Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the February-March issue of WVSouth magazine.
Call it pretty… in a bituminous sort of way. Craggy coal, staunchly defended fossil fuel, emblem for worldwide energy and West Virginia Pride, has a softer side — one only an artist might recognize. One Carol Dameron hopes consumers might also appreciate.
A missing cabochon, or polished gemstone, is under ordinary circumstances the ruination of a piece of traditional jewelry. To crafter Dameron, that’s when the real black-gold potential begins.
Using a special process she developed, Dameron repurposes vintage jewelry settings into contemporary earrings, necklaces, bracelets and brooches — not with diamonds, but with coal. It is one of several evolutions in her business Pockbookity, but one that hits closer to home and heritage than any other.
“I had no point of reference when I started making coal jewelry,” says the purse purveyor who came to be so after she couldn’t find the exact clutch her daughter needed for prom several years ago. The mother of invention said ‘yes’ when her merchandiser in chief, Kevin Traube of Little Brick House, where her Pockbookity products are sold exclusively, suggested she try coal jewelry next. So she began putting tiny nuggets in a glass vial and binding them to necklaces, a rudimentary start that took off like wildfire among tourists wanting a piece of Almost Heaven to take back with them.
Remembering the kitschy coal figurines of the ’70s, hoot owls with ruby-studded eyes, nonpartisan spraying elephants and braying donkeys, Dameron decided her pieces would be heirlooms, one-of-a-kind coal wearables unlikely to get tossed into a junk drawer or the next yard sale. Atop a 178-year-old kitchen table hewn by her great-grandfather’s hands and weathered by time and long-ago salt-cured hams, she demonstrates her method for turning the chunks of prehistory into a shapeable art medium. Using a black lump she unearthed in her backyard while landscaping, Dameron chips it apart and into a mortar, grinding it with a pestle and releasing a slightly mineral-tinged perfume into the air.
Although she’s finely adorned today in promoting her finished products, she doesn’t deny looking like a coal miner herself during the process, most days. “It’s messy,” she admits, blending in the creamy-looking matrix that dries clear and which took several experimental attempts before she found the right formulation to hit paydirt.
Springing from spaces round or rectangular, star-spangled or filigreed, mounds of Dameron’s carefully shaped and set coal druzies sell for about $10 to $40 each. She considers the articles a silent tribute to her father, who celebrated 60 years working in the West Virginia coal mines before his passing last year. “I remember Dad bringing me home chunks of coal with gold in them when I was a little girl. I still have them,” she says.
The small amount of coal she needs to produce her jewelry each year won’t make an impact on the hard-hit industry’s bottom line, but this coal miner’s daughter deserves commendation for persistence in discovering new diamonds in the raw.
“Nothing is set in stone,” she admits. “One thing you learn being in business for yourself is you have to be willing to change.”
Friend 1 Oak Designs on Facebook to see Dameron’s latest creations.