By Molly Barber
Photos by Molly and Quinn
“Great Art Picks Up Where Nature Ends” Marc Chagall
There is always a deep reverence that stirs within me as I learn about artists. It’s borderline magical to watch someone completely in-tune with their craft; to see their passion and spirit mixed in with the art they create. There is an unseen bond and deep respect between an artist and their medium. This was brought to my attention today as I listened to the interview and reviewed the photos I took with lapidary Quinn Street.
I met with Quinn a couple of days ago. The plan was to do the interview, take some photos, and watch as he did a demo for me. That was the plan. We actually did sit down and start the interview but I was quickly distracted by the pieces he had set out to show me. See Quinn, who graduated with his masters in Geology, is a rockhound to the core. So of course, sitting in front of me are all of these amazing rocks- beautifully knapped obsidian, a giant quartz crystal, and a bunch of cabochons.
I tried to keep my head in the game and write down questions that might pertain to the interview. I failed. I was completely captivated by the art Quinn creates with these rocks and trying to learn as much as I could about it (thankfully I had my phone recording the interview so I could refer back to it while writing this story). So as my eyes scanned the treasures in front of me, I had to ask the first question that came to mind- How did this happen?
“That’s a good question. Quartz Crystals. I dug that up by Janesville, right outside of Janesville. 100% natural, came out of the ground, just like that. It has not been altered in anyway,” Quinn told me, referring to the giant crystal on the table. He explained that he and friends found a bunch of crystals one day and how impressed he was with them. “I was blown away because I was like ‘look it’s a hexagon!’ Because they’re all six sided. Every quartz crystal is six sided. We started looking around and there were hexagons everywhere. I didn’t even realize at that moment, and I was 18, that crystals came out of the ground perfect like that. I didn’t know that at the time. So I became obsessed with hunting quartz crystals and that led to one thing, which led to another and eventually I wound up at the rainbow obsidian mine.”
All of the minerals Quinn finds are cool but the obsidian that he works with is absolutely surreal. The colors of that rainbow obsidian just pop and are so vibrant. The rocks in raw form are beautiful but when Quinn carves and polishes them, they become something incredible. From the sculptures and knapping to his polishing work, Quinn puts a spotlight on their beauty.
He’s been making what he calls Spirit Masks for about 5-6 years. These are masks on one side, with wild (in a very good way) designs on the other. “You can see the layers of color that run through it are all parallel and so by removing sections I can tap down into different layers and it’s like painting in reverse. That’s sort of one of the things I do that people don’t seem to do with rainbow obsidian a lot. They just seem to carve objects and not really think about that. So that’s one of the things that really allowed me to make it as an artist, utilizing the material. It’s not really like I’m that great of a carver, it’s just that I let the material do the carving,” Quinn said while showing me the backside of one of the Spirit Masks he’s working on.
On top of carving the obsidian into the Spirit Masks he also makes spheres out of it. He and his dad, Steve Street, have worked out a process that turns out perfect obsidian spheres. “My dad’s gone a long way in the whole polishing process too. He pretty much does the sphere’s for the most part. I grind them into shape first and then pass them to him and he takes care of the rest. It’s a complex process, the machine does not do it all. You have to, like, baby it all the way through.” And for as beautiful as the polished obsidian is, the obsidian in it’s raw form is just as impressive.
For those who don’t know too much about obsidian here’s your crash course. Obsidian is an igneous rock that forms from volcanos. It is created when molten rock cools down at such as fast rate that the atoms aren’t able to arrange themselves into a crystalline structure. This rock is one of the sharpest substances on the planet. It’s used in modern medicine because it can produce a cutting edge thinner and sharper than the best surgical steel. Obsidian was used by indigenous peoples of the Americas for tools and jewelry. Obsidian is found in many locations around the world, however in the United States it’s not found east of the Mississippi River. There are different types of obsidian but the rainbow obsidian is extremely rare.
So now that we know a little more about obsidian, we can appreciate Quinn’s art a little more. He’s cut himself more than any person ever should but he also has more rainbow obsidian than most people ever see in their lifetime. He mined it for years and was always kind to rockhounds who wanted to dig a little on his claim. One of these grateful rockhounds turned out to be world renowned obsidian knapper- Emory Coons. “He knapped like 50 blades for me out of my material. Like in 3 days he made like 50 blades, he’s literally crazy. He actually did 3,000 war axes for a Hollywood set one summer. And he knapped the blade from the Chronicles of Riddick. I’ve never seen the movie but I guess there’s a giant obsidian blade in it and he knapped it,” Quinn explained. To show his appreciation and to spend a couple of days at the mine, Emory taught Quinn to knap obsidian. Because he had such a plethora of obsidian to work with, on top of one-on-one lessons with Emory, Quinn was a quick study.
It’s been about five years since Quinn first started knapping and has some pretty impressive pieces to show. One of his specialities he calls Spirit Blades. They are one of his signature art pieces. “I make a blade, I put on a handle and then I put on a cabochon (a gem polished but not faceted). I put that in the hilt and I wrap it in such a way that it looks like an eye. So I call them Spirit Blades because they kinda look like they’re alive. That’s been one of my best selling trade mark things that I do,” said Quinn.
The Spirit Blades are impressive works of art that speak to his talent but what I think is so quintessentially Quinn are the instruments he’s working on. “The thinner you get this stuff (the obsidian) the more it resonants, eventually I might be able to mount it on something and be able to tap it and it’ll ring.”
Though Quinn’s art is purely sublime, he is a rockhound through and through. He spends most of his time in the surrounding areas exploring and finding new minerals. Lately he’s been on the trail of petrified wood. “The petrified wood is a big deal for me because there’s almost this weird spirituality I’ve developed with the petrified wood. I track it down… it’s kinda telling me where to go.” He said showing me agatized coral and fossils he’s found in this area.
He’s named two different types of obsidian that he discovered in his mine that no one had ever found before. He called one Nebula and the other Hologram. He’s also named a type of Opal he discovered Glowworm. “It’s actually a fossiliferous. Those are actually micro trig fossils and different things.” Quinn explained letting me hold a polished example of the Glowworm Opal.
If you are interested in seeing more of Quinn’s work, which I highly suggest, you can visit his facebook page at www.facebook.com/quinn.street.9. There you can track his ebay postings and keep tabs on his projects.
Meeting with Quinn and getting to see his art was so cool, I was left in awe (and still am). You can see his personality and the passion he has for what he does displayed all around him. He’s willing to sacrafice his body and monewtary value to find these precious minerals. And what’s so rad is that he just expands on the natural allure of the medium he’s using. Quinn is a conscious reminder that the soul craves a type of beauty that only nature can provide.