Jade has been the heart and soul of the Spangler clan for two generations now. It all started 40 years ago when Jeff “Jade” Spangler decided to leave his day job as a contractor and pursue working with the stone full-time.
“I just started doing shows,” Spangler said. “We had a bit of a recession when [President] Reagan came in, and so the phone just stopped ringing for contracting, and I said, ‘Well, that’s it; no more of that,’ and I just started putting myself totally into my jade work. And jade hunting was the big thing; that’s how I came to life.”
His grandson, Ryan Spangler, had a similar “coming-to-jade” experience, he said, recalling his younger years when his grandmother would take him to collect rocks. He’d goof off instead, never really “having a relationship with the stone.” It wasn’t until Grandpa Jade took him hunting for the gem that the seed was sown, sparking him to pursue the passion still fueling him today. “[My grandfather] did a great job where he allowed me to learn for myself,” Ryan said. Even so, it took about four years for Ryan to build that interest and skill set into something that could sustain him as a full-time occupation.
Ryan and his younger brother, Levi, who is also learning the trade, just returned from China, where they joined fellow artists from 30 countries to study the craft, buy tools, and compete against the world’s greatest jade carvers, he said. “We didn’t win any awards this year, but we did show, and it was a great experience.” Grandpa Jade couldn’t have been happier. “I am so proud of Ryan; he is really becoming a famous artist already.”
The key to Ryan’s success at such an early age? His innovation and uniqueness in carving technique and style. “It’s impressive, you know; he’s got his own way, his own distinct style already,” said his grandpa, adding that it usually takes a carver decades to get to that point.
Looking toward the future, the family sees more carving lessons and jade-hunting workshops. But for now, Jade is filled with joy knowing that he’s passed down a legacy. “That’s really heartwarming,” he said. “To see that I’ve actually handed it down. You know, I had to go out and invent it on my own. I had to teach myself, but he didn’t have to do that.
“It’s been interesting to see a jade culture actually starting,” he continued. “To see it come from a place like China and see that sharing of knowledge. The jade culture’s actually growing.”