By Amber Nicole Cannan
The Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel, Maine will be an artful collection of minerals and gems. Slated for a soft opening in May of 2017, the museum is currently represented by the Museum Store. Bethel, more famous for its ski mountain, Sunday River, will become a hub of geological research when the MP2 Research Group (Mineralogy, Petrology and Pegmatology) move into the basement. The entire MP2 research facility and its equipment will move from New Orleans to the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum.
...“with these images and prints you can see these
Bethel is located in Oxford County, Maine, the most mineral rich county in Maine. It has been mined for nearly 180 years. This history, and the amazing scenery, is what attracted Dr. Skip Simmons, Professor of Mineralogy from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Al Falster, Research Technologist at the University of New Orleans to the location. Both hope for a “working” retirement in Maine that allows them to continue their research in partnership with the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum.
The Museum Store displays works of wearable art in the form of gemstones ensconced by natural minerals - jewelry. Also on display are a variety of rocks and gems, mostly from Maine, such as watermelon tourmaline; for which Maine is famous; meteorite samples, including lunar and Martian samples; Tektites; and a variety of granite and quartz. Many of these are set pieces of jewelry, but some are scientific samples. All are clearly labeled with the type of stone or mineral, location of extraction, and price. Specific artists and craftsmen are featured in the Museum Store, such as Tina Dinsmore, Kavi Cohen, Derek Katzenbach, Brian Quigley, Joryel Vera, Jill Ross, Scott Lawrence, and T&M Stones. Maggie Kroenke, the store manager, was sure to mention that they are always looking for more artists who work with quality samples to display and sell.
Also on display are a series of watercolor prints by Fredrick C. Wilda, an artist from Massachusetts who started painting geological illustrations in 1998. His illustrations have been featured in several scientific publications including ExtraLapis, Rocks & Minerals, and Rocks & Gems magazines. He primarily works on commission, and the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum has done just that, commissioning him to illustrate two pieces for their collection.
The artistic and inspirational value of gems and minerals is without question, and long established as an art form. “People have been taking minerals and gems to adorn themselves for a really long time,” says Kroenke. There is strong crossover between the industrial application of rocks and minerals, and the scientific study with the cutting of gems for jewelry. “People have been faceting stones since the mid 1800s in Maine.”
Kroenke sees the strongest overlap in science and art with the Museum’s recent purchase of a Petrographic microscope. This technology creates thin sections of minerals and gems which are then placed under a microscope at 50x magnification allowing one to see the structure of the minerals and connect a digital camera “creating beautiful pictures you would want to hang on the wall.” The store uses some of these images on the products they sell, such as coffee mugs. Kroenke feels that, “with these images and prints you can see these little worlds of minerals. Often times, science is art.”
The primary goal for the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum, as defined by Kroenke, is education. “We want to work with teachers and their lesson plans, beyond just identifying stones.” When the museum is complete it will feature an amazing interactive exhibit with a two-story diorama of the mines located nearby. Paulus Design Group of Bath, Maine and Washington, D.C. has been hired to design the exhibits. Exhibit design is another excellent example of science and art seamlessly working together. “There is a lot of science behind the museum design itself, such as how do you keep everyone interested and engaged in the exhibits?”
When complete, the museum will display Maine’s geological history, famous mineral and rock collections and educate both novice and expert geologists. The interactive exhibits will cater to children and children-at-heart while still bringing the hard science that rockhounds and geologists favor. The goal for the Museum is to become a travel destination for those interested in the science and natural art behind gems.