By Erin Place
BETHEL—From slabs with dark to lime green outer rings surrounding vibrant pink centers to deep dark brown scepters with swirling whiteish-crystal innards to jagged purple clusters forming cave dioramas and light blue to almost turquoise facets—all of these natural wonders and more can been seen at the 53rd Western Maine Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Show this weekend in Bethel.
The annual two-day event is sponsored by the Oxford County Mineral and Gem Association and runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Telstar High School, 284 Walkers Mills Road. Admission is $3 and children 12 and younger are free.
According to show Chairman Dennis Gross—who also co-owns Mineral Collector on North Main Street in Bryant Pond—this year’s show has two or three more dealers added for a total of 16 vendors. All sorts of New England mined gems will be on display and for purchase, including a variety of Maine tourmaline, smoky, milky and clear quartz, amethyst, apatite and morganite, which is a form of pink beryl, to name a few.
“To beat it, you’ll have to go to the Smithsonian,” Gross says.
In addition to gems and minerals, there will also be fossils, jewelry and museum-quality displays. Raffle tickets will be sold for the grand door prize, a $1,200 apophyllite and stibite specimen mined in Nashik, India, and donated by John and Debbie Whitney, of Whitney’s Rocks to Gems. There will be separate tickets sold for three tourmaline rings that will be raffled off.
Gross convinced some people to set up displays who normally don’t show off their collection of specimens. He expects them to be spectacular.
“A log of this stuff these guys are putting in I’ve never seen,” he says. And Gross has been collecting rocks since a short time after his marriage to Linda in 1970. They opened the shop together in 1992.
Also on tap are lapidary demonstrations, a silent auction and field trips to area rock hounding locales. Woodstock’s Maine Mineral Adventures will lead the trips each day.
“What we do is we bring people to a couple of different locations where they collect minerals for a discounted price,” says Jody Matolcsy, co-owner of Maine Mineral Adventures. She added the fee is usually $60, but instead will only be $40 for the show. “We will donate some of the money back to the club that’s putting on the show.”
Matolcsy hadn’t decided on Saturday’s location yet and said it could be in either Paris or Buckfield. Gross said Sunday’s trip would be to Mount Mica in Paris. Those wanting to attend should sign up at the show. Matolcsy has co-owned Maine Mineral Adventures since 2007, but started her own solo rock hounding trips called Jody’s Mineral Tours in 2004. Each day those going on the field trip will leave Telstar High School at 11 a.m., following a caravan of vehicles to the mines, which aren’t open to the public. Each trip should last roughly four hours, she says.
“They could be searching for tourmaline, beryl, quartz crystals, smoky crystals. There’s a host of a bunch of different minerals they could be finding. Garnet,” Matolcsy adds.
Gary Freeman and his wife, Mary, own Mount Mica, and came to acquire the mine in 2003 through their company, Coromoto Minerals.
“And we’ve been digging there ever since, including today,” Freeman says by phone. He is one of the people who usually doesn’t display at the show but will this weekend. He will include specimens found at Mount Mica.
The couple owns a Florida-based business, Awareness Technology, which manufactures laboratory instruments for human, animal health and food safety, and allows Freeman to dig 365 days of the year. But he didn’t get the rock bug from living and working in Florida. That was cultivated when he was younger, joining his father on weekend gem digs in South America.
But the rock bug lay dormant until after he married Mary and they would visit her parents in Windsor. They would drive up I-95, passing large rock cuts along the highway.
“I would see the rock cuts and that would planted the idea that there were rocks in Maine,” Freeman says, admitting he didn’t know the first thing about minerals in this state. “That’s when we decided we would go out on take a hike on the Appalachian Trail and see what we could see.”
And see they did.
This was 1996 and the couple hiked the Maine portion of the Appalachian Trail, only to discover there were indeed, interesting rocks in Maine.
“I mentioned when I was a kid my dad and I would have been seriously interested in those rocks. I kept on hiking and I turned around and Mary was not with me any more. I went back and she had found a tiny little blue beryl. And then we looked around some more and Mary went over to the side to answer the call of nature,” Freeman says about their hiking the trail. “And right there in plain sight were three aquamarines laying on the rock and she had to pick them up.
“Mary mentioned yesterday that hike on the Appalachian Trail changed our lives, which is true,” he added. “We didn’t own a square inch of Maine at that time and now we own 10,000 acres.”
In 1998, the couple became involved with the Bennett Orchard Mine in Buckfield. Freeman said they found some superb pockets of beryls at the Orchard, when they were simply using a rock hammer in the early days.
Now the operation at Mount Mica consists of the more sophisticated cut and shoot method.
“We drill holes, then we blast, then we clean up the mess, then we do it again,” Freeman says. “When we’re getting near something, we can tell by our drilling so we rarely damage anything blasting.”
And as far as damaging the Earth goes, he says since his mines are underground, it’s already more Earth-friendly than open pit mining. At Mount Mica, he’s converted some of his dump piles into gardens.
“If I could keep the woodchucks out, I will be alright,” he says.
Freeman’s adventure in mining and rock hounding didn’t start out as an every day thing, but since has evolved to that.
“I spend all my time with rocks,” he says. “I spend all my time here working in my mine 12-months out of the year.”
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
For more information about the upcoming Western Maine Gem, Mineral and Jewelry Show, visit http://oxfordcountymineralandgemassociation.blogspot.com/.