Maine Mineral & Gem Museum Celebrates 50th Anniversary of 'The Big Find'

September 22, 2022

Exactly 50 years ago, four men exploring an abandoned mine near the top of Plumbago Mountain in Newry, ME, "just happened upon" one of the richest pockets of gem-quality tourmaline the world had ever seen.

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The pocket started as a small void no larger than the width of a man's shoulders. But as George Hartman, Dean McCrillis, Dale Sweatt and contract miner Frank Perham explored further, the rich vein of tourmaline crystals — some larger than a water glass — seemed to continue indefinitely into larger and larger pockets, eventually yielding more than a ton of gem-quality tourmaline from 1972 to 1974.

The discovery sent shockwaves through Maine, and around the mineral world. Never had such a large quantity of world-class tourmaline been found in a single locality in North America. The find is credited with reawakened gem mining in the state of Maine.

To celebrate "The Big Find," the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum (MMGM) in Bethel, ME, curated a collection of 12 fabulous, faceted gems from the historic tourmaline find and paired each one with a jewelry designer. The designers were tasked with creating a masterwork incorporating their unique stone.

The gems range in size from 9.78 carats to 49.30 carats and include a variety of interesting shapes, textures and colors, including pink, red, green, bicolor and "watermelon" tourmaline.

The pieces will be showcased at "The Big Reveal," a '70s-themed runway extravaganza at the Grand Summit Hotel in Newry on October 8.

The collection will also make its way to the 2023 Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, where it will go on exhibit prior to being sold at auction. All the proceeds from the auction will benefit the MMGM.

The gemstones were donated to the Museum for fundraising and have an estimated value of $300,000. The goal is to raise over $1 million from the finished pieces.

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A selection committee, composed of five members from the arts and jewelry community, chose the final 12 artists from a group of 33 submissions. The 12 artists are Paula Crevoshay (Albuquerque, NM), Patty Dunning (Portland, ME), Matt Fischer (Colorado Springs, CO), Gerardo Gonzalez (New York, NY), Derek Katzenbach (Farmington, ME), Andy Lucas (Klamath Falls, OR), Steve Manchini (Salem, MA), Nick Noyes (Charlottesville, VA), Naomi Sarna (New York, NY), Erik Stewart (Tucson, AZ), Matt and Lauren Tuggle (CO), and Stephen and Tamberlaine Zeh (Temple, ME).

Throughout 2022, the MMGM has hosted special programs and guest lectures as part of The Big Find celebration.

Nestled in the picture-postcard town of Bethel, MMGM is a world-class museum and education facility featuring 40,000 gems and minerals, 6,000 meteorites, a library of 10,000 volumes and nearly two dozen interactive exhibits to present Maine minerals and gems in the context of local mining history and Maine’s geology. MMGM opened its doors to the public for the first time in December of 2019.

The 15,000-square-foot museum is home to the single oldest igneous rock in the solar system and a moon rock five times larger than any returned to earth by an Apollo mission. It also features exotic specimens from Mars and fragments of asteroids embedded with extraterrestrial gemstones.

Check out MMGM's website for more information about The Big Reveal.

Credits: Gem photo courtesy of MMGM/Scott Vlaun. Artists photos courtesy of courtesy MMGM/ the artists.