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Around the World in 80 Jars

Heather Brush with her remarkable collection of earth.

by Chery Hodges

Occasionally going off the beaten path, but always looking to keep things fresh and interesting, River Laker (events promoter for Roanoke City Libraries) asked artist Heather Brush to bring her sand collection she titled “Around the World in 80 Jars” to the Emerging Artists exhibit at Roanoke Public Libraries last week.

Brush inherited the collection from her grandmother Margaret Brush, who requested a bit of earth rather than a gift shop souvenir when her family and friends travelled to distant locations.

At the time of grandmother Brush’s death, hundreds of small glass spice jars lined the walls of her sewing room on shelves. As a child Heather loved to stand a study the grains of sand, comparing the tones, hues and textures.

Now, Heather has her own collection; some of her more unique samples of earth come from Mt. Saint Helens, the Great Wall of China, Dracula’s Castle in Romania, and Ground Zero in NYC.

Her favorites though, are those that mean more to her, like the jar of purple beach sand from Fire Island, NY where she would go as a kid, and ordinary tan sand from just down the road from where she grew up on the Great South Bay, and a jar of soil from her other grandmother’s garden. She has a requisite and perhaps cherished sample of Franklin County clay, “which will stick to anything.”

The collection is in old-fashioned clear glass spice jars “from the 50s” with glass stopper tops. Those are hard to find – Brush says she keeps an eye out for them at yard sales and “if anybody wants to send me some glass jars, I’ll come get them!”

The “dirt” is actually rather pristine looking; there are probably no creatures—dead or alive—in the jars. Brush says she dries it out before placing the sample in the clean jar.

Brush said of her collection, “This is a little weird side of me that normally only my closest friends get to see.” Well, that is until last week’s exhibit. That Laker can be a persuasive fellow.


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