Digging up passion

By Matt Daray

Makanda man uses dinosaur bones to create jewelry

Assorted dinosaur and animal bones, various geological rocks, and endless varieties of jewels are stacked and scattered across the counters of a small Makanda shop. A cat can be seen prowling in and out of the front door, sometimes sleeping on large cases of luminescent stones during the day.

But this messy building is where creativity flows, producing jewelry that some of the most famous individuals in the country have worn.


Allan Stuck is a jeweler who creates his pieces from an assortment of materials. Rubies, topaz and moonstones are used in creating some of his pieces along with extravagant silver and gold designs. At times fossilized dragonflies, ivory from boar tusks, or even rattlesnake fangs are used.

Stuck said he started to use bones and fossils for his works after meeting a paleontologist almost 30 years ago when he visited the western United States.

“There’s such a variety of patterns and colors in the bones that it gives me a pallet to work with,” he said.

Stuck said his work has been worn by famous individuals such as Angelina Jolie, Miley Cyrus, and Pink. Yet, the former SIU student never imagined he would end up creating his prehistoric pieces when he was in college.

He switched his major multiple times during his nine years at the university, the longest of which was pre-med for three years and zoology as a minor in case he did not become a doctor. He said he became interested in bones while studying zoology and working at a local rock shop where people would bring in fossils, eventually causing him to switch to sculpting.

Stuck then dropped out of SIU and pursued jewelry making, which he had been doing on the side while in school.

After opening his store in Makanda, a customer suggested he send his work to Los Angeles, saying the unique designs would be a hit in Hollywood.


Stuck said he is fortunate to have accomplished what he has over the years and is lucky to have famous individuals wear his creations he sends to the West Hollywood gallery, which advertises and sells his work.

While his jewelry is still in high demand in Hollywood, Stuck said moving to California is the last thing he would do.

“It’s just ridiculous out there. It’s a rat race,” he said. “I’m originally from Chicago and I came (to southern Illinois) to go to school in 1960 and I stayed. I just love the hills and the critters you see running around … I just really like our beautiful area here.”

Coming up with new designs, especially after 50 years, is no easy feat.

“I’ve had many different times where you reach a plateau and nothing would happen and then you’re wondering ‘ah man, it’s all over. I don’t have any more ideas.’ And then after a little while, things start leaking back in,” he said. “Then over the years, it seems like you just keep building on all the nuances of things that you worked with and these things build on other things so you can keep lunging forward.”

Stuck said his inspiration for works comes from a multitude of different places, such as the Maori culture of New Zealand, and even from work accidents that lead to new opportunities. One such opportunity came from cutting part of rock away and the pieces that fell off were shaped like a butterfly, now Stuck said he plans on creating something from it.

Though he is proud of all his works, Stuck said there was one piece he worked on harder than the others. He said he created a three pound belt buckle made of an elaborate sterling silver design and a large stone place in the center that took him over 3,200 hours to create.

Working on each piece is not always a treat, but it generates a feeling of self-accomplishment, Stuck said.

“I hear people talking about having fun doing their stuff,” he said. “It’s not fun for me. It’s a lot of hard work, but the satisfaction that comes from finishing a piece is (rewarding). It’s something that exists that never existed before and that’s the whole thing.”

The level of satisfaction completing any piece of jewelry he is working on is tremendous and worth the hard work, he said.

“All my carvings, I like my carvings that I do because they are really hard to do but once they are finished, phew,” he said. “It’s such an elation to have finished such a precise thing because there are so many things that can go right or can go wrong.”

The future is unknown, but as long as he is able to make jewelry he will, Stuck said.

“As long as my ideas keep going, as long as I can see what I’m doing, as long as my hands can function right, I’ll just keep doing that,” he said.