GTPulse: Leland Blues Star in This Locally Made Jewelry
Leland Blues are stones that I didn’t know existed until I moved here. Once I saw one, I instantly wanted one of my own, even more so than a Petoskey! The deep aquamarine color matches the lakes in the shimmery summer sun and they will forever remind me of what it feels like to be in Northern Michigan on a beautiful day. The stones aren’t technically even stones, they’re accidentally made from something called slag, a waste matter that is separated from metals during ore refining. When that waste material cooled, it mixed with other chemicals to create the stone-like blue glass that is the Leland Blue. Although the region is no longer filled with iron companies that produce slag, Leland Blues are still popping up on beaches all over Northern Michigan. Markie Mcrae is a Michigander in love with their beauty, so much so, that she began to make and sell jewelry featuring the beautiful stone through her shop Silver, Slag and Stone.
Have you lived in Michigan your whole life?
I was born and raised in Michigan minus a 5-year hiatus where I moved to Arkansas to attend college and played Division 1 soccer for Arkansas State University.
When was the first time you found a Leland Blue, and how did it feel?
I moved here in 2014, my now husband and I were planning our wedding which is stressful and we would escape to the beach with a bottle of wine and rock hunt to decompress and forget the worries of the day. Petoskey stones were easy for us to find and we wanted a challenge….enter the local treasure Leland Blue. They are so unique and a stand out on the shore.
I found a stone that I fell in love with and called a local jeweler to have a simple ring made and was quoted an outrageous amount. I vowed then I would learn how to silversmith and make my own Michigan jewelry.
Was silversmithing something you were quickly good at? Or did it take some getting used to?
Not at all. I remember burning through my silver and wanting to cry but couldn’t let myself break down in front of complete strangers. It took reframing my brain and actually having to listen and learn patience and not speed through everything. It took me probably a solid year to learn the “basics” really well and then I really started pushing myself and allowing myself to make mistakes to learn the tough stuff.
What about silversmithing do you love most?
That every piece is different and unique. Nothing ever turns out the same as the previous one. I am so proud that my husband and I started this on a whim over a bottle of wine on the beach. Very proud that we do the whole process from start to finish. Most silversmiths buy their stones (cabochons) and I love knowing the EXACT spot and story each of our stones comes from.
When did you decide to start selling your jewelry?
I was working at Blustone Vineyards slinging wine and wearing my jewelry. Customers started commenting on my jewelry and asking about the story about the Leland Blue stone. People started begging to buy my jewelry and it gave me the courage to branch out and start doing art shows. Which is terrifying to put yourself out there artistically and open yourself up to criticism. It was so worth it. We’ve grown so much in these two short years and I am so proud of what we have accomplished.
Do you use anything else besides Leland Blues?
I primarily work with Leland Blues and Petoskey stones because that is what we hunt and have access to here in Leelanau and feel the most connected to. I make the trip to the UP a couple times a year and hunt for Pioneer Blues which is a lot of fun to work with. I keep meaning to branch out in the UP and make my way to the Keewanaw and hunt for Agates, Copper and would kill to find some Isle Royale Greenstone. The problem is rock hunting is so weather dependent. I am fortunate enough to know when the wind blows in Suttons Bay what Lake Michigan waves will look like, whether it be calm or choppy or what have you. I’m around it enough to know. Lake Superior can be next level and the waves are vicious. It’s hard when you have a dedicated weekend you carve out for vacation and the weather is terrible.
What are some of your most favorite pieces to make?
I love making earrings, yet they are the most challenging. I feel I can get the most crazy with earrings and that is something people really notice another person wearing. I also love making bolo ties and large detailed statement pieces. It takes so much time but is so satisfying when completed. Everything needs to be symmetrical and the size of the stone and markings need to match, which can be a challenge with Leland Blue and Petoskeys. You could cut the little bugger open and have 4 different shades or spots of leland blues.
What are some customer favorites?
How would you describe your jewelry style?
Organic, quality, nature-inspired. I try to let the stone do the talking and see how it would be showcased best through design. Im very inspired by Michigan and all the elements and scenery in Leelanau.
Where can people find your products locally?
I tend to be online only or at Art shows during May-November, but this year was different for in-person shopping for sure. I sell select pieces at Poppythings in Suttons Bay and Enjoy Michigan! In Northport.
If you’re not near Poppythings or Enjoy Michigan, check her stuff off online at https://www.etsy.com/shop/SilverSlagStone.
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