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Combing Beaches for Art

Drift Rock Bay, available at Ameri-Can, downtown Ellicottville

A childhood spent on the beaches of Lake Erie had a long-lasting - albeit unexpected - impact on Gregg VanHorn.  Swimming during the day, summer sunsets and beach campfires created memories that would resonate with VanHorn for years to come.  He developed an appreciation, not just for the lake, but for everything that it had to offer.  Little did he know that the lake, and everything that it had to offer, would eventually become both a source of passion and a career.

While working on a job site in the midst of his engineering career, VanHorn was fascinated by the contractors he saw drilling holes in concrete using an array of special tools.  That sight made him wonder if he would be able to do the same thing with any sort of stone.  The stones he had in mind were the ones that he grew up collecting on the shores of Lake Erie.  

“I started researching what I would need,” stated VanHorn, “and soon after I drilled my first couple of stones and made a few lamps, which I gave to family and friends. It was just a hobby for a few years, until my wife and friends convinced me it was time to take the next step. It was then that I opened an online shop and started selling rock creations on the side while I worked as an engineer.”

Using a lot of trial and error, VanHorn experimented with making lamps, vases, and wine bottle holders out of rocks he would find on the shore of the lake for a number of years until his wife had the misfortune of being involved in a life-changing accident that left her with a lot of rehab time and need for physical care.  It was at that point where VanHorn decided to forgo his engineering career in order to take care of his wife while she rehabbed and to focus on his growing artistic endeavors.  

“The fun part is combing the beach for rocks and driftwood, although I’ve become very picky about the rocks I use,” VanHorn responded when asked about his creative process.  “I usually pick up a stone and give it a perfunctory inspection, for size, color, usability, and ‘drillability’.  I often have an idea about what the rock might become, be it a vase, lamp, wine holder, or candle.  I let the rocks speak to me. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times they surprise me. And not all the rocks I bring home make the final cut.  Next comes the time consuming step: the drilling. I use diamond bits, but it still takes 10-15 minutes per rock.  After washing and sealing the rocks, it’s time to start assembling.”

Using nature not only as a source of inspiration but also as the main component for his art has changed the way that VanHorn views the great outdoors.  “I can’t be out in nature now without searching for the perfect rock or an interesting piece of wood,” he stated.  “Anytime I’m outside, I’m inspired by nature’s beauty.”

It was that very inspiration that most likely influenced VanHorn to start creating his artwork in the first place.  “I love being able to bring nature indoors, using it in a beautiful and functional way,” said VanHorn.  “I’ve collect rocks, sea shells, and beach glass since I was a child, so this was a natural extension of my interest in these naturally weathered ‘gifts from the sea’.”

VanHorn’s artwork can be found at www.driftrockbay.com. He also tries to attend as many big art/craft shows in the area as he can.  The next three on his agenda are: 

     • Plantasia at the Hamburg Fairgrounds March 23-26

     • Springtime in the Country at the Hamburg Fairgrounds March 31-Apr 2

     • Knox Farm Mansion Spring Art Show in East Aurora May 13-14

“I have many rock creations in Ameri-Can in Ellicottville,” stated VanHorn.  “I also do a lot of custom work for people that have specific ideas in mind.”  For those in the Ellicottville area, be sure to stop in at Amer-Can to view first-hand the beautiful works by VanHorn. You may find yourself falling in love with and taking one home to call your own.

Just like any creative mind, VanHorn professes to having too many ideas and not nearly enough time to see them all to fruition.  He is currently working on a rock floor lamp and an indoor tabletop rock fountain.  He is also nearly finished with a rock desk lamp that forms an arc.  And when those are done, “I have a whole notebook of sketches and ideas I’d like to try in the future,” VanHorn concluded.