The Museum of Natural History offered a sneak peek on Tuesday of the design for the new Halls of Gems and Minerals now under construction inside the museum. The new exhibit area has a high bar to hurdle — it’s replacing a space that was beloved by generations of New Yorkers as a dark, calm oasis in the middle of the city.
The new hall, named for volunteers and donors Allison and Roberto Mignone, will have 11,000 square feet of space. It will showcase two new enormous amethyst geodes, along with museum fan favorites like the legendary 563-carat “Star of India” sapphire and 632-carat Patricia emerald.
The displays will be interactive, and people will be able to touch some of the specimens.
“Highlights will include a luminous gallery featuring a wall-sized panel of rock glowing fluorescently in shades of orange and green; a pair of exquisite amethyst geodes from Uruguay that tower to a height of 12 feet and 9 feet; and the 9-pound almandine “subway” garnet discovered under Manhattan’s 35th Street in 1885. Jewelry in animal forms featured in the temporary exhibition gallery will include pieces by Cartier, Bulgari, and Tiffany & Co., as well as by contemporary designers such as Bina Goenka.”
The museum is also building a temporary exhibit space, so it can show a rotating series of exhibitions on minerals and gems. The first one will be Beautiful Creatures, “a celebration of exquisite historic and contemporary jewelry inspired by animals.”
In an essay for West Side Rag that she wrote after the original hall closed, Sophia Hollander explained why she would lament the change.
“It depends, I suppose, on your definition of a natural history museum and what you consider success. It will be easier to see more of the gems in better light. That cannot be argued. But if you are shooting for inspiration, if your goal is wonder and to slowly, subtly form connections to the artifacts, so that the child and the gems become friends – so that kids searching for canny hiding spots learn the intricacy of the jewels, their heft and hues, study their shifting tones and luminous colors, linger over their odd names and glittering winks, return endlessly and form favorites, relationships, fondnesses for one shape, or history, or spectacular streak of color, then the museum has made a bad mistake.
It’s the difference between lifelong affection and a stroll past some cool stuff in cases.”