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San Jose Mercury News – Full Article

written by No Comments posted in San Jose Mercury News – August 29, 2011

Jade artist Allan Spehar shows jade jewelry at A Taste of Tapestry in San Jose
By Anne Gelhaus

For Silicon Valley Community Newspapers
Posted: 08/29/2011 07:34:30 PM PDT

For Allan Spehar, making jewelry is as much an athletic event as it is a creative endeavor.

Three years ago, Spehar started making regular dives in Big Sur’s Jade Cove in search of the cove’s namesake mineral. It’s not an undertaking he recommends for the casual snorkeler.

“It’s a very difficult dive,” says the Los Gatos native and Cambrian area resident. “There are 150-foot cliffs down to the ocean. You have to use ropes [to climb down] after a rain. I’ve carried up packs that weigh over 100 pounds.”

Divers often come back up the cliff with packs empty, since jade isn’t easy to spot. Spehar himself didn’t find any until his third dive.

Once he honed his collecting skills, though, he found himself with a large quantity of high-quality jade.

“I didn’t know what to do with it,” he says. “I took it to the next step and started to work the stone.”

As hard as it is to find the nephrite jade beneath the waters near Big Sur, Spehar says it’s equally difficult to carve the stone he brings up.

“It’s the toughest stone there is; it has interlocking fibers that create hard and soft zones,” he says, adding that these zones generally dictate the shape and size of a finished piece. “Most carving is about artistry. With jade it’s about how an artist can work the stone.”

Primarily a self-taught artist, Spehar credits his skill to his industrial engineering degree from CSU-Long Beach.

“Because of that, I’m really good with [raw] materials,” he says, adding that, like most carvers, he designs a lot of his own tools, particularly for use in detail work.

Spehar will exhibit some of his work Sept. 3-4 at A Taste of Tapestry at San Jose History Park. He’s one of more than 50 juried artists participating in the event, the latest iteration of the Tapestry Arts festival. Back after last year’s hiatus, the festival also features live music, children’s activities and myriad food vendors.

This year marks the first time Spehar will sell his jewelry at Tapestry Arts.

“It sounds really exciting,” he says of the festival. “It sounds like they’re doing a lot of stuff with a lot of musicians and artists from different realms. It sounds like a great place for almost anyone.”

The pricing of Spehar’s jewelry may come as a shock to those used to shopping for low-cost green stones in places like San Francisco’s Chinatown; his pendants run $150-$200, and a necklace is as steep as $3,500. But the artist points out that many pieces labeled as jade in an average gift shop are actually made from other stones.

“There’s a lot of confusion around what jade is,” says Spehar, adding that much of this confusion stems from a mistranslation. While true jade can be found in China, other green stones such as serpentine are native to certain provinces there. The Chinese call all these stones “yu,” which translates to “jade” in English, and it’s the jewelry made from these more common stones that is familiar to most Americans.

To further confuse the issue, while not all green stones are true jade, not all true jade is green. To make what his wife has dubbed “Easter egg beads,” Spehar uses black jade from Australia and lavender jadeite from Turkey. These beads also contain rhondite, a pink mineral he buys from South Fork Mining in Klamath National Forest.

Even with these international resources, Spehar prefers to find his materials close to home whenever possible.

“I like to source locally,” he says, “especially because people like to own local stuff.”

Some of Spehar’s raw material may be on display at the Tapestry festival in the form of a large piece of Pacific Blue jade he found on a recent dive at Jade Cove.

“That is my most prized piece right now,” Spehar says. “It’s very rare.”

Spehar has a more personal reason for prizing a jade and abalone necklace he created this summer for a carving contest sponsored by the World Jade Symposium. He is dedicating his entry to his cousin, Nicholas Spehar, a Navy SEAL who was among those killed on Aug. 8 when a Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.

“The whole time I was working on that necklace, I was thinking about Nick,” Spehar says, adding that proceeds from the necklace’s sale will go to his cousin’s family.

A Taste of Tapestry is set for Sept. 3-4, 10 a.m.-6.p.m., at San Jose History Park, 1650 Senter Road, San Jose. Admission is $5; children under 12 are admitted free. For more information, visit www.tapestryartssanjose.com.

For more information on Allan Spehar’s work, visit www.jadedivers.com.

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