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Big Sur Jade Festival 2005

Some observations on this year's Jade Festival

©2005 Fred Ward, Friends of Jade.

With my decades-long involvement with jade, this October I satisfied a long-term goal of visiting the Big Sur Jade Festival. When I lived on the other side of the country, in Bethesda, Maryland, crossing the country to California in October seemed a bit inconvenient. Now all that changed because this year we moved from Bethesda to Malibu. Several members of Friends of Jade shared valuable tips about routes, accommodations, side-trips, sun-screen, portable chairs, and some of the hot issues about jade collecting in California.

So early Friday, October 7, we began our trek northward for one of the friendliest and most enjoyable jade events I've ever experienced. My wife Charlotte and I were instantly caught up in the enthusiasm that most of the vendors and visitors shared about their favorite stone. For many reasons only apparent after a personal visit, the Big Sur event is unique. It certainly deserves its reputation.

First, it is remote...a big plus for many jade buyers and sellers. The thought of successive hair-pin curves on a narrow road 400 feet or more straight up from the surf might diminish the driving enthusiasm for some visitors. But most consider it an adventure and a visual treat not matched in many other places on earth. Second, the venue is unexpected. Most gem shows are orderly, inside affairs. Big Sur celebrates the outdoors on a large open-air field (actually part of the Pacific Valley School). Now-famed Jade Cove is just across the coastal highway. Ocean breezes rustling the towering cypresses and pines cool what might be an uncomfortably hot weekend. Hundreds of people with a common interest congregate for what amounts to a jade party. Of course, many who frequent the Festival return as old friends, eager to catch up on tales of a year of adventures and finds in the mountains and sea.

You should be aware that the Jade Festival is organized by Kirk Brock, a Friends of Jade member and jade dealer. You might also note that "organized" does not exactly depict the reality of the show. Not all booths are orderly and not all booths are selling jade. You might see some tables with African shirts, all kinds of non-jade beads, native carvings in a variety of materials, and even a belly-dancer as part of the entertainment. Dealers who got in early are "grandfathered." They can keep their annual space until they quit. Now, new incoming dealers are supposed to sell jade.

I first became aware of Jade Cove while writing and photographing my National Geographic Magazine 34-page article on jade (September 1987). At that time Don Wobber was at the height of his fame for finding, extracting, sculpting, and polishing nephrite boulders from right off the California coast. I spent several days with Don then as he raised a 2000-pound torpedo-shaped jade boulder.

Many things have changed since the 80s and 90s. When the federal government turned the coast into a Marine Sanctuary, it introduced restrictions. Huge jade boulders can no longer be extracted. After many hearings and rule changes, jade hunters can only bring up what they can personally carry without the use of mechanical equipment. Obviously this rule has already changed the availability of jade from Jade Cove and other California coastal sites.

Still, swimmers, divers, and beachcombers find treasures. One surprise for me at this year's Festival was how much new jade was on display and for sale. By far the biggest surprise was the sight of three marine blue cobbles. The Jade Cove area has always produced some great jade colors, but these were astonishing.

The free entertainment and eclectic mix of singers and dancers (belly and others) transforms a show into a festival. Where else might you see Smoky the Bear with a blue-green jade boulder? And where else can you see gorgeous 300 pound, 500 pound, 1000 pound, or ton blue-green boulders for sale? Here were jade cups, saucers, plates, cabs, bracelets, pendants, rings, nose decorations, and some pierced jewelry for places I don't want to think about.

One of the most gratifying discoveries at any jade venue is new young talent. At this year's Jade Festival that happy surprise turned out to be Matt Glasby. I had heard that he was there last year, but I had yet to see his work. This year admirers crowded his booth, vying to buy a pendant or two or a pair of beautifully matched carved earrings. As you can see below, Matt has a style and the skills needed to turn a slice of jade into a work of art. His designs went fast. I'm sure we will be hearing much more from this talented young man.

Jade styles are constantly evolving. This year freeform innovations were very much in view. The top spiral, a jade from British Columbia with a classic New Zealand motif carved in China, illustrates the international aspect of today’s trade.

Table pieces and collectibles appeared in many booths at the Jade Festival. Many new carvers, sculptors, and collectors want more than a ring or pendant. Sculpture, small and gigantic enough to require roller carts, gave dimension to the festival, from hippy happening to gallery or art museum.

This delightful piece was described as “anything you want it to be.” Its lines are so fluid and its shape so close to being recognizable that everyone who saw it had a different perception of what it might be. So the artist achieved his mission...perceptual art.

This delightful freeform piece in dark green jade features a surprising enter...directly in the middle of the piece an area thin enough to capture the
color nuances of the original boulder.

And finally, one of the queens of North American jade carvers, Canada’s Deborah Wilson (right), continues to produce superb jade sculptors that are highly sought around the world. Many of her admirers stopped to talk to her at this year’s Jade Festival.

And that, dear friends, is my brief overview of this year's Jade Festival. I was glad that old timers had warned me about high gas prices. We filled up at San Luis Obispo. And local motels often host weddings in the summer and fall, so reserve early. Or, plan to commute to and from San Simeon or Cambria. The vistas and accommodations make the extra drive worth it. My wife and I intend to be regular visitors at the Jade Festival. We look forward to seeing you there. Mark your calendars now for October, 2006.

To read a history of the Big Sur Jade Festival, please click here.

Fred Ward
Friends of Jade


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Reader Comments (2)

Jade and Emerald are m y lucky mascots as they are my birth stones too.
January 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErgo Baby Carrier
The emerald stone and jade stone are really of the same color.
February 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfind icons

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