Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pearls from Tennessee?

And, no, I am not talking about Minnie Pearl, the Southern debutante who entertained Grand Ole Opry fans for so many years. I'm talking about the jewelry kind. Yup, cultured pearls are produced in the waters of Birdsong Creek, about a mile from the Tennessee River; in fact, this is the only freshwater pearl operation in North America. The Other Niece from Memphis and I headed out from Memphis on I-40 one day to visit Birdsong .

The pearl farm began operations in 1979, using the indigenous washboard mussel which seldom produces a stone in the wild, but does secret a lustrous nacre. Here in front of the museum and marina store is an old scow used to place cages of treated mussels in the water.

Seeded shellfish in cages are attached to the chains (above) and lowered to the creek bed where they sit for five years, depositing the iridescent material which creates pearls of various shapes and sizes.

Not much to look at, the floats which hold the chains, tho I'm sure my SSon would love seeing all those happy turtles basking in the sun.

TONFM and I did not arrive in time to take the water tour, but we did enjoy the museum.

No grains of sand here! In the right tray are forms, made from shell, which are inserted into the mussels to form the base for the pearls. The owner of the farm and marina said that Tennessee exports up to 25 million pounds of shells annually, primarily for pearl aquaculture in the Far East.

In earlier days, river mussels were harvested for the handsome mother of pearl used for knives...

...not to mention the most important use of all -- buttons. Surely some of you are old enough to remember when white shirt buttons were fashioned from mother of pearl, not plastic! Or you saw them in your grandmother's wonderful old button box that she let you play with. The old buttons were a lot prettier than today's mass produced fastener; at least, that's what I think.

Of course, there were standard tourist items for sale -- above, pearls grown directly on the shells, and below, a hokey Valentine sort of package.

But there were also strings of pearls, from Tennessee and from abroad, as well as unusual pearl-bearing cabochons cut directly from the shell.

Here is the beautiful necklace that TONFM gave me at the end of our tour. It was a great day! Other adventures, coming up Real Soon Now.


Anonymous said...


Catching up on me blogs, and I found this lady...

I was, of course, Googling 'chicken blogs' now that the wife, kiddo and I have a new hobby (or should I say six new hobbies... they're all rather unique.)

Parker Bros has, to date, failed in their attempt to shut down, thus my blog continues to languish.


meggie said...

The pearls are so beautiful.
To think...the beauty come from an irritation...

Anonymous said...

Pearls are my favorite jewelry, GJ, and I had never heard of TN's fresh-water pearls! Wow, online shopping for me at their Web site.

So grateful you wrote this post. Your necklace is beautiful, too. What a great gift!

~Anon in AV.

Tall nephew said...

Hey there! Nice pictures, never been there. Next time you come 'round theese parts you need to take me somewhere =/

musselboy said...

Just a point of clarification. The boat pictured is not used to suspend the cages, but rather to "brail" for mussels. The hooks are dragged across the bottom of the river where they come into contact with a filtering mussel, who clamps down on the hook and is pulled from the bottom. Very nice pictures!

beach pictures said...

So this are what pearls end up. I often see pearl necklaces like this.

Granny J said...

SIL -- I will, of course, be off to look at the chicken blogs as you suggest. In the meantime, why don't you give up one game per week & get back to your blog?

meggie -- a heck of a lot better than what happens when I get irritated!

anon av -- I'm beginning to think you should be back in the South, I am.

TN -- you should get your Mom or Dad to take you there; next time I visit, we'll sked an expedition of some sort.

musselboy -- thanks for the info; maybe I should have asked somebody before I ran off at the keyboard!

bpix -- well, it's one of the places. They are mighty pretty, though I'm especially fond of mother-of-pearl, too. These days, you see it primarily in the collectibles malls.

Anonymous said...

Nice trip. My wife probably enjoys pearls more than I, but I enjoy how they get them.

R said...

Great coverage of our day trip, GJ! You certainly remembered a lot of details...or made a few up, as in the hanger things on the side of the old boat, apparently. The Birdsong Resort and Pearl Farm is a jewel on the string of the TN river, and you're a jewel wherever you are.


Granny J said...

steve -- A piece of me says that learning the How of things is a lot more important than just admiring the finished product!

TONFM -- my excuse is that I would never ever have guessed the real use of those chains & so did my best!! But for noticing details (actual Seeing), that comes from doing a lot of photography...

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