Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Masters Mineral Gallery and More

Long on my mind has been to make the trip to Elizabethtown, PA, for a visit to the Masters Mineral Gallery in the new Lyett Wing of Elizabethtown College's Masters Center for Math and Engineering. It is part of the legacy of Frank Masters, the renowned construction engineer and mineral collector, who funded the building itself and provided numerous specimens from his personal collection for its mineral gallery. Though mineralogy doesn't much figure into the cirriculum at Elizabethtown College, its mineral gallery is delightful space in which to linger.

Walk down the steps from the adjoining lounge area with its comfortable furniture, and sensors light up the elbaite-included quartz from Minas Gerais in the nearest exhibit case. This is one of five free-standing cases. The others each showcase one or two relatively large specimens. The largest holds a three foot cluster of Arkansas quartz crystals. Amethyst geodes and specimens bearing quartz, calcite, and fluorite inhabit the other free-standing cases.

Four much larger wall cases hold the majority of the collection. One case is devoted to different varieties and habits of quartz, another to fluorite. A case filled with worldwide minerals includes a list of the chemical compositions of each species therein both in writing and symbols. Most interesting to me was the case of Pennsylvania minerals. Some of them, for instance the orangish brown nodular goethite from Franklin County, I found to be quite spectacular. Others, such as the Phoenixville pyromorphite, impressed me significantly less.

Regretably, I missed and then learned later about the fluorescent case where at the push of a button, light changing from incandescent to longwave ultraviolet to shortwave ultraviolet cycles over the minerals within. Against a far wall were two more cases, one with a selection of gem materials polished into more spheres, bowls, and eggs than allowed room for labels. Another, devoted to paleontology, featured material ranging from petrified wood to dinosaur eggs.

My favorite aspect of the Masters Gallery was its inviting feng shui. Conveniently, John S. White, the former Curator-in-charge of the Smithsonian's Division of Mineralogy, played a major role in planning, organizing and developing the space, lives halfway between the Gallery and my home in Baltimore. By taking him up on an earlier offer to stop by if in the area, I soon found myself where the feng shui was yet more pleasing. Here the focus was less on the placement of minerals than space for gracious living surrounded by magnificent flower gardens. The neatly kept areas where John and wife Merle, who's Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal, nurture vocation and avocation are present but not apparent.

Later over dinner with John and Merle at a the Blue Heron, a new French bistro in York, PA, John summarized some highlights of his role in developing the Masters Gallery. He related how years earlier, when in London, he had disliked the metal and glass encased mineral display at the British Museum enough to rant about it in an article in Mineralogical Record (of which he was founder and original publisher). That the Masters Gallery also has cabinets of metal and glass reflects John's acumen regarding mistakes to avoid when working with these materials. Another important feature attributable to John is how the minerals in the wall cases are displayed on "steps" covered with fabric to which velcro bottomed labels comfortably attach. John also held forth on the ingenuity of mounts used to display the specimens. They were fabricated by David Graham.

Though not remotely comparable to the number of mineral displays with which John is familiar, I have seen enough of them to form judgmental, if not highly knowledgeable impressions. Many are too cluttered, a few too sparce. Some of America's most renowned exhibits are lighted inadequately to be appreciated. I do not know of an exhibit where the minerals are displayed in a fashion that pleases me more than at the Masters Gallery.


  1. Another great article and great read, Jake.
    Jim H. - BMS

  2. Thanks, Jim, Not that many people comment, and I appreciate it.

  3. Gosh Jake, it takes you 3 days to get to Asheville? Must be a leisurely trip. I take 81 straight to 26 to 19 to the Ray Mine. I was just down there 3 weekends ago: 2 days at the Ray Mica Mine, a full day at the Propst Farm for corundum crystals, a day at the Shingletrap Mine for feldspar and anatase on quartz crystals, and spent the last morning looking for chlorite-included quartz crystals at a construction site in Chatham County.

    Anyways, hope you enjoy the rest of your trip, Bele Chere is fun.

    Lawrence D. -BMS, GLMSMC, MAGMA

  4. Lawrence,
    Picked up you comment late because it linked to a post on a different subject.
    Would be eager to learn of any spectacular finds or particularly newsworthy aspects of your trip