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Swan Gourd Slice


My approach to jade carving

Taking Form Jade Studio continues to take form and grow, and the carvings I offer now are both the culmination of years of effort and the beginning of my new work. I continue to learn from each piece of jade and hope to convey my explorations and discoveries to jade lovers worldwide.

I work a wide variety of beautifully colored and patterned jade and prefer material with a fine creamy texture and either translucency or beautiful opacity. High quality jade is the toughest natural stone, and it is this toughness which allows it to be carved into the graceful forms I am interested in carving.



From a quirk in their histories, the two stones known as nephrite and jadeite are both acknowledged as true jades. Neither is inherently more legitimate or valuable than the other. I carve both.



Nephrite Jade is formed at the contact zones between intrusions of igneous rock and another stone such as serpentinite or dolomite which contains the other elements needed to form nephrite jade. Under certain conditions of pressure and heat the two stones exchange ions and create masses of nephrite known as lenses along that line of contact.

Nephrite crystals are needle-like and the best jade has very small crystals tightly twisted and “felted” together, giving the jade incredible strength and toughness, and beauty.

Nephrite occurs in colors from snowy white to jet black, with a wide range of greens, browns, and yellows in between. The colors are generally more subtle and muted than some of the colors which jadeite exhibits.

Hetian nephrite jade-

This jade from Xinjiang in western China occurs in various greens and light greens along with black and the finest milky white jade in the world.  This “mutton fat” jade sells for more per gram than gold. “River” jade from alluvial gravels has had any inferior parts worn away in ancient floods and raging mountain rivers. “Mountain” jade mined from in situ deposits can also be excellent.

 Siberian nephrite jade-

This jade from near lake Baikal comes in white, yellow, browns, and widely varied greens. The white is second only to the best Hetian.

Wyoming nephrite jade-

This jade from America’s northern plains includes some of the finest textured jades in the world. Most of the best bright “apple green” color jade is long gone, but we still get the peerless black Edwards and Vondrasic material as well as beautiful translucent olive-green and sage green jades. Wyoming jade comes from the Jeffrey City and Casper area.

An interesting article about Wyoming jade by the late Roger Merk-

British Columbian and Yukon nephrite jade-

These Canadian jades occur in a wide variety of greens and blue-greens, often very bright from the chromium coming from the serpentinite which provides part of their origin.



Jadeite is formed in subduction zones, where the edge of one tectonic plate is forced down under another plate. As with the formation of nephrite, two unrelated masses of stone exchange ions under certain conditions of heat and pressure. Jadeite crystals are more angular than those in nephrite, but tightly joined to each other, creating an extremely tough jade. As with nephrite, the best jadeite has the smallest crystals. Jadeite is also much harder than nephrite and comes in brighter and more unusual colors.

Burma (Myanmar) jadeite jade-

Although the sanctions on Myanmar have been lifted, I still prefer not to use this jade until or unless conditions there become less oppressive.

Guatemalan jadeite jade-

Beautiful jade in blue, blue-green, lilac, and black come from Guatemala’s Motagua valley. Beginning with the Olmec all the Pre-Columbian civilizations in Mesoamerica have prized the jade. Guatemalan jade is said to be the oldest jadeite in geological terms.

Clear Creek (San Benito County, California)-

This little-known jadeite comes in various teal greens and gray greens, mostly opaque, crisscrossed with white jade in healed fractures. The purity, hardness, and texture of the jade is excellent and the jade deserves to be more widely used.


Jade is harder than steel, about as hard as the mineral quartz, so it can only be carved by abrasion. While electric motors and modern abrasives speed the process, patience is still the byword.

My carving technique combines modern and ancient methods. Diamond saws and grinders begin the process, roughing out the forms. This is followed by finer grinding, refining, and sanding using the “loose grit” or mud carving method invented by Chinese carvers 7000 years ago. Rotating metal, wood, or plastic tools cut the jade by means of a muddy slurry of abrasive grit and water. Hand sanding and stoning with abrasive blocks and water help perfect critical details and surfaces the rotary tools cannot.

These steps are then followed by final sanding and finishing. I usually prefer a soft lustrous satin finish over a harsh glassy bright polish. A Suzhou jade master examining one of my carvings complimented me highly on the finish.



The name “Taking Form Jade Studio” comes from my commitment to the rich possibilities of the language of three-dimensional form and from the process of discovery and development inherent in the active pursuit of artistic excellence.

Jade is the sculptor’s gemstone, and the material itself is an inspiration. I think of my pendants as small-scale wearable sculptures to be experienced directly and intimately, bringing art and life together on a daily basis.

The inspiration for the forms I carve comes from a wide range of sources which can be divided into the two categories of culture and nature. A familiarity with the cultural productions of the history of art informs my work. We humans have been making art objects since the Stone Age and the richness and beauty of that legacy is at once inspiring and intimidating. Nonetheless I believe artists must be aware of what others have done, seek to understand it, internalize it, and then create their own personal and distinctive body of work. We are all magpies.

The beauty of the forms of natural objects is an inspiration to me. A painter may gaze at a cloud-swept sky and find inspiration but I often look down and pick up shells, seed pods, nuts, and leaves. I find the three-dimensional spirals of shells especially fascinating and absorbing. Objects such as shells, seed pods, and nuts have resonating relationships of interior and exterior, decay and growth, emptiness and fullness, and of impermanence and permanence. On a practical level, they also provide good opportunities to make hollowed sculptural pendants and sculptures which exploit the translucency and toughness of jade.

The process of developing a glimmer of inspiration into a fully resolved design for a jade carving can be quite immediate or can stretch over a period of years. Multiple drawings and models in wax, wood, or clay are usually involved. Like many modern artists, I work in series, exploring certain ideas repeatedly, developing a vocabulary of forms, pushing, pulling, and combining them in various ways. The first attempt is rarely the best and dogged determination to refine and perfect a design usually works in the end.


The pendants I design and carve are signed and dated one-of-a-kind art objects. The absolute dedication I put into every phase of their creation puts them on a different level than the mass-produced work.

I concentrate on all-stone pendants hung on simple cords. For me there is a timeless elegance in a beautiful jade presented this way, without the interference of metal mountings. I put a lot of thought and experimentation into how the pendants hang and balance on their cords, since they are really small suspended sculptures consisting of a carved jade piece, one or two beads, and a cord.

The cords are all pure silk, either plant dyed hand braided silk kumihimo or fine machine braided silk from Japan. The length of the cords is adjustable by means of sliding beads or sliding knots.

These necklaces have been retailing for between $250.00 and $2,700.00 US. The price is based first and foremost on the quality and replacement value of the jade, and secondarily on the success and beauty of the design and carving.



I carve small jade sculptures and bowls, which are often presented on carved wooden bases precisely fitted to the jade. Wood is kind to jade and can be carved to present the jade in the proper manner, reinforcing the appearance and concept of the jade carving. The jade is not bolted to the sculpture like a marble bust, but can be lifted off the base for handling, then returned to the base for viewing. This is the Asian way of enjoying jade, and the Chinese word for appreciating an art object means “to fondle.”



I make a unique style of jade earrings, more sculptural than many available on the market today. Fine jade is very strong, so the earrings can be thin and light and yet stand up to daily wear. I make the sterling silver or 14/20 gold filled ear wires myself in a unique and architectonic design.



All photos of jades are by Bill Kipp, Jess Dugan shot the black and white portrait.


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