Applegate jewelry-maker Ron Skog talks rocks, teaching …and whether there’s still ‘gold in them thar hills.’
by Christina Ammon
When Applegate resident Ron Skog told me he taught jewelry classes, I immediately thought of braiding lanyards at summer camps, or the ankle bracelets I used to bead in my hippy days.
But it turns out Ron makes Jewelry-jewelry—like the high-end sparkly adornments you see under glass in shops. In fact, until recently, he did have a shop—a brick-and-mortar in town called Jacksonville Gems and Jewelry.
He recently closed the storefront, but maintains an online version of the store. His website features jewelry, crystals, and carvings. It also features descriptions of his classes, which he teaches alongside his son, Bee, in his home studio in the Applegate.
“My passion is teaching,’ he said during my recent visit to his house. His bright blue eyes were lit like two lapis stones. “I love watching the magic happen—because that’s exactly what it is. People take a creative concept they have and make it into something they wear. It’s an amazing transformation.”
Ron and his family were fresh from The Tucson Rock and Gem Show—the largest rock show in the world. Ron has been attending it for the last 33 years. His kitchen counters and dining room table were covered in a shiny haul of opal, amethyst, pietersite, charoite, and sugilite.
The family worked as a team to sort and catalogue the new acquisitions. Bee was absorbed in photographing an opal ring. Ron’s wife, Natta, was sorting amethysts from Zimbabwe. Their family friend, Joe Gallagher, was updating the website. Joe’s rock and gem warehouse front in nearby Talent burned down in the Almeda fire. He is now living with Ron’s family and helping their business.
Ron and Bee toured me downstairs. The ground level and garage were full of work desks and equipment: rock saws, tumblers, polishers, a new rolling mill that shapes raw metal into sheet and wire. Bee flipped on the overhead projector that he uses to enlarge and display his demonstrations while he teaches. This makes it easier for students to view the sometimes-intricate work of jewelry-making.
Their classes cater to the different interests and skill sets of the students. Some classes cover the entire process–from ‘earth-to-earring,” you could say. Ron explains: “We go out and dig the stones, cut the stones, design the jewelry, and make the jewelry.”
We wandered outside where the house was surrounded by Ron’s ‘boneyard.’ Everywhere were bins and old refrigerators full of uncut rock—or “rough” as Ron called it.
“My whole house is a arts and crafts project in process,” he laughed.
Ron’s relationship to rocks goes back to childhood. He grew up in Jacksonville and on his parent’s mining claim near the headwaters of the Applegate River. His parents and grandparents were involved in mining and the jewelry business, and he quickly became fluent in the language of rocks and minerals.
During college at Southern Oregon University, he dabbled with dredging in the area. When faced with the question of what to do with the gold he’d gathered, he decided to pick up jewelry-making.
The family mining claim was taken back by the government, but he still casually mines a small holding on the backside of Mount Ashland. When I asked him if there was much gold left in the Applegate, I found his answer astonishing: There is still more underground than was ever taken out.
“But the easy stuff is gone. You have to work for it.”
His current house is situated near Logtown Cemetery, close to what used to be called “The Million Dollar Mile.” Hundreds of people lived there in the late 1800s. The mining extracted millions dollars of gold–at a time when gold was around $15 per ounce.
“Can you imagine being the first person to mine Applegate before anyone else?” he asked. “It had 100,000-years of gold accumulations. You open a crack and ounces would just fall out.
The week before I visited Ron’s house, I’d been on a roadtrip that took me briefly through Tucson. The Tucson Rock and Gem show was in full swing and I marveled at its popularity. Every affordable hotel in the city was booked. While I’ve always admired the beauty of rocks, I wasn’t fully aware of the entire subculture built around them. I asked Ron what made rocks so compelling to certain people.
“I’m not going to go metaphysical on you,” he replied. “But when it comes to rocks and gems, there is a world of the metaphysical that can be beyond my experience and understanding.”
He cited examples of sellers who promote the idea that there are spiritual entities living inside the stones, or that if you put certain stones in your house, they will change your entire life. Of course, these sellers usually insist that the life-enhancing results can only come from the rocks that they happen to sell.
For Ron, that’s taking things a bit too far.
“Now, am I getting energy off the environment that I’ve created? I have grown up in this world with rocks and minerals. I love them. And there is something about mining. The whole thrill of discovery. Just walking around and seeing something and imagining what I could do with it. There is the creativity and the use of the imagination. It’s a powerful vehicle. A lot of us share that experience.”
He continued, his blue lapis eyes lighting up again.
“When I pick up a rock, that rock in my hand is transformed into something that becomes either jewelry, a carving, or just the rock by itself because nature made it with patterns and bands on it–and that becomes magical.”
In that case, he might just place it in one of several display cases that sit in his house.
“Sometimes I’m not going to do anything to it other than just appreciate it.”
For more information, visit www.jacksonvillegemsandjewelry.com. There are three rock shows in Southern Oregon: The Klamath Falls Show (March 11-12th, 9am -5pm, Klamath County Fairgrounds). the Roxyanne Gem and Mineral Show (March 18-19th, Saturday 9am-5pm and Sunday 10am-4pm, Olsrud Building at Jackson County Expo) and the Rogue Gem and Geology Show (April 29th-April 30th, Saturday 9am-5pm, Sunday 10am-4pm, Josephine Country Fairgrounds Pavillion).