A gem of a hobby
Rocks, minerals central to Ridgebury Twp. couple
Published: March 16, 2014
Over the years, Marv and Hazel Remaley have found many ways to keep a love of the outdoors alive.
After Marv retired in 1992, the couple began to travel all over the United States and Canada, hunting and collecting rocks and minerals. A couple years later, they joined the Che-Hanna Rock and Mineral Club, and they’ve jumped head first into the hobby ever since.
Both are involved in preparing for the club’s annual show. Parts of the couple’s extensive collection are spread across every room of their Ridgebury Township home, North Ridge, in preparation for this year’s show, to be held March 22 and March 23 at the Athens Township Volunteer Fire Company hall.
Marv has spent much of the winter on a hobby close to his heart — making wire gem trees to sell during the show. His most recent trees were inspired by flowering shrubs, including some that bloom on their expansive property during the spring and summer months.
In the six or seven years he’s been making the trees, Marv says he’s made at least 800. Hazel makes the occasional tree as well.
The trees range in height from three to 12 inches and in price from around $10 for the smaller trees to $200 for larger, more elaborate ones, depending on the materials used.
One tree features amethyst and aventurine stones on a fuchsite base. Another contains Herkimer diamonds — quartz crystals originally found in and around Herkimer County, N.Y. — on a native copper base. Yet another is modeled after a grafted apple tree with gems representing red and golden delicious “apples.”
The stones rest on wire “branches,” and the tree is attached to a mineral base. The Remaleys mainly use bases for the trees made of minerals collected in their years of traveling. Marv cuts and polishes the bases himself using his lapidary equipment.
Larger pieces can take as much as three to four days of work, Marv said, but he tends to work in stages. First, he twists several pieces of wire together to form the “trunk,” then shapes a tree with branches from the wire. Then, he attaches the wire frame to the base before adding the tumbled or raw, mine-run gems.
“It keeps him rather busy,” Hazel said of the work.
Marv originally learned the hobby from Inga Wells, a fellow rock club member and its current president. Over the years, he said he’s picked up tips and inspiration from members of nearby clubs and at conventions.
Avid collectors from near and far buy Marv’s trees for themselves and as gifts for others, he said. The Remaleys sell the trees at the gem show and at a couple of local gift shops. They also sell gem trees, geodes and jewelry at Athens ArtsFest, an event they look forward to each year.
Marv has found over the years that gem tree makers each have their own technique and style. Some are measured and calculated when constructing their trees, but Marv takes a more relaxed approach.
“I never make two trees that are exactly alike,” he said.
The Remaleys are also avid collectors, displaying their mineral collections throughout the house in display cases and as decorations. During their travels, the couple has traded minerals and met fellow rockhounds along the way. The Remaleys also maintain a collection of fluorescent minerals, which glow under ultraviolet light.
Each item in the collection is inventoried, labeled with a number and has a story behind it. Some minerals were gifts from friends. Others were collected. Still others were obtained by far more entertaining means, including some petrified wood the couple came across in Wyoming after a stranger walking alongside the road led them to a collection at his house 20 miles away.
Hazel also travels often as president of the Eastern Federation of Mineralogical and Lapidary Societies, which consists of over 100 clubs between Maine and Florida.
For now, both look forward to preparing for the Che-Hanna club’s annual show, particularly a special exhibit by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. This year’s exhibit will feature outstanding minerals from Pennsylvania, Hazel said.
The museum also holds a silent mineral auction at the event.
“We all have the chance to buy something from the Carnegie Museum,” she said.
The show also includes a fossil exhibit by the Paleontological Research Institute in Ithaca, N.Y.; cabochon making, geode cutting and faceting demonstrations; children’s programs; a fluorescent mineral show; dealers; and exhibits of minerals, gems and Indian artifacts.
The camaraderie between rockhounds from all over the country is a highlight of the hobby, Hazel said. No matter where they travel, the couple easily finds fellow rock and mineral collectors to tip them off on good collection areas and to swap minerals.
“A rockhound always takes trading materials,” Hazel said.
Collecting the beautiful stones and minerals has become a foundational part of the Remaleys’ lives, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s amazing what comes out of the ground, I tell you,” Marv said.
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: email@example.com.