In the Beginning

The Birth of GANA:

GANA was born in 1995 in Tucson, Arizona, at the annual gem show held there during the first two weeks of February. The town of Tucson is taken over by virtually every phase of the gem world. Gem dealers, mineral collectors, jewelers and artists all participate in some 20 shows that occur around the town at the same time. 30,000 people descend on Tucson to be part of the experience of buying, selling and discovering gems.

Many people who work with gems as an artistic medium also migrate to Tuscon every year. Gem art is not taught in north american schools, and requires more expensive equipment to get started in than the traditional arts, so it attracts a very self directed sort of person. Most north American gem artists are self-taught in their own studios through books, trial and error and experimentation.

A benefit of this north American self-taught “system” is that the artists evolve very independent styles and ideas. The result is a creative mix of expression. A draw back to the “system” is the isolation the work produces. 
For a long time there was no real remedy to the occupational hazard of isolation. Gem artists would go to Tucson and see each other briefly, talk about the work and then retreat back to their studios for the rest of the year with little or no contact until the next Tucson gem show.

But in 1995 there was a seminal meeting arranged in Tucson that started to change that. A number of people thought it would be beneficial for gem artists to connect with one another more than once a year. Perhaps there could be a gem artist’s group to unite the disparate elements of such a far flung group of people and encourage some interaction in the course of solitary careers. With that in mind some 20 people met at a bed and breakfast to kick around ideas and decide if there was any interest in starting an organization. 

The 20 original people who attended the meeting were all opinionated individuals not used to working with anyone else, much less within a group. But despite this impediment, the meeting brought out some common interests and all agreed to start something up, though there was no clear vision or idea of what form it would take.

A name was proffered, “Gem Artists of North America” (GANA), and a volunteer stepped forward to start a newsletter. The idea of the newsletter was to get something in the mailbox of everyone present, every month during the upcoming year. A first step to continued communication.

The newsletter essentially became a bulletin board and had the effect of creating some familiarity among the members. It was a schmorgasborg of writing, opinions, poetry, pictures of peoples dogs, anything anyone wanted to toss into it. That first year it was the glue that held GANA loosely together.

In 1996 there was a larger meeting with more people and much debate as to who and what would constitute membership. There were people who worked in softer stone (alabaster and marble) who wanted an organization open to all types of stone cutters, while others wanted an organization specifically for those who work in hard stone. This was a contentious issue and took a lot of time to resolve. Eventually the group agreed that the artist must have a substantial commitment to hard stone in their work. 
Several people volunteered to begin developing a structure for GANA and committees were formed to take on the task of creating by-laws, membership criteria and all the other things an organization requires. 

By 1997 GANA had an elected board of directors (essentially anyone who was willing to be on it was on it) and work started in earnest.
 A member approached the Carnegie Mineral Museum in Pittsburgh PA. to introduce them to the work of GANA artists. As a result GANA has a rotating exhibit of gem art in the hall of Gems and Minerals at this prestigious museum. In time the rotating exhibit grew to include an actual commercial show at the Carnegie in which GANA artists were present with art offered for sale to the public. From that beginning our current and future museum exhibitions include or will be including the Natural History Museum of London England, the LA County Museum of Natrural History, the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Arts, The San Diego Museum of Art and Natural History, as well as other other venues in the arts as well as natural history. 

Other members continued to struggle with the arduous task of creating by-laws for GANA that would be legal, comprehensive and acceptable to the membership. Much to everyone’s amazement these by-laws were officially approved at the 1998 Tucson general meeting.

GANA grows on many fronts simultaneously because the chief way anything is accomplished is that one person has an idea they want to see happen and they make it happen. Decisions and accomplishments are not as linear a process as they are in some groups. 

That the organization works at all is a testimony to the flexibility of some of the personalities involved considering it has the element of “herding cats” in it. Artists are a varied lot by anyone’s measure and stone artists may be more varied than others. But the key to GANA is that it was created, and is run by, artists. Through GANA many artists have found strength and real camaraderie in just getting to know each other, interacting and trading technical information.

 

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