14 June 2010

A Good Point

I have always loved making things, so most of the things on my "to learn" list are learning how to make different things. One that has been on the list since I was a child was learning how to make stone tools. Pretty random, I know, but I grew up in a university town, so grade school field trips to the Museum of Natural History were de rigeur, and the Native American exhibits were well stocked with magnificent specimens of stone awls, arrow heads, adzes, et cetera.

My father grew up in Wyoming, and when I was twelve years old we went to visit my grandmother there. She had an old grinding stone (a big basin-shaped stone used by the native people for grinding grains, dried fruits and meats, and the like), which she had found while digging in her garden, and when my father took us out to the family sheep ranch in the Big Horn mountains, I actually found a couple of broken arrow heads myself hidden amongst the sagebrush and rocks. I was thrilled! Making stone tools moved back up to a higher spot on my list for a while. I would look for likely pieces of flint near my home, and try different methods of hitting them with a rock to shape them. And while I found that making precision pieces like the ones I'd seen and found was not easy, I did manage a few rough flakes that were quite sharp, and could be used for cutting sticks and grasses. I kept wishing there was somewhere to take a class to learn this skill.

Fast forward to today. I signed up for a basic Anthropology class during the Summer session here at Idaho State University, and when we got to the chapters on stone tool technology, and the professor told us that there is actually an Anthropology class where we could learn stone tool making. I know that I will soon be signing up for that class!

This past weekend, my husband and I drove to Oregon to go to my younger daughter's graduation, and we stopped in a restaurant in John Day for brunch. The restaurant had a mixed western/outdoorsy theme, with old sinew-tied wooden snow shoes and wooden skis hanging on the wall next to Western prints and fishing lure guides, but what caught my eye was a display on the half wall between sections of the dining room. There I saw the most amazingly beautiful, contemporary obsidian knives with antler handles. They were exquisite! I asked our waitress about them, and she told me that they had been made by a local man who had worked for the forest service for years. She also told me that when she was a young girl, this man had come to her school and given demonstrations. Sadly, he passed away last year, so I could not look him up to pick his brain. I did take some pictures of his beautiful work, though, so I could share it with you.

Rest assured that you will be seeing a post from me again in the next year or two with examples of my attempts at this wonderful art!


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