A New View of Mineral Museums
Rock&Gem Magazine|June 2021
This year of 2021 certainly started out to be disappointing for many mineral collectors. We were all looking forward to a host of mineral-related activities. Instead, few mineral shows and mineral activities on the calendar remain, so the first months of this year were devoid of organized mineral activity.

On a personal note, I had planned to be the speaker in residence at the semi-annual education retreat put on by the Eastern Federation of Mineralogical and Lapidary Societies at Wildacres, near Little Switzerland, North Carolina. I’ve been the “Speaker in Residence” every third year since the late 1980s, but not so in 2021, with the event being canceled.

Another exciting event many in Arizona were looking forward to was the expected grand opening of the new Alfie Norville University of Arizona Gem and Mineral Museum in Tucson. The hope was the museum might be ready to open during the annual Tucson gem and mineral event in February 2021. But, like so many events, it could not happen. Some mineral dealers refused to accept the situation and opened for business at the usual January-February time, but it had, by comparison, only a feeble impact on the uncommonly quiet City of Tucson.

By early March, the museum was well along, with most minerals in place and most interactive displays in place despite equipment delays. Staff was still adding minerals, mainly specimens being brought by collectors who were putting some of their best minerals on display for an extended time. This certainly adds exceptional mineral specimens and artifacts to the displays. The idea of loaning specimens is a good one. Visitors get to see mineral specimens they might never see otherwise. Such loaned specimens enhance already good displays, often with exceptional specimens, while allowing for occasional changes in exhibits to avoid the stogy situation seen in older museums. I can’t help but think mineral specimens displayed in some forgotten old museums have simply been consigned there to die!


In early March, Rock & Gem was most fortunate to be given a guided tour of the new Alfie Norville University of Arizona Museum. We were lead by Museum Manager Eric Fritz, and my family was able to join me. My son Evan had been on the Museum Advisory Board, helping with the museum’s Arizona Mineral Gallery or Arizona Hall’s design and development. The hall is one of three galleries, while Mineral Evolution and Gem Gallery are the other two. Members of the Arizona Advisory Board were all local collectors and mineral dealers chosen because of their countless decades of mineral collecting and knowledge to assure the Arizona Mineral Gallery is complete and accurate.

My family had another excellent reason for taking the tour, because we had, as a family, made a significant donation to the museum. Our donation is a massive 360-pound polished malachite from the United Republic of the Congo. The malachite is part of exhibits visitors can touch, feel and experience up close. Our malachite is now in the Gem Gallery, donated as a memorial to Alicia Abbott Jones, University of Arizona, class of ‘49.

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