Most famous for being an acid chemist, as the maker of the infamous White Lighting LSD in the sixties, Owsley “Bear” Stanley III had a passion. But it wasn’t just acid, it started with music and art. The acid was a gateway to heighten his experience, of life, including music and art. He worked for The Grateful Dead as their sound engineer, and, while working the most grueling performance schedules in the history of music, developed a few patents for musical technology. His most famous was “The wall of sound.” He rigged up a different speaker for all these different frequencies, for maximum fidelity in the overtone series. It was, and still is, the stuff of legend.
Then there was his jewelry… where do I start? Bear’s “family silver” was sold in the parking lot of the Dead shows. Bronze and silver belt buckles, mostly, but also pendants, ring, statues, and all manners of things that could be case using the Lost Wax technique. That was his favorite medium. Looking at the quality he was able to produce, in-between sound engineering, inventing musical devices, and cooking the best LSD this side of Switzerland, I think his true calling may have actually been in the arts. We will never know now…
Bear retired to Australia in the 90s when the Dead scene wound down, he thought there was an upcoming Ice Age (see him explain in on Kesey’s farm in a linked video below). He died in 2011, in a tragic car crash in the Australian bush, were he lived with his family.
He was great fun into his venerable ages. Below is a lengthy interview late in his life were he talks about LSD and all the fun stuff we know his for 😊 For example, he is (supposedly) the one who transformed the market from selling pot in “lids” (a random metric that was always different from dealer-to-dealer) to selling it by the ounce. <3
His son, Starfinder, still makes buckles, but the original are still incredibly sought after, the silver often selling for close to $5000, and some of them for $25,000+ after other smiths add gemstones (see Ramstar’s buckle in the link below as well as Bear’s old website).
I don’t sell buckles, but I can get them from Starfinder (with considerable effort) and have been thinking about auctioning my original to promote the book, and replacing it with a Starfinder edition. So… stay tuned! (~):-}
As Owsley Buckles became more and more popular, they came to symbolize the various parking lot cliques, colloquially known as Grateful Dead Family or GDF. A number of now famous and successful silversmiths emerged from GDF, many making their way to the jewler’s bench after being inspired by Robert Hawthorne’s silver wire wrap pendants from the late 80s / early 90s (see the picture). His use of silver wire to make jewelery with no solder is now famous and ubiquitous on the lot. Countless heady wraps dangle from baller chains the world round now, and all thanks to Robert’s Wraps, as they are called. More on wire wraps another day.
Around the same time, if maybe a little later, originally from Ithaca, NY, Thaddeus started making GDF-inspired lost wax cast silver jewelry in the vein of Owsley. He is most famous, in most circles I know, for making wings for (and perhaps starting) the tradition of “getting your wings.” This is a somewhat murky practice of older GDF giving young GDF members recognition for work or time they pay have put in, for GDF. Think of it like becoming a made man in the La Costa Nostra. (Its kinda like that in some groups.) Thadd also makes pendants, pins, rings, and belt buckles. He is famous for his use of numerous colored gemstones. I have my wings, the very first ring he ever made, and one of his earliest pendants. (see the picture)
Countless other artists have emerged from GDF circles, and it would be impossible to name them less, especially the pin makers. However, there is one, Ben Ridgway, now a professor at San Francisco State, that, in my opinon, has taken the pin game to the next level. His pins are limited to 100 in each series and sell out in minutes. (Two are shown in picture.)
Ben Ridgway – Inner Space Art, Electric Buddha pins by Ben Ridgway (top, far right)
Dead Family wings pin, custom Emerald Triangle Family ring, and Jer Hand pendant, Family Silver by Thaddeus. (mid center row, top left, bottom right)
Robert’s Wrap pendant (Robert Hawthorne), circa 1980s/early 90s (no social media presence, bottom left)
Owsley Stanley Grateful Dead Family buckle, silver, #5, circa 1985 (center)