CHASSELL - Two extraordinary developments in July promised a busy start for the Copper Country's newest rock shop, and its owner Kathryn Wells.
Already a week past Mageia Minerals' grand opening Aug. 4, Kathryn remains busy long after hours to accommodate these opportunities.?
Not only did Kathryn secure the rights to what is believed to be the largest completely crystallized copper specimen ever recovered locally - and possibly the largest found in the world - but she was also selected to market through her new Chassell store some of the world-class datolite and agate holdings of renowned collector Wayne Sukow.
Kathryn Wells, owner of Mageia Minerals, stands in front of her shop’s oak display cases.
"I had been hopeful of getting Wayne's minerals for some months, but we were not able to actually see them until two weeks before we opened," she said. "We were stunned at how much there was."
Moving them from River Falls, Wis., and beginning the cataloguing and pricing process added quite a load to the preparations for starting the store last week.
"But of course we are tremendously grateful for the opportunity to offer such exceptional specimens to our customers," Kathryn said. "It will take us more than a year to bring to market all of his minerals in stages."
"And while I was expecting to take on Mr. Sukow's collection, I, of course, had no way of knowing that this wonderful crystallized copper piece would be discovered last month."?
Hobbyists and rockhounds will find the oversized copper specimen, as well as the currently released portion of the Sukow collection, at Mageia Minerals' location next to the Einerlei gift shop.
Proudly standing in the center of the rock shop's largest display area is the crystallized copper specimen, which Kathryn describes as about the size of a "small microwave."
Encased in a museum-grade acrylic dome, the specimen rests on a custom pedestal made by Chassell cabinetmaker Ross Jarvi, who crafted Mageia's beautiful oak displays throughout the shop.?
"I expect this miracle of nature to draw many visitors during the month it will be on display, providing the opportunity to introduce our guests to all that we offer," Kathryn said.
By the end of the month, she hopes the crystallized copper piece will be designated for display at a new and permanent home in the Seaman Mineral Museum at Michigan Technological University, further distinguishing the Seaman's world's best collection of native copper.?
"I'm currently negotiating with a local benefactor to buy the specimen and then donate it to the Seaman in time for it to take a prominent place in the museum's new building, roughly a year from now," she said. "If that doesn't work out, I will approach the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and one or two other prominent mineral museums, which would have the resources to acquire it."
Headlining Mageia's display of other rocks and minerals is the Sukow collection. A noted researcher and author on datolite and Lake Superior agates, Sukow is a Wisconsin native who now resides in Virginia, where Kathryn first met him.
Originally from Springfield, Va., Kathryn said the dispersal of Sukow's collections has been anticipated eagerly by rockhounds in the Lake Superior region for some years. Some of his datolite specimens that Mageia will be offering rival the best to be seen in the Seaman Museum collection.?
Rocks and minerals have been a passion of Kathryn's since early childhood. At 4-years-old, she purchased her first piece of Pyrite, otherwise known as Fool's Gold.
"It's been my favorite for years," Kathryn said.
Mageia Minerals is the tangible realization of a decade-long dream for Kathryn, who is currently pursuing a geology degree at Michigan Tech.?
Situated on the corner of U.S. 41 and Fifth Street in Chassell, Mageia, which means "magic" in classic Greek, is surrounded by lush gardens, which offers a beautiful setting for visitors.
Inside, customers will find eye-catching displays of local favorites such as datolite, copper, greenstone and Lake Superior agate. Other displays serve more diverse mineral collecting interests.
"Within the last two years we have acquired six estate collections, encompassing worldwide crystalline specimens as well as lapidary rough and slabs," Kathryn said. "Some of the material we have from around the world comes to market only from old collections like these, because the mine sources were depleted long ago."?
Younger collectors, or their grandparents looking to jumpstart an interest in rocks, will find a variety of colorful specimens in the children's section of the shop.
Mageia also offers lapidary services, such as mineral cutting and polishing, on site.
Custom wire wrap jewelry designs by Kathryn's mother, Barbara Ryland, who maintains her studio in one wing of the store, are available for purchase at Mageia. Using either the client's gem or one selected from her inventory, a custom design is made to suit each client's style.
Her creations in copper wire, combining native copper with greenstone, are especially popular.?
"We are also very pleased to be carrying the designer cabochons of James Michael Seeley, and the silversmith artistry of Paul Fetting, both from Michigan," Kathryn said. "Paul, who maintains a studio in Baraga until the snow falls, is a self-taught silversmith, specializing in setting regional minerals he finds himself."
Kathryn said Seeley's cabochon designs are carried by finer custom jewelers in lower Michigan, however his work is shown exclusively in the Upper Peninsula at Mageia.?
"Mike Seeley's particular interest is chatoyant lapidary materials such as tiger's eye, opal, fire obsidian, and even more rare specimens he searches out from around the world," she said. "He brings extraordinary gifts to this most challenging of lapidary arenas. Most customers will never have seen cabochons of this exceptional beauty."
Mageia Minerals is very much a family operation. Kathryn's father, John, is also involved and will offer classes in lapidary work while Barbara will teach wire wrap. Classes are scheduled to begin next summer.
Additional plans for 2011 include opening two more display rooms to house a fluorescent mineral display, Copper Country artifacts, fossils and a children's program classroom.?
While Kathryn is settling quite nicely into her new business, she said one of the most rewarding aspects about it is how welcoming and supportive other local rock shops have been.?
"No one treated me like an unwanted competitor. In fact, they all said they were happy to see another store in the area to help rock collecting grow," she said. "And, they went out of their way to give me tips and advice, to answer any question no matter how much it revealed my novice beginnings in the retail world."?
She said Ken Flood of Houghton's Keweenaw Gem & Gift, Richard Whiteman at Red Metal Minerals in Ontonagon, and Tony Bausano from Copper World in Calumet, "all were welcoming and incredibly helpful."?
"Others who have meant so much to me in this very nervous year of preparations have been the officers and other members of the Copper Country Rock and Mineral Club, and two wonderful, accessible people from the Seaman Mineral Museum at Michigan Tech - the Curator, George Robinson, and Bob Barron from his staff," Kathryn said. "Rockhounds are amazingly friendly, and willing to share their knowledge - even their 'secret' places to find mineral specimens. I feel privileged to be starting a business which supports and promotes this hobby and the incredibly nice people in it."?
Mageia Minerals is located at the blinking traffic light in Chassell, southeast of Houghton on U.S. 41. Business hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Labor Day. After that, the shop will have regular hours on weekends and Kathryn will be available by appointment at other times.
Editor's note: This feature is part of a paid advertising package purchased by Mageia Minerals of Chassell. Businesses interested in being featured on the Business page may call Yvonne Robillard at 483-2220.