Elizabeth Cheathem won the Gregory B. Anderson Award for best display in the gems, minerals, and jewelry exhibit at the San Diego County Fair.
Cheathem’s exhibit case was titled “The ‘Rock Stars’ of Scotland” and featured the history of Scottish jewelry and gemstones from ancient Scottish clans who used jewelry as a functional device to hold together tartans and kilts to the decorative Scottish jewelry made popular by Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.
“I was totally shocked to receive that award,” Cheathem said.
Anderson was the coordinator of the fair’s gems and minerals exhibit and was involved with the exhibit for 38 years. “First and foremost I am very honored to receive recognition from Greg Anderson,” Cheathem said. “He has just been such a supporter and enthusiast of as many people as possible entering.”
Cheathem added that Anderson often visited local gem and mineral clubs, including the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society of which Cheathem is a member, and sought to increase interest in gemstone collections.
Cheathem had previously won educational awards for her case displays, but the 2014 fair was the first for her to receive the Gregory B. Anderson award. “What makes the Greg Anderson Award so special is that this is Greg’s last year as coordinator,” Cheathem said. “It was because of Greg Anderson, not because it’s an award.”
Anne Schafer, who has been the exhibit assistant coordinator for the past 14 years, will replace Anderson as the coordinator.
Cheathem entered in the educational exhibit, one full case class. Educational cases are given numerical scores with 100 points constituting a perfect score. A case which receives at least 85 points earns an Award of Merit, and Cheathem’s case also received that honor. “It’s really a very nice recognition,” she said.
This year’s fair theme was “Fab Fair” and paid tribute to British rock. The Beatles, who were called the Fab Four, made their United States debut 50 years ago. “I started at the theme,” Cheathem said of her choice of an exhibit. “I always try to find something that might be related to the theme.”
Cheathem’s paternal grandmother was a Campbell from the Campbell clan of Breadalbine. The Campbell side of Cheathem’s family emigrated from Scotland to Canada during the “clearing,” or the removal of highland Scots from their lands. Cheathem’s paternal grandfather’s mother was a Clark, which is not a clan but a sect of the Cameron clan. The Clark sect is large enough to have its own tartan.
“I did this exhibit to honor those ancestors,” Cheathem said.
When Cheathem selected a Scotland theme, the only Scottish items she had were two tartan scarves. “I had nothing in my collection. I had an idea and a passion,” Cheathem said. “I started that whole case with nothing but an idea.”
Cheathem has taken classes at the Gemological Institute of America, which has a Carlsbad facility. “There was only one thing that I learned about Scotland, and that was the word cairngorm,” she said.
Cairngorm is a smoky quartz found in the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland (in its black form it is also known as morion).
“I just started doing research and read many books I had on the history of Scotland and went on the Internet,” Cheathem said.
The Internet activity not only added to her book knowledge but also allowed her to find a dealer who provided Cheathem with Scottish stones and jewelry. She also learned that Queen Victoria, whose father was descended from the Stuart kings who were Scotland’s monarchs before England’s Queen Elizabeth I died without descendants or surviving siblings and the Scottish king James VI also inherited the British monarchy, developed an interest in her Scottish heritage shortly after taking over the English throne in 1837.
On their first trip to Scotland, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased Balmoral Castle. Queen Victoria also utilized Scottish stones and jewelry for decorative purposes. “She started a trend of using Scottish minerals and gemstones, and the industry flourished,” Cheathem said.
Cheathem made many of her purchases on e-Bay, abandoning a potential collection item if the required bid exceeded her budget. Numerous packages from Scotland and England were mailed to her home. “My local mail person in Fallbrook was quite surprised,” she said.
Cheathem showed the contents of one of her packages to the mail carrier, who became interested in the project.
Cheathem never counted the exact quantity of specimens in her exhibit; she estimates that the case contained approximately 45 pieces. “I want to learn something when I do a case, and I would like to share a learning experience,” she said. “I just put it all together and tried to do something that was fun for people to look at.”
Cheathem also volunteered at the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society booth during the fair. She was working June 28 and June 29, when the Scottish Highland Games took place in Vista, although her exhibit of Scottish culture at the fair was a higher priority. “I wouldn’t have had anything to wear in my clan tartans because everything was on display at the fair,” she said. “Next year I’ll be thrilled to go and share some of this jewelry.”
Cheathem is originally from British Columbia. She and her husband, Charles, moved from Carson to Fallbrook in 1998. Cheathem has been a member of the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society since 2003. “I’ve truly, truly enjoyed the experience,” she said.
Cheathem’s focus has been on educational exhibits. “I love history and I got to love gemstones,” she said.
Cheathem’s mother was a teacher, as were several other relatives. “I really come from that influence,” she said.
Cheathem didn’t even read the awards criteria when she first entered a display at the county fair in 2006. That display was called “Ammolite and Ammonite” and featured a stone found only in Alberta. She also honored her father, whose Royal Canadian Air Force activity included being stationed in the Alberta town of Lethbridge, with that exhibit.
Despite not reading the awards criteria, Cheathem won the John Dalley Memorial Award which is given for the best educational exhibit. “I was shocked and I have been entering educational exhibits every year since,” she said.
She didn’t enter an exhibit last year. In 2012, the fair’s theme was “Out of This World,” and Cheathem worked with jeweler Paul Dimitriu on an exhibit titled “The Astronaut Jeweler” which featured jewelry Dimitriu made for astronauts who flew that jewelry in space. The non-competitive exhibit was the first public showing of Dimitriu’s work for the astronauts. “People were just in awe to see all of these things,” Cheathem said.
Cheathem’s involvement with Dimitriu’s display kept her from preparing an exhibit in 2013. Her 2011 case was titled “The Two Jades.” She followed her 2006 debut with a 2007 entry showcasing the 50th anniversary of the Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, which was founded in 1957. Cheathem won her second John Dalley Memorial Award in 2008 for her display of organic gemstones.
“What I have tried to do is encourage other people to enter,” Cheathem said.