This story appeared in the November 18, 2017 edition of the Cortland Standard. To become a subscriber, email us, or call us at (607) 756-5665. Back issues available by request.
Frank Sarat gave his 8-year-old grandson polished rocks for Christmas last year.
“While he continued ripping through his Santa Claus booty, I spent so much time looking at the pound of multicolored beauties that I decided to buy myself a tumbler,” he said.
One thing led to the next.
Now the Preble man, who retired from his law practice last year after 28 years, is making jewelry out of rocks, which he buys or picks up on kayaking trips.
Frank Sarat’s jewelry, similar to these earrings, is now on display at Tully ArtWorks.
Sarat cuts them open with special saws, grinds them until smooth with a sander and drills holes into them. He’s manipulating beads, earring backs and silver chains to make his jewelry.
His wife, Melissa, a fine-art oil painter, said the family is floored.
“He is a serious button-down attorney. We didn’t know he had this part in him,” she said Tuesday at the couple’s home.
Sarat is showing off his necklaces and earrings at the Tully ArtWorks, 5 Elm St., Tully with other exhibitors for the next six months.
The Tully ArtWorks is a non-profit gallery and studio opened last year by the Tully Arts Council, headed by Marianne Ralbovsky.
The space on the other side of the studio features the three dimensional work of Steve Breitzka, giant snakes, a huge seahorse, pieces he built for shows that were part of Tully school theater, Ralbovsky said. There are about a dozen artists of all forms, potters, painters, glass makers, heritage crafters in the show.
“Frank is unique. His jewelry is made of semi-precious and precious stones,” Ralbovsky said.
Sarat is showing 10 necklaces and 20 to 30 pairs of earrings. He sported a wide leather strap on his wrist with three polished stones on it, one his favorite, blue opal. He uses shoe goo to secure the rock to the leather.
“I don’t have this feeling that men around here are into that sort of thing,” he said.
Sarat in his basement work space in Preble.
The Tully ArtWorks is open 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to noon Sunday during the winter, Ralbovsky said.
The council is volunteer run and there is no money exchanged in the studio/gallery. Artists are not charged a commission and get all proceeds from their sales. There is a small coffee shop in the ArtWorks that does operate its own business.
Sarat said he’s drawn to what’s hidden in the rocks.
“Something about their age … I look at them. I hold them in my hands. I get calming feelings from them. I don’t want to get New Agey about it,” he said.
Before Sarat was a lawyer, he put in 15 years as a chemical construction engineer, traveling the world working for mostly Exxon. He changed careers to law at 39.
“Better than half of what I was doing was I was assigned counsel, working on assignments from the county, for poor people, criminals and family law problems,” he said. He also represented children as a law guardian.
The last 10 years he worked solo, doing real estate, wills and small business cases.
He also used to be a serious rock climber for 20 years, traveling to Mexico regularly for climbs. The area is a rock climbing Mecca that draws people from around the world, said his wife.
But a 30-foot fall six years ago outside of Monterrey, Mexico, almost killed him, Melissa Sarat said.
Melissa said her daughter, a professor, flew down to the Monterrey hospital and “kept him alive.”
“I worked with the insurance company to fly him out to a Houston hospital. It’s a good hospital for traumatic injuries,” said Melissa Sarat.
Frank Sarat said he doesn’t know what drew him to rock climbing.
“It’s an instant meditation. You get into the rock. You get into the zone. You have to be right there, on the edge. You are going to be OK As long as you don’t think of anything,” he said.
The fear has to be controlled.
“When you get done at the end of the day, I feel like a million bucks,” Frank Sarat said. “When I couldn’t do it any more, it was a big recalibration of my life. What am I going to do? What’s going to keep me happy? It’s pretty tough.”
Sarat said he’s not crafty as a rule. “I fix things when I have to.”
“I had this unarticulated thing in my mind. I have to get a hobby,” he said. “Am I going to be an old man and make carved ducks and laugh at myself?”
But the rocks were appealing. His rock tumbler came with a book that suggest he buy a saw. More equipment followed.
He brought home some unakite, a gray rock, from a Lake Superior trip. He showed off labradorite, which has flashes in it that are appealing.
“I keep working and working until I get the cuts I want,” he said.
Sarat buys his rocks from mineral companies or gathers them on trips afield.
Lapis lazuli is one of his favorite rocks. “In the Middle Ages, they used to grind this and make blue paint out of it,” Sarat said.
“I go down there and play with them,” he said of his basement studio. “I look at them. I feel them. I will do this. I will do that.”
He had the idea to make jewelry. “By fits and starts, I started doing that,” he said. “Never in the world — I never thought I would be a jewelry maker.”
Now he’s trying to get the hang of a soldering gun:
“It’s simple. But on the other hand, it’s easy to screw it up.”