By Carol Tannenhauser
The path to the newly renovated Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History starts with a pair of skeletons and leads past skulls and brains and chimpanzees and prehistoric humans and meteors.
The day of the press preview was dreary, making the entry into the new halls all the more spectacular — that and the fact that the more than 5,000 objects from 95 countries on display have all been newly cleaned and were positively glittering. It felt like a major signal of New York City’s return. Someone likened the halls before the three-year renovation to a cave, where one felt like a miner. Many people loved the feeling of being sheltered in a place full of quiet discoveries.
In the new version, one has arrived at what another called “the world’s jewelry box,” where material and educational riches abound.
Interestingly, you can see the stones we use for so many purposes, from personal adornment to kitchen counters, in their natural contexts: how they were formed and found. Once you get the hang of the system, the halls are like a classroom, accomplishing what curator George E. Harlow told WSR he hoped they would, “I want people to enjoy what they see, but also to know more when they come out than when they went in.”
Roberto Mignone, half of the couple for whom the halls are named, said their gift to the museum, which made the renovation possible, was a way of saying thank you for the gifts the museum gave him, many years ago.
“Before I was a trustee here, before a career in finance, before a privileged education, I was a New York City kid whose father had immigrated from Italy at about the age of 30, living in a studio apartment with three kids,” Mr. Mignone said. “And my mom, every day would walk the three kids from Hell’s Kitchen up here to the museum to get us out of that studio apartment. I’m extremely lucky that I had a mother who provided educational opportunities for us. And this has gone on for 150 years at the museum. I’m one of millions of New York City kids, who have had that experience, and this is my chance to say thank you.”
The Halls of Gems and Minerals are opening to the public on June 12th. There will be member previews. For the first time, there is a smaller gallery off of the halls showing special, temporary exhibitions. For more information on ticketing and COVID-19 guidelines for visiting the museum, click here.
Insider’s note: Behind that red sparkly object, where Allison Mignone is standing, will one day be an entrance to the currently-under-construction Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, which will hopefully be finished by late 2022.