Joy Magazine

Inspired by stones

Jill Cobb doesn't start her jewelry pieces with preconceived ideas
Jill Cobb of Jacksonville facets an opal.Jamie Lusch

Love of jewelry seems to be a basic aspect of humanity. Archaeologists recently found painted shell necklaces created by Neanderthals 82,000 years ago. Almost every historical culture yields examples of jewelry, many of incredible beauty and intricacy.

Jill Cobb makes jewelry. She's been doing it only since she retired two years ago, and she sells it only once a year — at Crater Rock Museum's holiday bazaar. She doesn't wear her creations because they are a little too elaborate for the self-effacing doctor.

Cobb is a forensic pathologist. So is her husband, George Thomas. They have worked all over the world, including several years in New Zealand.

While they were doing a year in Bosnia — where they spent time excavating mass graves and trying to identify the bodies — Cobb returned to the United States for a brief trip and stopped off in Southern Oregon to visit an old friend. That's how she discovered Jacksonville. She bid on a house while she was here, then went back to Bosnia to tell George she had purchased property in Oregon.

So they made Jacksonville home and continued traveling around, filling in for pathologists throughout the West who were on vacation or sick leave. They worked everywhere except Southern Oregon — this was their refuge.

"This was where we could come home and just be normal people," Cobb says, "be totally removed from it (the work)."

The couple love art, evident by the many pieces collected on their travels around the world. Cobb says she can't draw, so she leans toward crafts. When she discovered that Crater Rock Museum offered classes in cutting and polishing rocks, she took the classes. Soon she had stacks of polished rocks.

"When you have so many lying around, you have to do something with them, so I decided to make jewelry," she says.

But unlike most rockhounds who do simple settings, Cobb branched out into something else entirely. She had already learned beading and taken a class in paper-clay work, so she incorporated what she'd learned into large, elaborate, sculpturelike necklaces.

"I take the stones I plan to use and lay them out and start moving them around to see how the symmetry works," she says. "Then I take a pencil and start drawing around the stones. I don't ever have a preconceived idea. I just play with the stones and get inspiration from the stones."

The results are elaborate creations that incorporate polished stones, beading, paper clay that looks like metal, photos set in resin and small shards of copper. One beaded kimono is particularly amazing. Many of them look like artifacts an archeologist could have found.

Her love of rocks has now extended to gems, so she went back East to take a class in cutting and faceting gemstones.

"People can learn to do that," Cobb says. "It's just that most of us are never exposed to it. They never have the chance to learn it."

Having traveled around the world and seen life at its bleakest, Cobb has come to some conclusions: "I've learned everybody is basically the same. We all have the same needs and wants: to put food on the table and care for our families. And yet so much of the world have such hard lives. That's humbling. We have it so good in this country."

"My life is a hoot. I have fun; that's all that matters," she says. "And I have a husband who appreciates what I do. I just feel a little guilty because I just want to be in my little workshop all the time. But it's much more fun than doing autopsies."

Crater Rock Museum is located at 2002 Scenic Ave., Central Point. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for students and seniors (55 and older), children 5 and younger get in free. The phone number is 541-664-6081.

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