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Not for Profit: Rare Earth Studio

Ivanne Farr in the gemology workshop. In a few quiet rooms above a jewelry store in bustling downtown Charlotte Amalie is a haven of pure jewels in the rough. "Treasures of the earth," as Ivanne Farr calls them.
Rare Earth Studios, which Farr founded in 2006, is a classroom of limitless dimensions and possibilities.
Though the jewelry industry has long provided retail jobs in the territory, there has been no training available to help young Virgin Islanders create their own jewelry. It is Farr’s mission to change that dynamic, to empower local young people to enter the jewelry industry as viable participants.
Farr’s love for the earth is immediately evident, as she gives a brief tour of the studio. She picks up a cloth covering a long table to reveal what, at first glance, appear to be rocks, only to find polished beauty, as she turns over a piece of stone to reveal polished amber on the other side.
The rooms are filled with wonders. Showcases full of polished gems, crystals, amber, onyx, minerals of all description. The walls are lined with dozens of boxes of stones, both polished and unpolished.
A standing display features photos from a Treasures of the Earth summer course she teaches at the V.I. Environmental Resource Station (VIERS) on St. John. "The kids love it," she says. She conducts an orientation class in what can be found in natural surroundings, then sends the kids out on their own.
"They get so excited about what they bring back," she says. "Little strands of coral, crystals from volcanic basalt. I teach them how to polish them using simple things like water and sandpaper. They get an idea of where we fit in the geological scheme of things."
And they learn to create things on their own. She says, "I give each child a stone. I tell them, ‘Let the stone speak to you.’"
She says the studio "sort of evolved," after her move to the islands. Farr is a jeweler of some recognition, long a member of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), recognized worldwide as the foremost authority in gemology today.
"I did jewelry for 35 years," she says, "and I found I was becoming bored. Then I discovered gems, working with nature, and I’ve never been bored since."
Her sense of natural wonder is Farr’s gift, something intricate in her character. She can pick up the most ordinary-looking thing and bring it to life. She selected a piece of weathered Norfolk pine. "I found this at Magens," she says. "Look at the intricate design. Wouldn’t you like to have a chain like that?"
After visiting St. Thomas for years – her daughter was married here in 1999 – Farr moved to the island permanently in 2003. The following year, she implemented a jeweler’s gemologist program introducing people of all ages to gemology and precious metals. Also in 2004, the GIA’s Caribbean Islands Alumni Chapter was officially recognized.
"Establishing the Caribbean chapter is just a stepping stone for the true agenda," Farr says, "which is to see GIA extension courses offered locally and regionally."
In 2005, she says, Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone took an interest in what the program could provide for youngsters by sponsoring legislation for a substantial appropriation for a scholarship and education program for the jewelry industry.
Under that appropriation, Farr in 2006 established the Caribbean Islands Education Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit. The foundation has a four-member board, of which she is president.
That same year, she says, the Rare Earth Studio was created after receiving a major donation of jewelry production and design equipment arranged by a founding board member.
In 2007 the studio hosted GIA’s internationally recognized educational courses, including labs in gem identification and the grading of pearls, diamonds and colored stones. With certification in any of these disciplines, the student is well on their way to a professional career. A GIA diploma is globally recognized.
Rare Earth Studio offers courses in gemology, design, smithery of precious metals, lapidary and other special focus gemology and jewelry workshops and seminars.
Farr leads the way to the working end of the studio, down the hall. This large, well-lighted room bears no resemblance to the other rooms. It’s a working lab.
"This is where the rubber hits the road," she says. The lab is filled with every kind of jeweler’s instrument imaginable—microscopes, lathes and shelves upon shelves filled with raw materials for students.
Here she teaches the ancient art of lost wax casting, cutting and polishing gemstones, wroughting, forging and fabrication.
The treasure of the studio, what Farr calls the "crowning jewel of our organization,’ is Pure Caribbean, the program which embraces creativity, exclusively designed and produced in the Caribbean islands.
"What we want to see one day," Farr says, "is to have individual galleries on each island, reflecting that island’s singular culture."
It’s a big dream. Although soft-spoken and gentle in manner, Farr’s determination to realize the dream is as hard as the local blue bit rock.
"It’s mind-boggling, the opportunities we have," Farr says.
And she is not about to allow one to slip through her nimble fingers
Currently Farr is working with the local government to set up programs. Aside from the legislative appropriation, she has received support from the departments of Housing, Parks and Recreation and Planning and Natural Resources.
For more information, see http://www.rareearthstudio.org/programs/pure-caribbean.html.

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