The Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals was founded by Richard and Helen Rice. The following is a historical summary of the creation and development of the museum.
Richard and Helen Rice began their love affair with rocks as the result of a weekend family outing to the Oregon Coast. While on this trip they picked up a handful of agates and jaspers they simply thought were pretty. A local rock shop polished the stones and revealed their beauty. After seeing the transformation of these seemingly ordinary pebbles into beautiful stones, their lifetime romance with rocks and rock collecting began.
Soon after their beach agate collecting experience, the Rices joined a new club in Portland, the Oregon Agate and Mineral Society (OAMS). Through OAMS they learned about and took part in field trips where they could find thundereggs, petrified wood, carnelian, moss agate and other beautiful rocks of the Northwest. They enjoyed this so much that they took an active role in the leadership of OAMS.
Around this time they also became active in the Northwest Federation of Mineralogical Societies’ gem and mineral shows and other activities, leading to involvement in the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (AFMS). Helen Rice served as President of the American Federation in 1959-1960. During her term as President, Helen also served on the AFMS committee that wrote the first set of “Uniform Rules” for competitive exhibits at the Federation shows. She was also instrumental in the AFMS obtaining IRS 501(c)3 status as a non-profit educational organization.
Richard and Helen Rice began construction of their “dream house” designed around their rockhound hobby. The key feature of this house was a full gallery of lighted, built-in showcases in the basement.
Their love of nature and earth science is obvious in the Rice’s use of natural materials for the construction of their home. They visited the flagstone quarries in northern Arizona and watch workers cut and load boxcars with the stone that would ultimately be used in their home construction.
Richard, a logger by profession, discovered a couple of downed myrtlewood trees while working in Coos County on the southern Oregon coast. Richard purchased the trees and personally logged them for use in the woodwork in the home. Near Vernonia, Oregon, he logged the maple tree that produced the beautiful quilted maple pattern used for the pantry area and kitchen cabinets. He chose cedar for the underside of the exterior eves. Richard negotiated with a friend to get the wood for the home kiln dried in exchange for his helping build a sawmill on the Willamette River. The wood was also cut at this mill.
The beautiful tile used in the dining room fireplace and the basement kitchen area was purchased in Mexico during a winter agate and mineral collecting trip.
The use of these materials at that time and the design of the house was very unique and was a major factor that placed the residence on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The Rices, along with Don and Lee Kendall, George and LaVerne Williams, and many other rockhounds in Washington County, Oregon, decided it would be a good idea to have a club in Forest Grove, closer to the museum and local residents. The Tualatin Valley Gem Club (TVGC) was established. Richard and Helen spent the rest of their lives as active members of TVGC. They were eventually rewarded by the club with a Lifetime Membership.
TVGC played a huge part in the development of the Rice Museum. For many years free classes were held in the basement of this museum building to study micro-minerals. Club members also attended free classes here in making jewelry showing off their fine lapidary specimens. The Rices hosted many club board meetings as well as work parties to assemble newsletters and to build Federation-standard show cases for use in the gem shows. During this time, the Rices expanded their collection from lapidary specimens only, to include crystallized mineral specimens.
The Rices, now well into their 80’s, decided they wanted to preserve their world class collection and make it available for all those interested in the earth sciences. They incorporated the museum as a non-profit private operating foundation. The Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals was approved by the IRS as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in 1997. It was organized on a permanent basis for educational and scientific purposes to ensure that it continues to grow and serve the public when the Rices are no longer able to curate the museum.
In a letter to the IRS, the Tualatin Valley Gem Club noted, “We know of no other museum in the Pacific Northwest that contains such a variety of large, high quality crystal and mineral specimens from world wide localities.” It further noted that, “The proximity of the Museum to Portland and its metropolitan area and the easy accessibility from Interstate 5, I-84, and Highway 26 make the potential for many visitors taking the opportunity to see this outstanding collection.”
Since the Rice Museum opened to the public, it has continued to grow and change. All the rooms in the original house have been converted to galleries, and the garage is now a gift shop. Another building on the grounds, known as “Richard’s Workshop,” was converted into the Northwest Gallery in 2005.
The Museum’s exhibits have benefited greatly from some major collaborative efforts. Dennis and Mary Murphy have contracted a lifetime display of their world-class petrified wood collection in a dedicated gallery. Portland State University and its Cascadia Meteorite Lab prepared the outstanding meteorite exhibit on display from 2002-2014. (The exhibit was updated in 2014 and now features new meteorite specimens.) Many individual collectors have also donated and loaned specimens and collections for exhibit.
Tualatin Valley Gem Club, Mt. Hood Rock and Gem Club, Oregon Agate and Mineral Society, and Pacific Northwest Chapter of Friends of Mineralogy have sponsored exhibit cases that each club updates every six months with its members’ mineral finds and lapidary work. The North American Research Group displays its members’ fossil specimens in the fossil gallery.
Awards and Honors
Richard and Helen Rice won many awards and honors for their rock and mineral collections, and the museum continues to be honored for its ongoing mission to engage, inspire, and educate generations on the splendor and complexities of our Earth. They include: