Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Privileged Visit to the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum

 The shows that were happening in Denver over the weekend of September 12-14  at that city's Merchandise Mart, Ramada Plaza Hotel, and the Denver Coliseum  were great. The only regret I had was that my ten Colorado-booked days spanned the week following these shows rather than the previous week. As a result, I missed  the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum's open house in nearby Golden on September 10.

 Headquartered in its present modern building at 1310 Maple Street since 2003, and featuring two floors of superb exhibits relating to Colorado's legendary mineral heritage, the museum was founded in 1874. Its star has been rising ever since---more than ever in recent years.

Having never had the opportunity for a visit,  I made a point of detouring to Golden after the Denver shows were over.  While the Museum's exhibits run  the  gamut of earth sciences, cabinets full of minerals predominate, especially on the main (top) floor. They are arranged mostly according to locality, with separate cabinets devoted to  minerals from Arizona, Mexico, Europe, China, South America, and various other locations. Minerals collected in Colorado fill the greatest amount of space, with separate exhibits devoted to counties and districts of Colorado's mineral belt. Included are the Aspen District, San Miguel, Ouray,  Boulder County, Gilpin County, the Leadville District, Clear Creek County, the Gilman District, the Creede District, Teller County and Cripple Creek. In addition to separate exhibits of  gemstones and pseudomorphs, I was delighted to also find an exhibit proclaiming the pleasures and merits of micromounting.

After an hour or more of browsing and ogling, I recognized through an open office door Dr. Bruce Geller, who has been the museum's Director since 2007. My timing for looking in to introduce myself and say hello could not have been more auspicious. With two collection managers, 16 student aides,  75 volunteers, and three additional buildings to oversee, Dr. Geller is also  responsible for the coordination of nearly daily guided public tours, mostly for tourists and students. As luck would have it, the next guided tour was to be for Yours Truly alone.

"Twenty percent of everything  moves out  each year in order to make room for fresh displays," Dr. Geller informs me as we walk from his office into the main floor exhibit hall. One such new display is the case to which he points in the image at left. It features gold from Central City, which is where the Colorado Gold Rush began in 1859.  Included in this case are magnificent native gold specimens believed to be the earliest known to exist from the region. Also in the case were two gold coins minted with Central City Gold in 1860 and 1861 by the privately owned mint and banking company Gruber and Clark. "We always try to do Colorado," he says. "That's our mission."

We next enter a side room that Martin Zinn  recently donated to honor his mother. Mr. Zinn is well known for his role as   manager of extravaganzas that include the Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show each February in Tucson, the recent Colorado Mineral and Fossil show, the East Coast Gem  Mineral and Fossil Show, and two major West Coast shows. The room features cabinets housing numerous specimens from the Zinn family mineral collection, as well as a cabinet of specimens provided by the  renowned mineral dealer David Bunk.
Pictured above and particularly impressive is a cabinet  filled with an extensive, diverse, and downright amazing rhodochrosite suite on loan from Dennis Streetman.

      Dr. Geller's enthusiasm continues as we walk around the larger hall, where he points out specimens he believes worthy of being considered "best of species". The pyragryite piece from the Parano mine at Fresnillo in Zacatecas, Mexico, pictured at left, speaks for one such specimen. Another, shown at right, features an enormous columbite crystal in albite from  Minas Gerais, Brazil, Viewed live, its grandeur appears all but unbelievable. To the best of Dr. Geller's knowledge, it is "the biggest columbite crystal in the world." Both specimens, as well as numerous others that are clearly world class were donated  by Oreck Corporation founder David Oreck and his son Bruce.

 Taking  a phone call, Dr. Geller refers me to Richard Parsons, one of the 75 volunteers active with the Museum.Mr. Parsons, like Dr. Geller, is an avid micromounter. Within a minute, Mr. Parsons is leading me down a flight of stairs. The room to which they lead houses  the Museum's primary earth science exhibits relating to paleontology, meteorites, and mining, Colorado's premier display of fluorescent minerals, and the gift shop, Through an inconspicuous door, we pass into a large area used by the museum for storage and study. At the forefront, are numerous cabinets such as the one next to which Mr Parsons is pictured at right. They house the world class micromount collections assembled by the late and famous mineralogist Lazard Cahn, as well as those assembled by Arnold Hampson and Dorothy Atlee. In all, these three collections include more than 15,000 micromounts.

As we  return upstairs, Dr. Geller is once again available and proceeds to further enhance my awareness of  what the Museum is about. He begins by pointing out its most recent coup. It is a mural consisting of six paintings showcasing the history of mining from Paleolithic times through the 1930's. The paintings  extend a short distance out from the west wall  about two feet below the ceiling. Irwin Hoffman painted them for the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. Thereafter they graced Colorado School of Mines Berhoud Hall and later the National Mining Hall of Fame before being transferred here when the Geology Museum  moved into its present quarters. Damaged by water that seeped in during a severe 2013 rain storm, Dr. Geller employed the services of restorers, framers and other artisans to have the mural up in time for the Museum's  September 10  open house.

Later he mentions that  the Museum maintains four warehouses. One is the large storage and study area adjoining the first floor where Richard Parsons showed me the micromounts. The other three have separate locations. They include a second warehouse filled with rocks and minerals. A third warehouse is for fossils, The fourth warehouse holds radioactive material and is "so hot," he says, "I've only been in there twice."

As the afternoon winds toward an end, Dr. Geller speaks of a practice that differentiates the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum from many other museums. It does not allow all the material that goes into its warehouses become lost or forgotten.

Dr. Geller explains:
On Average, we receive roughly one worthy donation per day, which creates a challenge for our Collections Managers, who must discriminate what is essential from what is superfluous. We are fortunate for the donations of earth science materials and rarely turn them down. We have several options for the overflow: our Gift Shop, our campus labs/classrooms, our give away box at the museum entrance, and one or two annual Garage Sales of generally low-end unlabeled material.