J is for Jasper

| April 17, 2014

1. Jasper is a form of silica. A quartz gemstone that has a history going back as far mankind’s first use of tools. Jasper is crystalline in structure and breaks clean, which makes it perfect for creating sharp objects such as arrowheads or knives. The stone also was used for religious objects and ceremonial purposes. Jasper can be found in every continent and this prominence has led it to be valued by many cultures.

2. Jasper is typically red, but can be green, white, black, or just about any color. Jasper is the state rock of Massachusetts. It is also a 6.5-7 on the Mohs scale of harness. This means that jasper is not as hard as topaz, which is an 8, but is harder than iron, which is a 4. The Mohs scale of harness is based on one stone’s ability to scratch another stone. The placement of the stones on the scale is relative to the stones that surround it. You do not have to check if a 8 would scratch a 4 because you know that an 8 scratches a 7 which scratches a 6 which scratches a 5 which scratches a 4.

3. Jasper, Alabama is where my father’s side of the family is from. It is a small town in the northern portion of the state. The town has a population of over 14,000, but I don’t remember seeing any resident other than my great-grandmother. Her home was far outside of town and surrounded by fields of cattle. My great-grandma lived there until she died two years ago. She never learned to drive.

4. I remember fishing in a pond behind my great-grandmother’s house in Jasper with my brother and grandfather. This was my grandfather’s childhood pond so he thought it was important that we fished the way he used to fish. We fashioned fishing rods out of branches and some spare line that was laying around the garage. Since we had no reel, we caught the fish by simply jerking them out of the water. We stood on the shore and cast our small lengths of line into the lake. I once pulled a fish out of the water a little too hard and it flew into the bushes behind me. We walked over to find the fish and we found it dying underneath a bush. The fish had blood coming out of its gills, which my grandfather said was because I pulled it too hard, nearly decapitating it. The thought of this decapitation actually happening was terrifying. With each nibble on the end of the line I was cautious not to pull too hard, lest I bring a severed head out of the water. This resulted in me not catching another fish.

5. There is a town called Jasper in Indiana and one in Texas, among other ones throughout the country. I have not visited any of these towns. There is also a Jasper in Alberta, which is the town center of Jasper National Park.

6. Jasper Johns’ painting Flag is one of many artworks in which the reproductions of the piece (in pictures we see in books and online) drastically undercut the impact of the artwork. The size of the work is of course diminished and we do not get a glimpse at the irregularities present in the work. Furthermore, the structure of newspapers underneath the painting is almost completely invisible in reproductions. The painting’s waxy, translucent surface allows the careful viewer to actually read the text that remains hidden beneath the surface of the flag. Advertisements are one of the most obvious of the painting’s texts. Jasper Johns claims that before he made this painting he had a dream that he painted an American flag. He woke up and started working on this painting.

7. Is it possible that the diminishing aspect of the artwork through reproductions is actually a part of the work’s conceptual underpinnings? The American flag, a real one that you would fly on a pole, is one of the most mass-produced symbols in America. Not only are there millions of copies of the flag flying somewhere, but you also find the flag on bumper stickers, patches, cereal boxes, etc. The reproduction of the flag is so expansive that the original meaning of the flag (if it ever had one) is lost. The flag means different things to different people. To some, waving the flag is a sign of patriotism and unabashed loyalty to the country and its leaders. To others, the flag rests on ideals of what they believe America to be, regardless of how the country actually operates. Maybe it would be better to say that the flag has gained myriad meanings rather than saying it lost an original one.

8. Jasper, the stone, is formed through hydro thermal movement underneath the earth’s surface. Traces of this movement can be found in the wavy layers present in many jasper stones. Looking closer at a jasper gemstone, one finds movement in a static object. The movement is inherent in the very creation of the stone. Without movement there would be no stone. Despite the cliches that surround rocks as being heavy, stagnant objects, the creation of stones requires unfathomable amounts of time and movement. Jasper is made through the earth’s dance with itself, shifting its particles into a combination that results in a stone the color of creation.