311 Elk Ave, Box 423
Crested Butte, CO 81224
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Noel Adams - Owner|
When Noel Adams holds up a polished Cabochon of Lapis Lazuli from the once-famed Blue Wrinkle Mine near Crested Butte, he doesn’t just see a glowing deep-blue gemstone. He sees a mineralogical storybook connecting geological drama, ancient human history, a pistol-packing mountain “madman” and Noel himself.
Gem quality lapis lazuli has been found in only four places in the world: Chile, Siberia, Afghanistan and North Italian Mountain near Crested Butte.
The local lapis lazuli, labeled “among the best the world has ever seen” occasionally stirred a ruckus in regional and even national media from the time it was discovered in 1939 until the Blue Wrinkle closed down in the 1990’s. Then the raw chunks of lapis stone were relegated to a forgotten Tulsa, Oklahoma, storage room until Noel, who had long been intrigued by the stories, searched it down, bought it and hauled it to Crested Butte--- “where it belongs.”|
Noel uses his own lapis in is own jewelry work and contracts with Native American artisans to create lapis jewelry for Zacchariah Zypp, his long-standing jewelry/silversmith/goldsmith shop on Elk Avenue.
“Now all this lapis belongs to me, but I don’t really feel like I own it. It’s more like I’m the caretaker of it,” Noel said. “There’s something special about this lapis. It really does have a certain feel, almost spiritualization about it.”
Crested Butte lapis ranges in color from dark blue-black to royal blue to light denim blue. Lapis lazuli actually prompted the term “royal blue,” since in ancient times, only kings, queens, and emperors were allowed to own the rare, deep-blue lapis stones.
One of the first commercially traded gemstones in ancient Egypt, lapis was valued equally with gold. King Tut’s sarcophagus and mask were made almost entirely of lapis and gold, and lapis lazuli (literally “heaven stone”) is poetically praised in the Bible’s Book of Job, Pliny the Alder’s history of the Roman Empire, and the records of Charlemagne and Edward I of England. Lapis was also ground into powder for use in medicine, cosmetics and painting (creating the color ultramarine). By healers and energy workers through the ages, it has been associated with stimulating creativity and opening the energy centers (charkas).
Comprised primarily of the mineral lazurite, which is formed under high temperature in metamorphic rocks, Crested Butte’s lapis was created by the folding and shifting of the earth and the intrusion of molten rock millions of years ago in the Cement Creek valley. Then the blue vein lay hidden until Carl Anderson ran into a bit of bad weather in 1939.
Carl a grizzled miner-prospector, was traversing high on North Italian Mountain, heading back to work at the Star Mine, when a cold autumn rainstorm sent him seeking shelter in a gulch at about 12,700 feet.
“One story says he was drunk and fell off his horse; another says he just headed into the ravine to get out of the rainstorm.” Noel said. “It’s probably a bit of both.”
By most accounts, the rain had polished the blue face of some exposed lapis, catching Carl’s eye. Mineral hound Otis Dozier, who years later became so fascinated with lapis that he climbed North Italian Mountain to hunt down and interview Carl Anderson, wrote the following account of the lapis discovery in a 1944 Rocks and minerals journal: “Near the top of the gulch, he noticed a boulder of limestone that was highly crystallized with iron pyrite. This being out of the ordinary, he stopped to look it over and knocked off a chip with a hammer. On one side was a small spot of dark blue color which the rain intensified. Mr. Anderson pocketed the rock. A few days later, he thought again of the blue rock in his pocket, looked at it under the glass and tested it. To his amazement, it was lapis lazuli.”
After having identification notified, Carl returned to the mountainside above the gulch. He repeatedly shoved boulders down the hillside to figure out where the blue –studded stones must have originated to roll down the hill to where he found them. Once his experiments had pinpointed the likely source, he started digging. He found the main vein about three or four feet under dirt and eventually followed it for several hundred yards around the mountain.
The lapis caught surprised attention, first among rock and mineral fans. Otis Dozier wrote, “So far as is known, this was the first gem-quality lapis lazuli in the United States. Since that time, several authorities have pronounced it lapis of the finest quality. Mr. Whitmore, of the Smithsonian Institute, has said, “It has color and is equal to any of the specimens of this mineral from any of the localities represented in our collection.”
Carl staked some claims and worked the area with pick and shovel every summer for three decades, generally keeping to himself. Paul Schultz, an Oklahoma oil-man who became manager of the Blue Wrinkle Mine long after Carl died, said, “I never met Carl. He was kind of a grim fellow, from what I know.”
THE SINGING ACCORDIAN MAN TAKES OVER|
Thirty years after discovering lapis, Carl Anderson died at the State Hospital in Pueblo without leaving a will. His son Andre, who had abandoned his life as a performing musician and come up the last few summers to help his father dig, took over the claims. For another decade Andre picked at the blue vein, spending his summers in a rough little cabin high on the mountainside.
Andre could be as much a loner as his father. E posted a sign near the lapis site that read: “This property belongs to a madman. He’s a dead shot. No digging.”
He did however; make a few friends in the valley. In 1977, geologist Gary Christopher wrote about Andre in a gem collectors magazine and eventually did some digging with him. Gary wrote: “Hearing the story of Carl and Andre Anderson, I knew my mind would never rest until I saw the mine and Andre Anderson. I’ll never forget the day that first trip. It was a beautiful day and I remember seeing a lone figure working in a trench way up on the mountain. It took some forty minutes of hard climbing to get there. I introduced myself and found Mr. Anderson to be quite friendly, even though he carried a big gun on his hip.”
Paul Schultz also got to know Andre, at least superficially, tough their mutual interest in the lapis.
“Andre never talked much about his childhood,” Paul was quoted in an Associated Press story in 1985. “I know he grew up in northern Michigan with somewhere in the ‘30’s, and things were hard. He had eight brothers and sisters. His father left the family--- maybe so it would be easier for them to get help---and Andre had to help raise his mother raise the others.”
During the snowy Crested Butte winters, Andres sometimes lived at Harmel’s (trading lapis for rent), then at the Three Rivers Resort in Almont. The AP story said of him: “He sometimes pulled out a postcard –sized photos that illustrated a glamorous former life, a time when he worked as a musician on a cruise ships: Andre Anderson the singing Accordion Man’. Andres’ obituary described him as a former professional musician and photographer based in New York City, who sang and played accordion and concertina.
Andre was still hanging out in the Crested Butte area when Noel Adam moved to town. Noel heard stories about hi: Andre sometimes showed up at social gatherings with his concertina, then got mad when people chatted instead of listening to him play (hence, perhaps the fading of his cruise ship era). “I think ‘crusty” would be a good word to describe him,” Noel said. As a jewel, Noel titillated by tales of Andre’s lapis mine, but his attempts to get to know the man lad nowhere. “He didn’t want anything to do with a hippie jeweler.”
No one ever knew how much Andre pulled out of the lapis mine, though Gus Grosland, a retired Western State College professor who befriended the miner, remembers occasionally giving him a ride to Denver with his carpetbag full of lapis. Until his death, Andre was hardly known for is generosity, and he generally managed to visit the Grosland’s house just about mealtime.
Andre grew ill in the late 1970’s and apparently sold the lapis mine to fund heart surgery; it was bought by Oklahoma-based Anchor Gas at the urging of partner Paul Schultz. Andre died in 1981 and, stunning the local community left $69,000 to Gunnison Library to establish a music and story telling room.
“Andre was a frequent visitor to the library, but this came as a complete surprise to us,” said Anne Zugelder, then president of the library’s board of trustees. Se described Andre as a “private person, strongly individualistic.”
MACHINES MOVE IN
Under Anchor Gas, the Blue Wrinkle entered a new era, as the company brought in earthmovers to replace handpicks and cut deep into the steep hillside of Paleozoic sediment. Paul managed the mine in the summer, and in the winter, when North Italian Mountain was buried in snow, sorted the stones into various grades. He worked in the rear of the House of Art in Gunnison a jewerely/rock shop owned by ugh and Nancy Pressler. The Presslers used the lapis in their own jewerely and helped market the polished stones, receiving orders from as far away as India and West Germany.
The early 1980’s brought more attention to the lapis, especially after an Associated Press article proclaimed, “Despite the homely name, assays of Blue Wrinkle ore declared it among the best lapis lazuli the world has ever seen.”
Headlines hit newspapers across the west, from Tulsa to Denver to Rapid City: “Remote Colorado mountain yields world’s best lapis.”
Eventually, however, Anchor Gas found diminishing return on its investment and closed the mine. Gary Christopher, who had briefly worked with Andre years earlier, bought the Blue Wrinkle in 1991 and occasionally worked it on his own before closing it down for good. He donated the Blue Wrinkle’s prize pieces of lapis, a 37 pound polished slab dating back to the Anderson era, to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Meanwhile, Noel had put down roots in Crested Butte. He moved here in 1972 after growing up in Denver, studying sculpture in Boulder, and working as a photographer, illustrator and light show specialist for San Francisco. In Crested Butte, Noel joined Dan Thurman’s arts and crafts school as jewelry instructor. When the school folded, he opened his own studio and store (Zacchariah Zypp), while fighting forest fires and doing construction on the side.
As a kid, Noel had dreamed of driving fire trucks, a dream that turned into 25 years of community service in Crested Butte, Noel joined the community’s new fire department in 1973 and worked as fire-fighter and engineer. After the ambulance service started, he trained as an advanced emergency medical technician (EMT-I) and served as assistant EMS coordinator.
“I liked the adrenaline rush when the pager went off---and the camaraderie and the chance to help people,” he said. “When I retired six years ago, I really missed it. But this (Zacchariah Zypp) is really my life.”
Zacchariah Zypp has anchored Elk Avenue for 32 years: “Either I did something right or I’m too stupid to sell,” Noel said. His store now carries half Native American and half contemporary jewelry. He represents more than two hundred artist mostly members of Indian Arts and Crafts Association to ensure the jewelry’s authenticity.
For years Noel wondered what had happened to the rest of the famed lapis that had caused such a stir, and then seemingly disappeared. He had purchased some from the Pressler’s earlier but had used it all but one large stone.
“It was such a beautiful piece, I didn’t want to cut it up,” he said. “So I decided I’d better hunt down the rest of the lapis.”
Noel did some detective work to find where the lapis was hidden, put in an offer, rented a 23 foot U-haul, and his friends Sue and John McBryde and Davo Moore, hauled it from Tulsa back to Crested Butte. Now he pulls lapis as needed from a storage unit full of rocks bearing streaks and veins of blue.
Noel loves showing people the lapis both raw and finished form, and telling the stories behind it. Andre Anderson, packing his trademark pistol, looking down from photo a on the wall of Zaccahariah Zypp, where a central showcase features lapis jewelry. Noel notes that gemstones often feel special to people because they come from the earth, carrying different characteristics and according to ancient tradition, bearing different powers. The lapis he feels is even more special because it claims a rare and precious place in human history and comes from a mountain in Crested Butte’s own backyard.