Mineral Photographer Jeff Scovil Visits Museum for Mineral Glamor Shots

Famed mineral photographer Jeff Scovil dropped by the museum recently to shoot pictures of some of our top specimens, as well as “glamor shots” for regional collectors. The Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals is sponsoring six-pages featuring the best of the museum’s collection in a supplement to the The Mineralogical Record, to be published later this year. Many collectors in the area are participating in this project as well. Jeff recently set up a temporary studio at the Rice Museum to accommodate all the need for high-quality images for this project.

The title for the upcoming supplement is “Mineral Collectors of the Pacific Northwest.” The goal is to show off specimens from collectors in the northwest community and is open to public and private collections. Dr. Wendell E. Wilson, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of The Mineralogical Record, said in a press release that the upcoming supplement will feature the best of collections of mineral enthusiasts living in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, British Columbia, the Yukon Territory and Alberta.

Jeff took over the curator’s storage area to set up his photography equipment.

The Mineralogical Record was founded in 1970 by John White, who was at that time a curator in the Mineral Sciences Department of the Smithsonian Institution. Today The Mineralogical Record continues to set the standard for quality content for the serious mineral collector. In 1982, The Mineralogical Record was honored with the naming of a new mineral species: minrecordite. In 1994, the publication won the prestigious Carnegie Mineralogical Award. It’s issues are collectibles in their own right, and are highly prized.

Based in Phoenix, Jeff has written numerous articles about his craft, and he published the definitive book on the subject: Photographing Minerals, Fossils, & Lapidary Minerals. His book shows amateur and professional photographers several techniques for getting the best possible images in both color and black & white. He explains the basic concepts, covers equipment and formats, and goes into detail about
photographing transparent and opaque materials, with advice on lighting techniques, filters, photomicrography, stereo-photography, fluorescence, location photography, and slide presentations.

According to his website, when Jeff got his first camera from his father at high school graduation, it was the beginning of a lifelong passion. Jeff grew up in Connecticut and had been collecting minerals and fossils since he was eight years old. He started college majoring in geology, but switched to anthropology and archaeology. After one field season on a dig in New Mexico he became the site’s laboratory photographer. Jeff studied what little there was published on archaeological photography; finding the literature minimal, he started researching scientific photography from other fields and applied what he learned to archaeological materials.

After three years in the photo studio at the dig, he renewed his passion for minerals with camera in hand. Initial image results were disappointing but Jeff kept at it and started gaining recognition for his work. He photographing other collector’s articles for the popular magazines in the hobby such as The Mineralogical Record and Rocks and Minerals.

The Alma Rose, Sweet Home mine, Alma, Park County, Colorado. On exhibit at the Rice Museum and photographed by Jeff Scovil in 2016

Jeff’s approach was summarized in an excellent Vimeo recording produced by Daniel Buckley for the Arizona Centennial’s virtual museum, arizonaexperience.org.  “The most important thing…is that a mineral is a geometric solid…. I’ve developed a technique where I photograph on a piece of non-glare glass suspended above the background so that I don’t get reflections. I can light from behind, from underneath, and through the glass. Crystal faces are frequently extremely lustrous, so you’re trying to avoid burned-out highlights. Then I have another light, which is for the background. I usually have a third light, which I call a ‘kicker.’ The more you diffuse [the background light], you’re going to have fewer problems with reflections on faces. This little kicker adds sparkle back in and increases the color saturation and gives the specimen lots more life than you would get otherwise. Once you light the crystal, the actual definition of the crystal faces and the other attributes of the specimen is done with a variety of small cards that range in specularity from completely matte to highly reflective. So trying to balance the lighting can really be a task.”

Jeff uses a variety of lights, backlights, filters and reflection surfaces to get the perfect shot.

Jake Slagle at Mineral Bliss sums up Jeff’s many credentials: “A recipient of the 2007 Carnegie Mineralogical Award, his work is everywhere in just about every issue of Rocks and Minerals, Mineralogical Record, and the mineral and lapidary magazines of France, Germany, Spain, Poland, and Russia, as well as in numerous books about minerals. The posters for most of the larger shows around the world (including eleven for the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show) bear his work, and he’s photographed the collections of scores of museums in the US and around the world.”

At Jeff’s website, you can see multiple examples of his fine work. You’ll find extreme closeups of malachite, agate, fluorite, and garnet, as well as stunning images of complete minerals, fossils, meteorites, lapidary, archaeological artifacts, and more.

Wulfenite Specimens Prepared for Spotlight at the Tucson Show

Rice NW Museum is getting prepped and ready to exhibit at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show in February. In keeping with the show’s theme this year, the Rice NW Museum will be displaying some of its finest wulfenite specimens. Curator Julian Gray began planning the case layout months ago, and he has been working with volunteer Angela Piller to prepare. They teamed up to assess which specimens can travel safely, which ones look best next to each other, and which pieces tell a compelling story on display.

Curator Julian Gray, left and volunteer Angela Piller chose the wulfenite specimens for travel

The museum has more than a dozen top wulfenite specimens, in a surprising variety of colors and shapes. If you’re not familiar with this mineral, wulfenite is a lead molybdate, with a chemical formula of PbMoO4. Unlike other lead or molybdenum minerals, which are usually gray, wulfenite can be orange, yellow, red, and other colors. Wulfenite most commonly forms in thin, square crystals that are sometimes quite lustrous. According to Mindat.org, wulfenite is “a secondary mineral typically found as thin tabular crystals with a bright orange-red, yellow-orange, yellow or yellowish grey color in the oxidized zones of hydrothermal lead deposits.” Primary minerals are generally sulfide minerals like pyrite (iron sulfide) or galena (lead sulfide). Corrosive ground water reacts with primary minerals forming new, more exotic secondary minerals such as wulfenite, which is highly sought by mineral collectors.

Wulfenite occurs in a variety of colors, and was a great choice for this year’s show theme.

To prepare for the move, the curating team donned their protective gloves and got to work. They removed top candidates from the display case in the Main Gallery and assembled the proposed display on a table, where they could mix and match and evaluate specimen heights and sizes. Once they were satisfied with the plan, they began boxing up the materials carefully with bubble-wrap and other precautions for the move.

Packaging for the move is an important consideration; some of the best specimens were judged too fragile to transport and will remain on display.

The final step is to carefully shift around the remaining specimens in the case to avoid any obvious holes. Keen-eyed visitors who know the collection intimately will spot the changes, but some of the top specimens in the collection are deemed too fragile to move and won’t be making the trip.

The final step is to rearrange the specimens still on display to avoid obvious gaps or holes.

The specimens will return and be back on display by the end of February.

Tucson is one of the most exciting times of year and places to go shopping for the museum collection and new museum store stock, so stay tuned to see what new acquisitions Julian brings back!

What’s in the Box: You’re ripped, Eurypterid!

Just back from Tucson, this little fellow is an extinct critter called a eurypterid. It’s one of the acquisitions from this year’s enormous Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, where we join other national and international museums annually to show off our specimens, make new purchases, and talk shop.

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The long tail spike has led some to call the eurypterid a “sea scorpion,” though we don’t know whether it was venomous. This specimen has one of two distinctive paddle-like arms remaining, and the frilly appendages sprouting off the head are its walking feet. These creatures lived in Silurian seas over 415 million years ago.

This specimen is headed to a box for now, but we should be putting it out on display before long! Anyone have any good ideas for a nice nickname?

What’s in the Box? Quicksilver

Halloween has passed, but the scares continue with this slippery substance: mercury! The faded label on this vial, acquired in a recent donation, says, “Mercury from thermometer.” Inside, a silver blob bounces back and forth when the vial is shaken. But what is this toxic liquid doing in a blog post from a mineral museum?

Mercury in vial

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What’s in the Box? Old Familiar Places

The outdoorsy among us who have spent time in the Seattle area are surely familiar with Mount Si, a popular hiking destination close to the city. But did you know that Mount Si hosts beautiful minerals as well as incredible views?

Quartz with dravite

This specimen is on its way back to the box after three months on display in the Washington County Museum in Hillsboro, OR. It is a plate of quartz crystals covered with dravite tourmaline from the Bald Hornet claims on Mount Si in Washington state.

The Bald Hornet claims were developed in the aftermath of the 1869 discovery of iron ore in the Snoqualmie Pass area. While these small-time claims did not manage to produce any economic ores, they did give us crystallized mineral specimens like these. Such specimens are generally associated with contact zones, where intrusive granitic rocks interacted with surrounding sedimentary rock, especially limestone.

(Mining claim information sourced from “Discovering Washington’s Historic Mines (Vol. 1)”, ed. Ina Chang.)

This post is part of our What’s in the Box? series.