Great Finds On-Line
by Marjorie Miller
Hello, if you don't already know by now, as millions surely already do, my name is Marjorie. People know me as a bead jewelry designer with an obsessive penchant for gemstones, pearls, more gemstones, more pearls, even more gemstones and even more pearls, and, of course, all the other stuff, like chain, wire, sterling silver, and you know what else, I don't have to tell you. And if you have heard that I spend more time on the internet than God, well, you might be right. I am always on the lookout for the next great thing in jewelry. It could be yours. (Actually, it should be mine, but you know me....) I hang out at Land of Odds (www.landofodds.com), and you can reach me there anytime. Point my nose in the right direction -- jewelry on-line that people will want to talk about. And, darling, you better believe this is my real nose. The jewelry ain't fake either. Let me take your hand, and guide your eye to see the treasures I have found ....
CURRENT JEWELRY SPOTTER BLOG ARTICLES
Hidden Gem in Central Illinois
Funk Prairie Home and Gem and Mineral Museum
Imagine it is the first decade of the 20th century in a remote area of Central Illinois. The nearest towns of any population are Chicago, 130 miles to the northeast, and Cincinnati, 260 miles to the east.
Now imagine you are sitting in a large home on this beautiful prairie. Here in the tiny village of Funk’s Grove, by 1910, you have indoor plumbing, indoor and outdoor electricity including a lit tennis court, and telephone service years before these amenities came to the remote countryside (the Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative was not formed until 1936).
That’s just part of the wonders of the Funk Prairie Home, located about 10 miles southwest of Bloomington, Illinois. The history of the Funk family is one of the most interesting biographical vignettes in America and deserves thorough perusal by anybody interested in real Americana.
Isaac Funk built this exquisite home in 1864, but he did not enjoy the fruits of his labor. He lived only a short while after its completion. Son Lafayette made a name for himself as an Illinois State Senator and cattle entrepreneur. Grandson Lafayette II is the reason this article appears today on the Jewelry Spotter.
The junior Lafayette Funk was born in Funk’s Grove in 1897. He was a highly knowledgeable agricultural specialist skilled in the hybridization of corn. Perhaps, you’ve heard of Funk’s G Hybrid Corn.
Funk loved nothing more than to collect gems and minerals. It was not just a hobby; it was a labor of love with no ending. He traveled the world for three decades leaving no stone unturned in his quest for finding anything of geological interest.
His collection became voluminous, forcing a building to be constructed in 1974 to house the extensive collection. When I say that this gem and mineral museum is the finest in the country, it is an understatement. Representatives of the Smithsonian Institute say it’s so.
Tour guide Bill Case has been conducting tours of the home and museum for two decades. As best as he can estimate, more than 100,000 people have taken the tour under his tenure. Yet, Case exhibits bounteous enthusiasm like it is his first day on the job.
Case, and his wife, who also leads tours, became the tour guide almost by surprise.
“My wife and I were in grad school at ISU (Illinois State University in Bloomington), and in the paper, it said that they needed a tour guide for the Funk Prairie Home Museum, which we had not heard of yet. We had been to Funk’s Grove but not heard of the museum. We knew a lot of this area better than some of the people who lived here, and we never found this place. We love museums, so we came out here. I was in grad school getting my degree in history to be able to teach, but I also liked museums, and I interviewed with Rey Jannusch, the Great-Great Granddaughter of Lafayette, Sr. She asked us some questions, and we didn’t know the Funks, anything about hybrid cord, rocks or geology. I knew fossils somewhat because I studied dinosaurs. She thanked us for coming, but we weren’t the people that fit the profile they were looking for, and then they called us shortly after that and asked ‘when could you start’, and I still don’t know why. I’m so happy they did, and I have to pinch myself sometimes to believe this isn’t a dream.”
Before you walk in the museum, you see wonders on the building’s exterior. The façade of the building is made with hundreds of colorful raw gemstone specimens about the size of two bricks, and some are bigger. The outdoor entryway is lined with a xylophone of petrified rocks that emit the tones of a major scale. You learn right off the bat that for some things to be petrified it does not take centuries or even decades but a matter of moments to be turned into stone.
As you walk in the entrance, you are entranced by an illuminated wall that looks at first to be a mural of various gems. In fact, these are sliced sections of real precious and semi-precious gemstones. Once Case turns on the backlighting for these gemstones, this humble hallway becomes a panel more beautiful than any Tiffany lamp. Your heart will swoon to the beauty of those magnificently lit stones. The colors dance and pop right off this wall. Case lets you look behind the panel to see that indeed the stones were all sliced by hand, cut to different depths depending on the stones. It sets the tone for the next two hours.
Once inside the main room, your eyes are bombarded with a wonderful mélange of color, various shapes and textures, and stones everywhere. Large panels of shellacked plywood with slices of agates, jaspers, and many other stones appear on your right after entering the main room. When you look closely, the big pages of plywood and stones form books of rocks. You can flip through the books and see that Lafayette Funk, Jr. had made these rock books by gluing each slice of stone onto a piece of corrugated cardboard and onto the plywood. He was inventive and worked with what he had on hand.
The first room after entering through the gorgeous entryway and past the books of rocks is the fossil room for the kid in all of us. On the right on top of a glass case, the first thing you notice is the Coprolite (petrified dinosaur droppings). Kids giggle and laugh and want to touch it as it looks like a dinosaur just pooped it out. Next you notice the complete skull of the predator from which the Nashville Predators got their name, a Saber-Toothed Cat sits out for you to ooh, ah, and drool over. So many fossils of so many species, one has to buck up to make it through the entire museum that is so chock full of wonderful specimens.
Next on the tour is the main hall with row after row of glass cases. This entire room contains tall, built-in cases with several shelves of large specimens, many of which you can touch and get the feel of these natural masterpieces from this third rock from the sun. The overwhelming and overflowing beauty of these specimens from around this planet, as well as some from the Moon, are all there for the public to enjoy for free. We really do live on a rock, and Case told us that with all the mining of minerals around the world for thousands of years that only about ten percent have been used. That makes me feel better knowing that the gems and stones that I love to use in creating jewelry have not eaten up the planet’s supplies.
As Case guides you through the rows, you notice that the gems and stones you might know by one name from a book or online have a different name than the one on its placard in the cases. Case explains, “That’s why looking this stuff up sometimes in a book or on a website is hard because you’ve got to think of all the different names it can have. I have a bunch of different mineral books and in one it’s called this and another it’s called something else.” Rocks like people have many monikers.
Funk had a talent for getting the best and most unique specimens. For instance the rhodocrosite in the museum is so spectacular. Case told me, “Every piece (in the case he was showing me) of rhodochrosite is from the American Tunnel in Silverton, Colorado. When they were blasting the tunnel through the Rockies, they hit a vein of rhodochrosite, and he happened to be there, and they let him go in and get it because he knew what it was and they didn’t.” Case further reiterated that “Lafayette must have had an incredible touch. He had the eye of an artist, and we still don’t know how he did some of the things he did.” Not only was Funk in the right place at the right time, he traveled the world after World War II teaching nations how to grow corn, not for remuneration, but for the world to better feed itself. He only asked for rock specimens. They allowed him to tour mines and hunt for rocks, or presented him with the best they had to offer.
After touching some of the beautiful powerful large stones and gazing into all the cases until my eyes were nearly exhausted, Case directed me into a tiny little room. Soon he turned out the lights and my jaw dropped as the glow from the black-light lit up a case with rocks of every neon color imaginable. There were hot pinks, fluorescent greens, neon blues and purples that sent my mind spinning. Case explained that the colors are what bees see, and they are attracted to those bright colors, which are also in the plants and flowers. When the light was switched back on, the rocks appeared as ordinary, plain stones. Wow, what a neat and fun experience.
Next I was off into a room filled with Native American artifacts, all collected in Illinois. Some of the collection still sits under the displays in cigar boxes that Funk had meant to get around to cataloging. By that time my mind was so over-filled with beauty and information, it was difficult to absorb much more. Yet, there was another room, housing a huge collection of carved jade from China, Japan, and Korea plus silver, crystals, sleighs, buggies, saddles, Funk’s G Hybrid promotional items, photos of Funk with Presidents, and on and on. It is almost endless, and it’s no longer confined to the interior. The museum has added beautiful Percheron horses to the barns and goats now roam the grounds.
I’ve visited this hidden gem twice, and the next time I plan a trip to Funk’s Grove, it will be for more than one day, so I can again thoroughly enjoy every bit of this extraordinary place. As Case put it, “You can’t see everything in one trip. I’ll be working on a case of minerals or cleaning something, and I’ll think ‘I never saw this before.’ I never noticed it.”
I haven’t even described the wonderful Funk Prairie Home. Even if you are not a gem and mineral connoisseur (bite my tongue), the tour of the home is as awe-inspiring as the museum. It gives Americans a great history lesson in just how intellectual and inspirational our 19th century citizens could be, and Case makes it the most interesting history lesson you’ll ever receive.
Funk Prairie Home & Gem Museum: Hours--9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, March through December.
Tours range in size from individuals to groups of 50. Tours are free, but you must phone the museum staff in advance to make reservations. Call (309) 827-6792
Directions: Funks Grove is located approximately 10 miles southwest of Bloomington, Illinois. To find the Funk Prairie Home, take I-55 south from Bloomington to Exit 154 (Shirley), and turn left at the exit. Cross the interstate, and take an immediate right onto the frontage road at the Funk’s G sign. The museum is on the left about 1.5 miles down this road.
Other: Funk’s Grove proper is located on the west side of I-55 on the famous Mother Road, Route 66. The Funk family is famous for manufacturing the best maple sirup (yes sirup and not syrup) in North America. Having grown up in maple syrup country, I can attest that their sirup tastes better than any other I’ve had. It’s yet another great tourist stop where you can get your kicks on Route 66, but if you can’t make it there, you can order the pure maple sirup at www.funksgrove.org.
South of exit 154 on I-55 is a rest area with a fantastic mini-museum of
Route 66 history.