibe. [LAUGHS]
Paul Graybeal: Some people are sensitive. I don't preach anything about stones. Their power for me is their beauty, but for the last 20 years or so I suppose there's been a renaissance in the belief in gems, the spiritual or healing properties. I don't want to discount or belittle anybody's belief systems, but I'm only going to talk about what you can take into the laboratory and prove. If you're sensitive I try not to dislodge your belief system, just accept that, you know, some people are sensitive. So many rock shops now have gone to just crystal palaces for the exploitation of that aspect of them.
C.M. Mayo: Yeah, sort of the New Age healing.
Paul Graybeal: Right. Right. Yes.
C.M. Mayo: If you have this one and it hits your seventh chakra kind of thing.
Paul Graybeal: Right. I try to stay away from preaching anything other than their natural beauty or the rarity, as I understand them.
C.M. Mayo: Wow. The natural beauty is extraordinary. I'm just
Paul Graybeal: You know colors can heal.
C.M. Mayo: They're beautiful.
Paul Graybeal: I mean there's a certain amount of science to various aspects of, you know, what may have an influence in our immune systems, etcetera.
I think so. Well, just gazing upon the beauty, the emerald and
the rose and the tulip-red and that deep, deep Kelly green, emerald
green, the purples and all the interesting patterns like little
pearls... Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for showing me that.
That was just really special.
Paul Graybeal: Yes.
C.M. Mayo: Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
Paul Graybeal: We can.
C.M. Mayo: We're going by the roller. It's still rolling, the tumbler.
Paul Graybeal: Yeah. That will be until bearing wear out. Once a week I'll check them approximately and rotate them. Now, I'll show you what
[DOOR OPENING AND CLOSING]
The end product of the tumbler is A lot of these are from Mexico. Here's one from the area.
C.M. Mayo: It looks like a guitar pick, but it's got all this stuff in it like little leaves.
Paul Graybeal: The plume. Yes, the rough. Now, these here are all local, but this is nice.
[SOUNDS OF CLINKING ROCKS]
C.M. Mayo: Local agates, two dollars each in a big bin. You know one thing I noticed as I was hiking around out here, actually down more by La Junta de los Ríos, Presidio, Chinati Hot Springs, when you're walking at first it feels like you've just got all these rocks. But they're all different sizes and they're all different shapes and they're all clearly composed of something different and the variety! I mean, I walked like half-an-hour down the canyon at Chinati Hot Springs and it was just, over and over, just the variety of size and shape and content, and I would see something that had, I think it was called, the peanut agate?
Paul Graybeal: Yes.
C.M. Mayo: I picked it up and said that must be a piece of pottery with cement on it. No, no. It's actually a rock.
Paul Graybeal: A conglomerate. Yeah. We have quite a lot of conglomerate out here like ash or something has cemented some previous agates together. The peanut agate is formed differently. This here would be like a piece of a peanut agate, and they would form inside these kind of
C.M. Mayo: Looks like little peanuts.
Paul Graybeal: Right. Lots of times they're orange color. Yes. I probably won't have a good example out here right now.
C.M. Mayo: What are the most popular things that people like to buy when they come into your shop?
Paul Graybeal: Well, there's the inexpensive stuff. Of course, I get agate collectors that know how rare Marfa agate or if they want something from the area, then this is an easy sell.
C.M. Mayo: These are the Alpine and these are the Marfa [agate]. The Marfas are a different color. This is the one that looks to me like the smoked duck egg. Dark midnight blue, black, milky purple.... And then the Alpine ones have more coral color in them. And the Terlingua has a bit of green. And they're all next to each other, so you get the spectrum.
[DOOR OPENING AND CLOSING]
C.M. Mayo: So, we're going out the front door. Oh, you've got all kinds of stuff out here. The big ammonites and what is that big green thing?
[CAR DRIVING BY]
Paul Graybeal: Those are calcites.
C.M. Mayo: Looks like a giant green sponge. Wow!
[CARS DRIVING BY]
Paul Graybeal: Geodes and then of course, I have rough between the buildings.
C.M. Mayo: Piles of all kinds of rocks.
Paul Graybeal: Geodes and rough agate, stone planters.
C.M. Mayo: These look like eggs. Grey eggs.
Paul Graybeal: Geodes.
C.M. Mayo: These are geodes.
Paul Graybeal: Rough choice.
C.M. Mayo: So, when you open them they have that beautiful purple and crystal inside?
Paul Graybeal: Some will have amethyst, maybe about 10 percent.
C.M. Mayo: About 10 percent, so you just don't know until you open them?
Paul Graybeal: Right.
C.M. Mayo: They look like orbs.
Paul Graybeal: These are technical geodes and they have an agate skin to them. Some of these will be hollow, so they won't technically be a geode. But I do have another variety of geode over here that form differently. These are called thunder eggs.
C.M. Mayo: Thunder eggs!
Paul Graybeal: Yeah. Over here, these form while the ash and the pyroclastic flows are still hot. These things are produced by the steam, by the chemical reaction associated with the violent explosion.
C.M. Mayo: It's kind of greenish-brown and some are the size of a chicken egg, but some look pretty big-the size of a football almost.
Paul Graybeal: Well, there's one over there that's the size of a basketball. And I've seen some much bigger.
C.M. Mayo: What area are these from?
Paul Graybeal: These are all out of Mexico.
Well, you know I had discovered a really good ranch. I went out there for about two years and picked up rocks and I didn't have a saw, I didn't have any way to process it and at that time Susie Woodward was running the show with her husband and she asked, "What are you going to do with all those things?" So finally I bought a saw and I started cutting. Bought a used grinder and started grinding the cabochons and a couple more years went by and I had this big collection of cabochons and at the time my wife said, "What are you going to do with all these cabochons?"
In 1989, I started moonlighting. That's when I took up my business and I took a summer course at Sul Ross [Sul Ross State University] to learn fabrication techniques for silver and been making it ever since. I called myself Moonlight because it originated as a part-time business and up until '96 when I moved here full-time, and I've been doing this full-time. It's all handmade. I don't personally cast, but I'll use cast items. I'll buy flowers and I have a friend in the hill country who's casting authentic arrowheads, so I'll sell arrowheads as charms and pendants and in some cases I'll incorporate the little arrowheads into jewelry on the sides of rings and I do have some arrowhead earrings, that sort of thing.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, that was so interesting that you learned how to do that.
Paul Graybeal: I get asked a lot about, how do you learn this sort of thing? Well, for me I was motivated and I'm self-taught for the most part in grinding the rocks and that sort of thing. I know in the big cities there's oftentimes clubs where people can meet other craft people. The big cities, they have good clubhouses and people can rent the machines. In my case, I know people that are curious. Over the years I've taught a lot of people just the basics. You know, learning to cut a stone? Well, it took me a year to get efficient at it. I can teach somebody in a few hours a lot of tricks it took me a long time to learn, you know, that you just can't get out of a book.
C.M. Mayo: You've got to learn by doing.
Paul Graybeal: Right. So long as a person is motivated it's good to have an experienced person to give a few pointers I'd say, but for the most part if you're motivated and you want to learn it, I think the majority of the people that are learning the craft probably learned it by themselves. It takes that kind of motivation.
C.M. Mayo: Do you participate in the Trappings of Texas show, or is that something different?
Paul Graybeal: That's for cowboys.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, okay. They don't want bolos? This is a bolo, right?
Paul Graybeal: Right. Yes.
C.M. Mayo: That's a beautiful bolo. It's turquoise... and silver.
Paul Graybeal: Yeah. The Trappings of Texas is bits and spurs and engraving, real traditional cowboy. This is more of an Indian style. It's not part of the cowboy culture.
C.M. Mayo: I always thought that they would wear bolos.
Paul Graybeal: Well, if they did wear a bolo and maybe there's a little turquoise, but they're going to have a little scrollwork. They're going to have I mean, there's a very specific... if you go into Montana silversmith, it's all nickel engraved. There's a very, very cataloged niche. The spurs, you know, if the spurs are decorated they're going to be the scrollwork.
C.M. Mayo: Yeah.
Paul Graybeal: You know, the engraving.
C.M. Mayo: So, it's really a different tradition.
Paul Graybeal: Right. The cowboys will have all the flowery work done on their guns and you know.
C.M. Mayo: A person could come and they could say, "I want to get a bolo," and they could just look at all the cabochons and then you would make it for them?
Paul Graybeal: Right. That's mainly how I work is I'm mostly by commission.
C.M. Mayo: This is Lapis Lazuli?
Paul Graybeal: Yes.
C.M. Mayo: From Afghanistan?
Paul Graybeal: Yeah.
C.M. Mayo: I thought so! And then there's a purple one.
Paul Graybeal: That's amethyst.
C.M. Mayo: The pink, this is pink amethyst?
Paul Graybeal: No. That would be Rhodochrosite. It's a magnesium mineral from Argentina.
C.M. Mayo: The whole world is in here!
Paul Graybeal: Right.
C.M. Mayo [to Paul Graybeal]: Beautiful. So these were found near Alpine?
Paul Graybeal: Yes.
C.M. Mayo: Did you find them?
Paul Graybeal: I have a picture of the fellow who found these.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, really? Oh!
Paul Graybeal: It's right around the corner. He hunted for 50 years, never sold any of it, just a hobby. Dr. Ely. His collection of cabochons sold. There were over five thousand of them and about 12 hundred of them were from the Alpine and the Big Bend area.
C.M. Mayo: He made the cabochons himself?
Paul Graybeal: Right. He just never sold them. They ended up as a collection in Inda's rock shop in Alpine as part of a museum. Now, it's in my hands.
C.M. Mayo: You made the jewelry? You made the silver?
Paul Graybeal: Ben made the jewelry on this particular one.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, he made the jewelry on this one.
Paul Graybeal: Right, so somebody else cuts stones, but I have cut some of these. These are the ones I've cut.
C.M. Mayo: Oh.
Paul Graybeal: But that there again like I say my work sells about as fast as I can make it, so I only have a few pieces in, I'll start with a little elbow time to
C.M. Mayo: You don't want to go on Etsy?
Paul Graybeal: Well,
C.M. Mayo: I'll bet you'd sell a bunch on there.
Paul Graybeal: Well, I can't make it any faster.
C.M. Mayo: That's a good problem to have.
Paul Graybeal: Right. I can have my son and I can hire people to make it but for myself I hardly have anything in there because it's mostly by commission. These were almost empty but now that springtime is here I've got out and that was my goal to fill these two up. This is almost empty. I need to do something to fill this one up, too.
C.M. Mayo: You just, bit by bit, you add your cabochons to the ?
[SOUNDS OF DRAWERS SLIDING]
Paul Graybeal: When the weather's nice I like to work outside. I've got a little machine in here but it's not good for so, a lot of this stuff is going to be seasonal. Right now, it's springtime. I'm going to crank out as many stones as I can. Come the fall and Christmastime, I'm going to be trying to produce inventory for the case.
C.M. Mayo: So, these are your big seasons, the spring and the fall with Christmas coming up?
Paul Graybeal: Yes.
C.M. Mayo: And if a person wanted to commission something from you could they just talk to you on the phone or through your website?
Paul Graybeal: I have to admit my website, I get an awful lot of requests through there but I get very few actual orders. I think people need to be here to make decisions. I got a size, you know, for the wrist, but we do have our jewelry online and people that know me and know my shop oftentimes will buy something from there. And occasionally, we'll get a stranger that discovers me and buys off the web, but that accounts for maybe two percent of my sales. Very, very insignificant. It is a good advertisement where people visiting Marfa... an awful lot of people coming in and say well, I saw your website, a lot of people.
C.M. Mayo: I saw your brochure in the Hotel Paisano.
Paul Graybeal: Yes. That's a good place. I get more people from the Paisano than any other source. [LAUGHS]
C.M. Mayo: I can believe it!
Announcer: Tune in for "Marfa Mondays" with your host C.M. Mayo at cmmayo.com/podcast.