Rock Hound

Self-taught artist’s Petoskey stone art is in high demand.
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Petoskey Stone Fish
Photography courtesy Randall Libby

Artist Randall Libby never thought he’d be making a living by reworking Petoskey stone into intricate, custom-made creations.

It started as a hobby seven years ago when he made a few small Michigan-shaped pieces for friends.

Libby’s commissioned Petoskey stone pieces make distinctive, original décor for the cottage or cabin. As Michigan’s state stone, it’s popular with people who enjoy looking for it along beaches in northwest Michigan.

Now, thanks to the popularity of “The World’s Largest Petoskey Stone Display” at ArtPrize 2015, interest in his Petoskey stone art has exploded.

“I used to lay tile so I knew how to cut and shape it,” Libby says. “The natural beauty of the Petoskey stone is what got me started. The medium, the natural design of it, works really well. Now I’m doing trout, butterflies and turtles.”

Libby’s commissioned Petoskey stone pieces make distinctive, original décor for the cottage or cabin. As Michigan’s state stone, it’s popular with people who enjoy looking for it along beaches in northwest Michigan.

“Those are the people who gravitate towards my art — and waterfront homeowners and people who love the outdoors and appreciate Michigan-oriented art. They appreciate that we find all our stone,” he says.

Libby, wife Lisa and their dog, Mr. Butters, spend their summers collecting Petoskey stone and fossil from the Lake Michigan shoreline between Ludington and Mackinaw City.

Petoskey Stone Artwork
Photography by Michael Buck

Petoskey stone is a rock and a fossil comprised of fossilized coral that lived 350 million years ago during the Devonian age. It often looks dull or resembles limestone when dry, but when wet or polished, its distinctive colors and the mottled pattern of the six-sided coral fossils emerge.

“We’ve done good on finding rock,” he says. “But the rock dictates what I’m going to make next.”

The Libbys currently live in Manistee, where Libby cuts, shapes and polishes every stone by hand in a small studio, but the couple hopes to relocate to Charlevoix and open a gallery.

Since each piece is totally unique, Libby averages 10 to 12 commissioned pieces per year. They are all signed, numbered and dated, and come with a certificate of authenticity.

Business got a boost after his large state of Michigan map finished second in the 2D public vote at ArtPrize 2015 in Grand Rapids. When Libby found out “The World’s Largest Petoskey Stone Display” couldn’t fit in the door of its planned venue, Grand Rapids Brewing Co., the first-time ArtPrize entrant wasn’t sure what to do.

ArtPrize organizers approved a last-minute move to a prime spot outside of DeVos Place. Although he didn’t win any money, the exposure and experience hooked him, and he plans to return in 2016.

“It ended up being the perfect spot for us,” he says. “It’s been overwhelming. I didn’t have a clue what ArtPrize was.”

The impressive piece stands more than 9 feet tall by 9 feet wide and weighs more than 800 pounds. It took about five months to make it — and seven years to collect all the stones.

Libby is happy to have found his niche.

“I’ve always liked to think I was creative,” he says. “I didn’t realize I could support my family and pay my bills by doing this.”

Connect with him at petoskeystoneart.com or facebook.com/PetoskeyStoneArt.

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