By Brecken Branstrator
The Hall of Gems in the new Maine Mineral & Gem Museum (Photo credit: MMGM/S. Vlaun)
Bethel, Maine—A new museum has opened in western Maine that tells the story of the state’s gems and minerals.

The Maine Mineral & Gem Museum, a 15,000-square-foot, three-floor building several years in the making, officially opened its doors Dec. 12.

Larry Stifler and Mary McFadden are the husband-and-wife team behind the museum, which stemmed from their passion for conservation.

The two spent decades creating a land trust comprising more than 15,000 acres, including the historic Bumpus Mine, the location of several giant beryl discoveries in the 1920s.

It was the mine’s legacy that led to the idea of creating a whole museum to honor the state’s gem, mineral and mining history.

Located in a small town called Bethel in the heart of the state’s tourmaline mining region, it houses about 40,000 gems and minerals and 6,000 meteorites.

This includes one of the world’s foremost meteorite collections, featuring specimens from Mars, the Moon and the Asteroid Belt.

The museum said it has “more of the Moon than the 10 largest natural history museums in the world combined;” three of the largest pieces of the Moon will be on permanent exhibit at the museum.

The Maine Mineral & Gem Museum also features the Perham Collection, displayed for 90 years at a local mineral store, and, in front of the building, the Arthur M. Hussey Memorial Rock Garden, which educates visitors about Maine’s geology with 22 specimens from around the state.

The oldest known igneous rock in the solar system, 4.56 billion years old, is also housed at the new facility, as are some of the state’s best specimens of tourmaline, beryl and other native gems.

Highlights include a 1,450-carat smoky quartz—the largest cut gemstone from Maine—and a Tiffany necklace made using Maine tourmaline.

The museum also contains about 250 fossils, nearly 400 mining-related artifacts and some jewelry.

Its library is comprised of 10,000 books, periodicals, maps and recordings; archives from some of the most important figures in Maine mineralogy; a comprehensive collection of historic photographs of mining; and documents about local mining and mineral commerce.

Meanwhile, the MP2 (Mineralogy, Petrology and Pegmatology) Research Group from the University of New Orleans relocated its research facility and instrumentation to the museum. The group will explore the pegmatites of Maine and their minerals.

The on-site laboratory has an electron microprobe, a scanning electron microscope, an X-ray diffractometer and other instruments for advanced mineralogical research.

Stifler and McFadden assembled a team of veterans and experts to lead the museum, including curator Carl Francis, who was the curator for Harvard’s Mineralogical and Geological Museum, and William Simmons, a prominent pegmatologist.

The research team includes two cosmochemists, UCLA’S Alan Rubin and Henning Haack, the former curator of meteorites at the Natural History Museum of Denmark.

The two were brought onto the team by Darryl Pitt, who procured most of the meteorites and is among the world’s leading commercial meteorite consultants.

Stifler and McFadden enlisted the Paulus Design Group, whose clients include the Smithsonian and the National Park Service, and 1220 Exhibits, which is responsible for the displays at the NFL Hall of Fame, to design the museum and its interactive exhibits.

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