News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Artist, geologist collaborate on art treasures

Mary Jo Weiss and Denny Tower have been working together in support of My Own Two Hands (MOTH) for over four years. The part that each of them plays to create a unique piece of jewelry for MOTH is extraordinary. Denny cuts and polishes the stone used in the jewelry, while Mary Jo designs the jewelry piece to display the stone’s perfection.

The stones used by Tower have been collected over time during rock-hunting trips across the state, dating back to when he was nine years old. He has a full lapidary shop in his garage with all the equipment needed to cut, shape, and polish rocks.

“I’ve always made sure that there is an agate, jasper, or sunstone from Oregon included for MOTH,” he said. “For instance, I collected the Holly Blue agate in this year’s piece from a location near Sweet Home many years ago while I was a student at Oregon State.”

This year’s piece is titled “Hope Grows.” Inscribed on the back is an iris, which is the flower of hope.

Tower said, “The iris on the back was entirely Mary Jo’s idea, but I thought it was perfect to make the piece even more special.”

When Mary Jo creates a piece, the process can vary. She starts with a stone or an idea and develops a general concept of a design.

“I like to work spontaneously and love the process of the design evolving into the finished product, which is unique and one of a kind,” she said.

When working with a customer, she’ll take a stone or idea and make a detailed sketch, then change it to fit the customer’s preferences.

When collaborating on a project for MOTH, Mary Jo and Denny meet together to come up with ideas based on the stones Denny has cut and polished. Weiss sketches ideas to incorporate the MOTH theme. They meet again to review her ideas and agree on the final design, then Mary Jo crafts the piece and sets the stones in metal.

Tower is a geologist by profession and an amateur lapidarist, an expert in the art of cutting and engraving precious stones. A love of everything natural about the earth comes with being a geologist and he knows nature’s art is special.

“I first started cutting stones to make jewelry for family members over 60 years ago,” he said. “I took a decades-long break from it while working and enjoying my family, but started back cutting again about seven years ago.”

Weiss started creating jewelry in college. Her major included ceramics, plus textiles, specifically in jewelry and metalwork. She has worked in the jewelry industry in one manner or another for over 40 years: apprenticing in a trade shop, designing and fabricating jewelry, jewelry sales, repairs, and more.

“I design and create all sorts of jewelry — earrings, cuffs, pendants, and rings,” she said. “My specialty is forging and fabrication, working with a variety of metals, sterling silver, gold, mokume, and niobium. Most of my work is mixed metals because I like the interest and contrast the various colors of metal provide.”

You can find Mary Jo Weiss’ jewelry at The Jewel, 221 W. Cascade Ave. Suite A, in Sisters, and at her studio Torch Jewelry Collective, 1141 SE Centennial Ct., Suite C, in Bend (call 541-419-6925 for appointment).

Both Denny and Mary Jo love what Sisters Folk Festival does to support music and arts in the Sisters school system, and they are happy to help with that support.

Weiss became involved with MOTH in the very beginning.

“I believe having the arts taught in schools is extremely important,” she said. “I wanted to be part of making that happen, both for my children and for all of the Sisters community.”

She believes Sisters is very fortunate to have the luthier program, where students build guitars and ukuleles.

“My daughter was able to benefit from the program and made a gorgeous guitar!” she said.

Tower said, “The Sisters Folk Festival is a community treasure. The last couple of years have been challenging due to wildfires and COVID-19. It’s important for the community to step up and help out in whatever ways are possible.”

Mary Jo Weiss and Denny Tower received the Award of Merit in 2019 and in 2021. Denny said his 2019 award was also in recognition of the long commitment he and his wife, Susan, have made in support of the Sisters Folk Festival and Sisters Folk Art Circle. They all plan to continue their support for music and the arts in Sisters.


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