Joplin Public Library

Words with Hiram Mesa

Throughout November, the Post Art Library is showing Hiram Mesa’s The Magic Mirror, which is comprised of mixed-media artworks, screen prints, jewelry, and wonderfully cut cabochons. Earlier today, I had the opportunity to ask Hiram some questions about his art.

Jill’s questions/comments are in bold,
whereas Hiram’s are not.

You’re making a name for yourself cutting stones. Could you tell me about what drew you to pursue lapidary work?
I was traveling with some friends through Colorado and New Mexico and we stopped at a rock shop. I noticed a nice piece of turquoise jewelry on display and I thought maybe I could do something like that. So I bought a rough, unfinished stone and I started buying Rock & Gem magazine and set about teaching myself lapidary work. Eventually I joined a gem and mineral club in Joplin and started borrowing some of their equipment and cutting stones. That was about 12 years ago.

Although you do buy some stones, you prefer digging for them. Where have you dug for stones?
Colorado, mostly. I’ve been to Canada, some places in Arkansas, and New Mexico.

What’s it like to dig for stones?
It’s the most amazing thing EVER!!! When you pull something out of the ground and it’s been there forever and no one has ever seen it and the light is shining on it—it’s very, very cool… I’d rather be digging for stones than doing just about anything else.

But tell me about the process. What types of tools do you use?
It’s actually a lot of work. It’s funny, I work harder on my vacations than when I’m working. I use shovels, pry bars, picks, chisels, brushes, things like that.

How do you know where to go?
This is a tricky question. I’ve read a lot of books and field guides so I have a pretty good understanding of how to read the geology. You have to know how to read the rock itself, the geology. There’s a host rock that most of the stones form in, so you have to know how to read the host rock and it will tell you where you need to be digging. But a lot of it is intuition and luck.

Some of your mixed-media art incorporates specular hematite. Could you tell me about specular hematite and why you like to use it?
Specular hematite forms in large masses. I take two of the stones and rub them together over a piece of paper and collect the flakes to use in my art. I love stones, so I feel the need to apply stones to my art. I like specular hematite because I like the way it feels.

You’ve mentioned that you’d rather be digging for stones than anything else. So how do you turn your attention away from that to your other art forms, such as metal work, jewelry fabrication, and mixed media?
The abstract images that I envision are more easily conveyed through paper and paint. Besides, I really enjoy painting.

What are some of your favorite mediums to use in your mixed-media pieces?
Markers, watercolors, fingernail polish, and acrylics.

Aside from the art that you make, what are some of your favorite forms of art and who are some of your favorite artists?
I like photography, poetry, music, watercolor, ceramics, and most all forms of art. In regards to my favorite artists, that’s tough. I like so many art forms and artists that if I answer this question I’ll just be thinking of the most famous and that’s not fair.

Thanks, Hiram, for answering questions about your art. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Thanks, Jill.

Left: “Seascape” by Hiram Mesa
Right: “Waterfalls from the Heavens” by Hiram Mesa

Greetings! from Joplin, Missouri

Recall days bygone when travelers documented their journeys and friends shared status updates via postcard. Imagine, if you will, that hundreds–perhaps thousands–of such cards were published to promote Joplin and its development. Imagine no more: the Joplin Public Library’s digitized collection features a touch over 500 such historical postcards. An array of subjects range from buildings to churches to eateries to lodging to mining to parks to recreation to schools and so on. Along with the postcards are their descriptions. Leslie Simpson, Director of the Post Memorial Art Reference Library, wrote the details that accompany each postcard included in the digitized collection. I recently met with Leslie to ask a few questions…

Jill’s questions/comments are in bold,
whereas Leslie’s are not.

How did you become involved in this project?
Carolyn Trout, who was the director of the Joplin Public Library at the time, wanted to do a digitization project. The postcard collection is a part of that project. It was a collaboration among the public library and the Post Library.

Who provided the postcards? Did you put out a call for postcards or seek collections that you knew existed?
We put out a newspaper notice inviting people to share their postcards. Brad Belk [of the Joplin Museum Complex] allowed us to go through the museum’s collection. Some were bought on Ebay. We also sought out people who had collections and asked to borrow them.

How many postcards did you all have to choose from?
We started with 1,000 and narrowed it down to a little over 500.

Your primary role was to write the postcards’ descriptions. How long did you conduct research and how so?
At least a year. I worked hard to specify the date of each image. Each postcard has a publisher’s code. I researched these codes to determine when they were in use and to date the cards. And I was able to date cards by the cost of postage at the time or by each card’s style and type.

When you were going through the postcards, which were the most interesting?
My favorites were the postcards with inscriptions, anything personal. One of the mining ones that I can remember had an arrow drawn to the mine with “This is how we make our money” written nearby.

What do you think it says about Joplin that such a plethora of postcards documents its development?
Well, Joplin WAS the most happening place in Missouri at the turn of the century! There was so much excitement about the fortunes to be made, not just in mining but in all the services to go along with that–dynamite companies, machinery works, hardware stores, grocery stores, etc. People came from all over the US to get in on the action. Postcards were also marketing tools–Joplin civic leaders could show off what Joplin had to offer. Theaters, churches, libraries, public buildings, etc.

Why do you think it’s important to preserve this collection for posterity?
There’s so much history there that’s not really in the history books. The parks, for instance. They were resort areas and amusement parks unlike anything we’ve ever seen. We get a glimpse into how people lived. The downtown scenes are fascinating snapshots into everyday life. We get to travel back in time!

Indeed we do: http://www.joplinpubliclibrary.org/digitized/postcards.php

joplin_card