ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS
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There's an old adage, “everyone has a sack of rocks they're carrying around,” meaning each of us bears troubles, but for lapidary artist Vivian Wallace, the saying holds a literal connotation.
Combing the banks of remote Northern Ontario lakes, Wallace is regularly spotted lugging weighty bags of tumbled beach rocks as she collects prized bryozoans and bone fossils for her functional stone lamp sculptures. “Anything with unique colour or a quartz crystal catches my eye,” says Wallace. “I say, okay, that's the last one! And then I see another.”
Once Wallace found an antique square nail head embedded deep within a rock. That was a find.
“I've loved rocks ever since I was a kid,” claims Wallace, who awoke with a start two years ago and a precise design in her head ready to be launched. “I already knew how to do electrical work. So I researched stone drilling and within a month I was selling them.”
The drill bits require diamond coating in order to penetrate the adamantine core and she quickly acquired an industrial drill press for the job. “This is really a passion project. In the beginning, I paid as much as $50 for a diamond coated drill bit and it only lasted three rocks.” Since then she's learned to pace the drill's bore, while applying cool water to the bit so it won't burn red hot and shatter.
“Admittedly, it's a time-consuming process,” says Wallace, who astounds the higher-end customers who flock to buy her lamps, with their low cost. “I try to keep my prices affordable. Some people don't have a lot of money and they should be able to purchase and own original work just as much as the well heeled.”
But that's not her only motive.
“The other thing, and this is the honest truth, is that I get such a thrill out of someone owning something I made. The money is just a bonus.”
Wallace confides her journey into lapidary arts began 10 years ago, when, during a low point, a friend invited her over to experiment with jewelry kits to boost her spirits.
“Growing up, I was bullied,” says Wallace, “so low self-esteem was an issue. I remember just putzing around with the jewelry kits and simply fell in love with it.”
Wallace's first creations were merely for personal use. “Something to wear to work.” But once she started incorporating her watercolours and fine art into her necklaces (each is an original signed by the artist) she drew admirers. “Friends and colleagues wanted to buy them. So I started including stone and sterling silver into my designs and suddenly I had a new passion. I set up a little table in a garage at the cottage and, before you knew it, my work was selling like hotcakes. This has really been a refuge for me.”
Which brings us back to that old adage about a sack of rocks. Wallace's adventure in artistic excavation has been a fruitful journey to emotional vigour.
Those early days now well behind her, Wallace has gone on to become an award-winning artist, sold her work through 10 different retailers and appeared in six juried studio art tours.   
What's next on her horizon? In addition to her lamps, jewelry and paintings, Wallace wants to craft more of her rustic, stone-embellished, solar-powered birdhouses. “They have cathedral windows that light up at night with multicoloured stained glass patterns. The birds just love them.” She's also currently sketching designs for stone tea lights with hurricane lamps. “And of course there's my mailboxes. I have so many ideas.”
Find Vivian Wallace's work at www.vtheartist.ca, Alliston's Gibson Centre, Chatham's folksy Grandma Lambes, El Con Pottery in Newton Robinson and at Bradford Library's One Of A Kind Art Show on May 30 and 31.

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