By Jake Day/ Photo by Blass Guerrero
Local artist Bob Lile is owner and operator of the Lile Art Gallery in downtown Amarillo. He’s a bit of a Route 66 legend and an artist of multiple media.
Lile paints and draws, but has also started to make jewelry. An unusual aspect of his jewelry is the material he uses. It’s called motor agate or Fordite, and he gets his from Cadillac Ranch, an art installation outside of Amarillo.
Motor agate is created when layers upon layers of paint have had time to cure and harden. It allows for a similar look to natural agate material from caves that is formed over years of different layers of sediment. It was discovered by Ford employees who saw potential in the large slabs of perfectly cured paint material being thrown away. The idea of repurposing as much as possible and eliminating waste is the center point for minimalist life.
Lile saw an opportunity with the paint that naturally chipped off the cars at Cadillac Ranch. They have been painted on so many times and have withstood Texas Panhandle weather, so the paint has a natural cure to it.
“Typically, I have three or four pieces I’m working on at a time,” Lile said. “To get to the cured layers I’ll usually use my pocket knife to carve down and get the piece and color combination I want. I use sterling silver for all the settings.”
Lile enlists the help of local business owner Jim Hall to create some of his jewelry settings. Hall is a silversmith by trade and owns and operates Rockman’s Stone Age Gems.
“I tackle the pieces that Lile has a specific vision for and need custom work,” Hall said.
Jim Livingston, an Amarillo author and photographer, has purchased Lile’s jewelry for himself and his wife, June Livingston, said she appreciates the unique nature of the jewelry.
“I like that each piece is genuinely one of a kind because of the layers,” June Livingston said. “No two pieces will have the same pattern… and it’s from Cadillac Ranch, which is really unique.”
Phyllis Chandler Grey is a friend of Lile’s and the author of “Route 66: In Search of Ghosts and Treasures.” She said she appreciates the history captured in the jewelry Lile makes.“The Cadillac Ranch is a piece of Route 66 history,” she said. “This jewelry is a piece of history that people can wear and start a conversation with.”
Genuine Fordite and other motor agate from large automotive companies is available in limited quantities. There is so little paint waste that motor agate no longer forms in car factories, but truly crafty people always find a way to keep the supply going, Liles said.
The beauty of Lile’s pieces comes from the captivating colors and the fact that something so beautiful could easily have been thrown away.