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Statesman-Examiner Colville, WA June 30, 1999

Round rocks from square blocks

Retired Colville man
know his marbles


By Chris Cowbrough
S-E News Editor



‘Let’s play for all the marbles...
All your marbles.’
--Lenny The Crooked


I’ll admit it. I didn’t know any better. I was a pre-pubescent with an elementary understanding of life and the laws of the playground...and not a whole lot more.

I got regularly schooled in the playground games of chance.

Playing for all the marbles. All my marbles, actually.

I’ll never forget that day hard by the backside of the 1950’s. Hula Hoops were all the rage and the game of marbles was still a passing fancy.

I had my marble collection (actually my fathers precious old marble collection). There were Swirls, Cat’s Eyes, Aggies, Immies, Peewees, Steelies and Shooters. Some hot marbles in the hands of a clueless child.

If only I had been a shooter back then. I might still have those prized and antique objects of my affection and former collection. But no. Duped into one too many games of marbles with Lenny The Crooked. The Marble King of Hucrest Elementary. Actually, he was a friend. Until he took the better part of my marble collection that day on the playground. Didn’t give them back either.

Marbles are a terrible thing to lose

After that he might as well have been Lenny Bruce.

Yes, I had lost all my marbles. I’m sure that’s what my parents probably thought when I came home that night with an almost empty leather marble bag.

Live and Learn.

I learned the hard way what ‘playing for all the marbles’ meant. It meant "I lose."

Marbles, in one variation or another, have occupied children’s playtime for centuries. For sure. long before Hasbro and Fisher-Price hit the toy boxes.

Archaeological digs in Europe, Egypt, the Middle East and elsewhere have uncovered glass marbles made from the same glass used in vases, beads and other items of ancient glassware.

The original Toy Story.
Sticks. Dirt and rocks. The staples of childhood. And naturally, round stones have become the universal stones in any era. Prized. Collected. And thrown.

Today, those stones are often transformed into handmade marbles by older, wiser children who don’t throw rocks; they turn stones into magnificent, antique works of art.

Yes. Hold a marble in your hand and you hold a sphere of history. Descendant of the stone and clay balls that have been used as toys for the ages.

The allure of marbles transcends ages, classes, generations, languages and continents. Referenced and refined globes that have stood the test of documented history. Romans revered them. Shakespeare referenced them. Defoe pined to play marbles with the best of them.

Well-known for his marble creations

"I always thought they were interesting," concedes Colville marble maker Keith Berger. The retired log scaler carefully grinds away on what was once a seemingly nondescript chunk of rock. Here basic geology is soon transformed into a striking, saleable-- and collectable-- work of art.

Berger, who estimates that he owns upwards to 2,500 to 3,000 marbles is well know in marble circles. He and wife Ann do an often brisk business with their Round Rocks Etc. hand-made marbles and lapidary supplies.

Round Rocks, Etc. started as a hobby for Berger in the late 1970s. He had been collecting equipment and materials before that time, but there never seemed to be enough time to set it all up and make marbles.

He had learned the art of marble-making from his father-in-law Red Wilson. Wilson, 91, who lives with Keith and Ann in their Colville, home, owned a rock shop in New Mexico. Red and his late wife Ann, who collected arrowheads, were well know rockhound who traveled around the country to gem and mineral shows.

"We hit a lot of them," says Red, watching as his son-in-law turns another marble.Keith picked up the rudiments of marble making from Red. He has incorporated his own ideas and techniques over the years. Custom marble making is now his principle activity.

"Red had a portable grinder," Keith recalls. "I got to playing around with it and found out I liked it and was interested. But there wasn’t time then.

"I remember that I was going with Ann at the time." Keith says of his early recollection of Red Wilson and his passion for rocks. "I was just getting started in life after the Korean War. I didn’t have time for any hobbies. Too busy trying to make a living."

The father of three children would ultimately find time. After all, Television is pretty much a waste of time.

"I don’t watch much television," concedes Keith, who admits he doesn’t possess a whole lot of patience until it comes to creating marbles. "I read a lot and watch a little college football. But I would rather be out making a marble in my shop."

Marble website

Keith and Ann, who has gotten into hot-glass bead-making after spending the last 19 years working for the City of Colville, mostly as city treasurer, sell a lot of what Keith handcrafts in that shop.

Keith admits to not caring a whole lot about computers, but Ann, after all those years with computers and spread sheets, thought that going On-line with their own page would help to explain Round Rocks, Etc. To the computer age and marble lovers of North America.

Business is picking up.

"I’ve sold marbles by mail order all over the country," Keith says. "Basically, with this business, it’s pretty much mail order unless you do a rock show. We do a few, but that takes quite a little traveling."

Round Rocks, Etc. Does it’s oftentimes brisk business on the internet and through advertising in trade magazines like Rock and Gem and the Lapidary Journal.

One thing about marble material--there is an infinite amount of variety to this hobby and business. If you don’t like your material in more traditional geologic forms, then there are an infinite number of man-made materials that make eye-catching marble specimens. There is something called Fiber Eye, a man-made material from Portugal. Glass

"There is just so much variety to it." Keith admits. "You look at the outside of a rock and you don’t see much until you get inside and start cutting it up. You’ll never find two exactly the same."

So many marbles and materials to make them out of and so little time. Berger says he sells marbles to one man in Nebraska who claims to have over 10,000 marbles in his collection.

"There is just no end to the variety," he says.



Plenty of material, plenty of time to create works of art

Some of the marbles Berger makes and sells include Amazon Valley Jasper, Australian Tiger Iron, Australian Petrified Wormwood, Blue Lace Agate, Botswana Agate, Brazilian Agate, Canadian River Plume, Dinosaur Bone, Fibre Eye, Glass, Gold Stone, Montana Agate, Petrified Palm Wood, Rutilated Quartz, Solidified Mud, Snowflake Obsidian, Tiger Eye, and Turatilla. And on..and on.

Each marble is hand-ground using a technique that has been perfected over the last 30-plus years.

Marbles can command a princely price. Ann says she recalls one woman paying $1,000 for a Cat’s Eye marble at a show. Certainly, $300 isn’t an out of line investment for an antique marble.

Keith, who concedes that he has more marble-making material than he will ever use, is a marble artisan who appreciates his craft and the beauty and unique quality of the finished product.

He devotes plenty of time to his hobby and craft these days. For one thing, he’s retired. And for another, he doesn’t play golf.

"I don’t think this is any more expensive than playing golf," he says with a smile. "And I have something to show for my time at the end."

If you would like to check out the Round Rocks, Etc. Website address, it’s http://www.roundrocksetc.com

 




 

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