-by Dottie Barnes

An expert in exercise physiology and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Steve Glass is about all things physical. He gained national attention last year from a study he conducted at Grand Valley on effective weight lifting. He conditions and exercises regularly, is an avid hiker, climbs mountains in the summer months, and instructs classes in Tae Kwon Do. But when he meets you, instead of sizing up your physical ability, he's probably looking at your jewelry.

Glass, a professor in the Movement Science Department, came to Grand Valley in 2001 to teach physiology of activity, clinical exercise physiology and exercise testing classes. But when he isn't spending time in the classroom or gym, he's tapping into his artistic side, making jewelry.

Glass enjoys the "sport" of lapidary - the cutting of rocks into slices or slabs. The rocks are then shaped and polished into stones that can be placed in a jewelry setting. The fitness expert gets a kick out of the reaction he receives from students when he notices their jewelry.

"I'm pretty good at identifying different kinds of stones," said Glass. "Students look surprised when I compliment the stone in their ring, earrings or necklace."

Growing up in Fargo, North Dakota, Glass' father was an avid rock collector who loved to cut stones into slabs and create designs. When Glass was 10, his dad showed him the ropes and the two made a habit of entering county fairs.

"I finished second every year," Glass recalled. "I was the only child in the competitions and guess who finished first? I always finished second to my dad."

Glass has collected and purchased enough stones and rocks during his travels to keep him busy for about a year. He said he enjoys seeking out unique and colorful stones, mostly from the West, so he can create something real and substantial.

"I prefer sculptures to paintings. They are touchable, shapeable. Lapidary is a way to create something tangible; to turn ugly stones into real beauty," he said.

Here's how the process works:

Using a metal template, Glass draws the shape that he wants to create. Then, using a diamond saw, he cuts along the guidelines to get a rough shape of the stone. "This part of the process can get really messy and muddy because water is used as a coolant," he said.

Next, Glass grinds the sides of the stone using a silicon carbide grinding wheel and shapes it to the exact dimensions drawn from the template. The stone is then glued to the top of a large nail so the top can be ground into a nice rounded dome. Once this is done, a sanding wheel is used to get rid of any bumps or imperfections. Lastly, he polishes the stone using a leather polishing wheel and then soaks it overnight in a glue dissolver.

"The process is mindless for me," he explained.
"It's calming. It appeals to my nature of getting something perfect. At work, I usually have several projects happening all at once. This is one thing that I can take the time to get just right."

At 42, Glass said he wants to devote more time to this hobby. He has spent many years learning and teaching Tae Kwon Do and climbing mountains, but admitted those interests are waning.

"I started Tae Kwon Do when I was 18," Glass said. "I became a black belt at 20 and qualified for nationals in North Dakota." For a time, Glass owned his own business, teaching marital arts in Nebraska.

Glass also climbs mountains known as the "fourteeners" - mountains that are 14,000 feet and higher. "I've made it a habit over the past several years to take three weeks in the summer and head west to climb a mountain," he said.

Some of Glass' recent conquests include Mt. Elbert and Mt. Princeton, both in Colorado. He has also hiked the badlands of North Dakota and the Oregon Trail in Nebraska, as well as several national parks including Petrified Forest, Rocky Mountain, Crater Lake, Theodore Roosevelt and Arches.

But the art and skill of climbing mountains is beginning to take a back seat to the joy Glass gets from designing, crafting, and giving away jewelry. He rarely takes money for his creations and usually gives them as gifts to family. It's not unlike Glass to bring several of his pieces to class and let students help themselves.

"If I accepted money, this would be a job and I already have a job. I enjoy seeing my daughter, my mom and my family wearing the stones," he said. Glass also donates pieces for auctions that raise money for college scholarships.

Glass said he would like to spend more time learning to design and create settings for his stones but he would need to invest in a slab saw, which he said can be very pricey. He said he'd also like to learn to be a silversmith.

"I don't tend to be artistically creative; this is the only artistic aspect to my life," he said.

Page last modified July 22, 2011