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Magnetic beauty: Ben Delaney transforms rocks and wood into jewelry

UPDATED: Thu., June 15, 2017, 12:29 p.m.

Like most people who enjoy nature, Spokane native Ben Delaney spends a fair amount of time hiking the Pacific Northwest’s riverbanks and beaches, picking up rocks and bits of wood he spies on the ground. He and his children used to collect the most interesting pieces and put them in a box to collect dust. Or they’d simply throw the rocks and wood bits back into the wild forever.

Not anymore. Three years ago Delaney, 38, created a way to keep rocks and wood he can’t bear to part with by transforming them into necklaces, as striking as any diamond baubles. And, some would argue, more meaningful.

Delaney calls the necklaces Totem Pendants, and for the second straight year, he will be selling them at Bazaar, happening this Saturday. Terrain’s fourth annual one-day-only, open-air market will include Delaney and 75 other local artists, offering their handcrafted goods and art.

“Last year’s Bazaar was the first time I sold (the Totem Pendants) and I was really surprised by the positive reactions,” Delaney said. “I was apprehensive before the show that this may just be my own little strange obsession, but people loved them.”

Admirers of Delaney’s wares like to talk about the beauty of particular rocks. These aren’t delicate crystals, but rather large round stones and rough-hewn chunks of irregular shapes.

“After holding the rocks a while, people tend to talk about how long it took for the rock to roll down that mountain, to get to that point where it broke off and was worn down to this size, and ended up here in our hands,” Delaney said.

“You have this thing that is ancient, and you are attaching meaning to it,” Delaney said. “Whether it reminds you of a place, or of someone you were with, or of a trip with your child, it’s different for everyone.”

Delaney labels where and when his rocks and wood pieces were chosen, whether Mount Spokane, St. Helens or Hood. Some fans have tried to commission him to turn their own favorite rocks into wearable keepsakes. “It’s something I’m willing to look into,” Delaney said.

Perhaps the niftiest element of the Totem Pendants is that they don’t have extra pieces glued on them or holes punched through them to hang from a chain. Rather, Delaney uses a diamond-tipped drill bit to create a tiny opening just big enough to insert a powerful earth magnet inside the rock.

In what he calls an “interchangeable necklace system,” Delaney crafts leather strings and sterling silver chains with corresponding magnets hanging from them to attract and temporarily “affix” the rocks by magnetic force alone. No clasps necessary. Simply yanking the rocks off the chains or strings and replacing them with another piece that stays in place with small magnets makes for easy mix-and-match options.

Delaney went through several iterations before figuring out how strong the magnets needed to be to keep the rocks from falling off the chains. “You can get huge magnets, but then you lean over and you’re stuck to the refrigerator,” Delaney said. “I had to find a happy medium.”

Solving problems for clients is Delaney’s professional specialty in his day job as creative director of local design firm HKW. His eclectic background includes photography, web and print design, brand and product development, interior design, application design and development, and even the occasional entrepreneurial endeavor. (He and his wife, MaryAnn, started the former Junebugs Café 10 years ago in the Perry District.)

But this most recent creative enterprise – which will include selling incense holders, T-shirts, and prints – is personal. And it’s not about money.

“I very purposefully have treated this like an art project, not a startup I’m trying to scale up,” said Delaney, whose work also is available online at https://bendelaneycreative.com/. “It’s just me doing art.”

Working and being a father keeps Delaney busy. But after his kids were born – they are now in elementary and high school – he made two priorities for himself: getting out in nature and expressing himself artistically. He’s managed to combine both pursuits. He backpacks, climbs and hikes, and commissions the kids to hunt for rocks.

“It’s not very glamorous,” Delaney said. “I’m just one of those people who is just kind of continuing to try and be an artist as I go through life.”

Taking part in Bazaar has proved to be a motivator for Delaney, forcing him to have products ready by deadline, and in keeping with Bazaar’s standards. “I like the fact that the show has a really neat mixture of stuff, not just trinket crafts, but a little bit more elevated,” Delaney said.

He also credits Bazaar, and its hosting organization Terrain, for drawing him in, and for pulling in the general public to appreciate local artists.

“I love being part of it because of the people involved and connecting with the arts community,” Delaney said. “I also love what they’ve done with Terrain, getting art into the conversation with a certain segment of the population that maybe wouldn’t normally be going to art galleries and doing art.”



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