Brian Ashby has been collecting rocks with his family ever since he could walk. His family traveled the country on extended summer trips often stopping in Redmond, Oregon to visit his Great Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Uhlan and their treasured rock shop, Ashby’s Agates.
According to letters found in recent years, Brian’s great Aunt and Uncle began trading and selling rocks all from all over the world in the 1950’s and opened their shop in the early 1960’s. It was at this shop where Brian’s love for rocks was polished and now, nearly half a century later, he and his wife Denise have kept the family rock venture alive in Westminster, Maryland, adding their own modern spin.
Brian’s wife, Denise Ashby says that she has always been an artsty/craftsy person. Yet it was a wire wrapping class that naturally intertwined her craftiness with her husband’s rock hobby.
“We got a mailer from a local bead shop that was offering a wire wrapping class. We both said 'Hey, we could wrap some of these hundreds of rocks we have lying around and sell them'. It was the beginning."
"The one class got me started, and for the most part, I continue to be self-taught. Tutorials, articles, and just playing around until I get the results I want,” Denise said.
While Brian’s family always had rock tumblers going in the garage they have admittedly taken it to the “next level”. With several tumblers constantly going, they also invested in lapidary saws and equipment used to cut, shape and polish the stones.
Brian is honored to continue a family tradition and to have an outlet for his rock passion now shared by his wife. But Ashby’s Agates also provides him something technical to work on, lots of machines to play with, and a practical solution for the ever growing piles of collected rocks.
Also, “It gets me out of working around the house,” Brian joked.
Denise admitted there is also a sense of adventure in their shared hobby/business.
“It has been easy for me to get sucked into the vortex of looking for rocks everywhere we go. It's very much like the enjoyment people get from collecting shells at the beach. There is a relaxing element to it, but it's mixed with such a sense of adventure. You're always on a hunt."
"When we travel, we do some research about what's been found in the general area ... do some mapping ... and plan at least a portion of our vacation time driving the blue roads looking for public access sites. There is a lot of public land out west where picking up rocks is completely open to anyone. You just have to do your research and understand where the boundaries are,” Denise says.
Patch: What do you find the most rewarding about this art?
Ashby’s: The look on people's faces when they say "THAT's a rock?" Sharing the stories with people is also incredibly rewarding. Especially if they have purchased a piece from us, and as we hand it to them, we tell them the story of our adventure on the road where we found that particular piece of rock ... it's kind of like passing on a piece of our trip. Very fun.
I think we also inspire each other to some degree. This has definitely been a really nice thing for us to share and collaborate on. Great excuse for a trip! It doesn't get much better than spending time together doing something we both love. And if we can make a little money out of the deal ... what a bonus.
Patch: What are your plans/goals for the future?
Ashby’s: We've purposely maintained a manageable growth over the last couple of years, but do intend to continue to learn new techniques and take some silversmith classes to take this to the next level.
When they are not hunting or crafting rocks, both Ashbys work full time. Denise is an Administrator for a landscape design company and Brian is an Estimator for a mechanical contractor in Gaithersburg. They are also both avid music fans and love to frequent concerts and check out new music whenever possible.
The Ashby’s have a teenage son, Luke, who has recently finished a trade school where he learned to build and repair guitars. With his new title as Luthier, father and son have discussed ways to incorporate some of the lapidary work into his custom guitars.
Denise laughingly recommends, “Stay tuned for more on this in the next few years, perhaps another branch of Ashby's Agates.”
Pieces of the Ashby’s jewelry are available at the Shop at Cockey’s next to the Westminster Historical Society. Works can also be viewed on their Facebook page. While they don’t presently sell online, they are happy to set up private showings or sales.
The Ashby’s also present and sell their works at a number of craft shows throughout the year. Their work will be featured at the upcoming Mayberry Mill. For more information, see their events page here.