Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Minerals at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh is grand. Its Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems is a must see. A recent visit there  was my only mineral related excursion worth writing about during the canicular days of  the past six weeks. The time was well-spent, however, in air-conditioned comfort, working on a New Years Resolution for 2012 to catalog  my collection.  The inspiration to get moving with this evolved while writing the most recent Mineral Bliss post, which lamented a seasonal lull in mineralogical activities.

One of the first exhibits to meet one's eye upon entering the Hillman Hall of Minerals  features zeolites from India. They are of a genre that has become ubiquitous to mineral displays in recent years. More interesting to me  were nearby exhibits designed to educate the observer on some simple,  though often overlooked facts about geology, fossils, and  particularly minerals.  With illustrations and words, one particularly impressive exhibit  demonstrated and explained with remarkable precision as well as brevity the basic premises of crystallography.  Another explaining pseudomorphs was just as enlightening.  Further along, a kinetic exhibit featuring a giant microscope replica sought to explain how  magnification contributes to mineralogical perspective. Informative for sure, although  the fixed photographic images could have been sharper as they flashed on a screen in conjunction with corresponding micromounts passing beneath the scope.

The mostly mirrored walls of Hillman Hall's "Masterpiece Gallery" minerals make the hall seem larger than it actually is. At the entrance is a two sided cabinet featuring minerals from Pennsylvania.This could well be the premier collection of spectacular Pennsylvania Minerals in the world.

 Except for the Pennsylvania minerals, labeling of the specimens  in the Masterpiece Gallery mentions only the state or country where collected. Particularly impressive by virtue of its unusual habit is the legrandite specimen shown at left. from "Mexico," even though anyone familiar with the species knows that more specifically it would be from Mapimi.  Perhaps such omission is for the sake of labeling consistency, especially should more specific locality information be unknown for certain pieces. Another specimen to stop me in my tracks was the Bolivian vivianite specimen at right. Though I didn't measure, my recollection is that it was about a foot long. Could that be possible? All of the minerals displayed in this hall are exquisitely lit and amazing to contemplate, some very likely the best of their species known to exist.

 Adjoining the Masterpiece Gallery is the Wertz Gallery of Gems and Jewelry. Having been dazzled by the minerals,  the time remaining for me to enjoy its displays was all too short.

The typical visitor to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's Hillman Hall of Minerals and gems sees but a fraction of  one per cent of the 27,000 specimens that are part of its collection. While these include many of the specimens likely to attract the most general interest, untold other pieces would be no less worthy of display. The Carnegie Museum is to be commended for having  catalogued ninety per cent of the pieces that it owns.