A Brotherhood in Stone
Writer Amanda Christmann
Photography by Bryan Black and Bill Waters
Among stunning displays of teal malachite and a sparkling spectrum of purple amethyst, a sense of tranquility seems to float in the air at Rare Earth Gallery in the heart of Cave Creek. Inside the doors is art of a scope not available anywhere else, and the medium is Mother Earth herself.
In some ways, that peaceful feeling is by design: the contemporary new 9,000-square-foot gallery with both indoor and outdoor displays is carefully curated to create a natural and artful feast for the eyes.
It’s the depth and breath of the brightly colored natural stones, hand-blown glass art, over 150 displays of jewelry and striking landscape décor that initially takes one’s breath away.
Though they vary from the very large to the very small, some of the most impression-forming pieces are chunks of giant boulders, sectioned, polished and often illuminated to highlight shining inner facets. One can’t help but feel humbled and closer to the earth when surrounded by gems from within its depths.
In other ways, the repose is serendipitous—a surprising development just as delightful for visitors as it is for owners, Wayne Helfand and Chad Brandfass.
Over 40 years ago, Helfand began to develop his enthusiasm for earth art. He envisioned the creation of the largest natural art gallery in the U.S., making rare and unusual gems and minerals available to everyone, from new rock hounds to the most discerning of designers.
Brandfass came from an entirely different background. He had a passion for the culinary arts. He graduated college with both culinary and marketing degrees, which laid a strong foundation for this exciting direction.
When Brandfass and Helfand met, they soon recognized that their combined talents were more than a good fit; they were synergistic.
“It was a brotherhood,” said Helfand with a smile. “It still is today.”
With nothing more than a dream and a few dollars in their pockets, they set out to find and create something so unique that people would come from far and wide to see what they were doing.
“We wanted something that was not just a rock shop, and not just a home décor store; we wanted to crate a gallery filled with art of the earth,” Helfand said.
They created more than that. Together, they built a destination.
Visitors come from all over the world, often spending hours appreciating the complexities and beauty found in each piece. It’s a passion felt by Rare Earth Gallery’s owners, and shared by those who walk the expansive floor of the gallery.
“I started mining opals in Australia at 19 years old,” said Helfand. “It fascinated me—the mesmerizing things that came out of Mother Earth. I’m still mesmerized on a daily basis, and I get to share that with people who come in our doors every day.”
“For me, this is a wonderful creative outlet,” Brandfass added. “I design and create concepts for many of the art pieces you see here. Instead of creatingculinaryflavors, I have the opportunity to create a visual taste, which generates a wonderful connection with our customers.”
He added, “Art is such a personal thing, it is very rewarding to bring such joy to people.”
From showroom design to concepts in art glass, Brandfass takes great pride in his work. Helfand, too, finds satisfaction in seeing decorative minerals and other finds go from the mine to the showroom floor. For both, it takes a great deal of imagination, know-how and finesse.
“It’s a amazing platform to work with,” said Brandfass. “It takes vision and a well-honed eye to turn raw material into a work of art. We take great pride in bringing this art of the earth to a full blown finished creation.
They find the most satisfaction in seeing others connect deeply and on an integral level with what they are doing.
“So many times, people come in here and are moved to tears,” said Helfand. “We make art of the earth available like never before, for everyone. Not everyone is going to go to South America or Asia, or to the bottom of the sea or inside a volcano so that they can see these things in their natural settings. That’s what we have here. Being able to see it, feel it—and even own it if they’d like—can be a very moving experience.”
Rare Earth Gallery is unique in that, from coarse boulders to cut and highly polished minerals, they offer a tremendous selection of indoor and outdoor home décor. There is something for everyone and at every price point, from new rock hounds to the most discerning of home decorators.
Every year, Helfand and Brandfass travel to dozens of exhibitions and distant locales around the world to procure the best of the best in minerals and gems. In their mind’s eye, they not only look for natural beauty, but they see everything from jewelry to tables in the azurite, turquoise, malachite, onyx, petrified wood and other stones and minerals they find.
They have the unique ability to see a stone or a boulder in the raw and recognize its creative potential.
“We are always on the lookout for artistic beauty in the things we find,” said Brandfass.
“It’s about having an eclectic eye,” Helfand added. “It’s about having the wherewithal and experience to recognize a work of art when it’s in front of us.”
It’s a talent, and a gift for those who appreciate and enjoy the love of their labor.
Inside the gallery, creamy swirls of onyx, lit from inside, glow with warmth. A tabletop created from rose quartz creates a gentle calm. Brandfass and Helfand often collaborate with local metal artists to create displays that highlight the facets and intricacies of the natural art.
Inlaid, backlit gemscapes combine fine metal work with brilliant stones to create an almost three-dimensional element to wall art, and Chihuly-inspired blown glass chandeliers fill spaces with a modern, completely unique style.
From stone to glass bowls and vases made from colorful natural materials and an impressive selection of fountains, statues, tables, chairs and other one-of-a-kind works are a feast for the eyes inside Rare Earth Gallery.
A significant section of the gallery—50 cases in all—is dedicated to an unparalleled selection of jewelry in every color and design imaginable. As beautiful as the necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings are, their cost is often significantly less than one might expect.
Together, this pair is doing more than just selling stones and rocks; they’re bringing people closer to the earth in a profound way. They’re finding ways to manifest beauty—and joy—in their own lives, and in the lives of the thousands of people who have come through their doors.
And that’s rock solid.