History: Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems
In 1969, the President of The Carnegie, James M. Walton, spoke with one of Pittsburgh’s most prominent businessmen, Henry L. Hillman, about the early stages of a capital campaign fund. Their discussion centered on the steps to be taken to upgrade the existing exhibits and the program areas where new exhibits could be introduced to enhance Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Mr. Hillman, a trustee of the museum, is a lifelong Pittsburgher. He earned a degree in geology from Princeton, and at the time of his discussion with Walton was serving as the executive officer in the family business started by his father. He recalls that he had gone to see a commercial display of minerals that was presented at a Pittsburgh department store. He was impressed by the number of people who were attracted to and fascinated by the mineral specimens. With this experience in mind he expressed to Walton an interest in supporting a new mineral exhibit designed to present "minerals in the manner of sculpture and shown for their beauty as well as physical properties and economic uses."
For the next decade, the generosity of Henry L. Hillman and The Hillman Foundation, Inc., made it possible for Carnegie Museum of Natural History to acquire exhibit-quality specimens for the new hall. Delbert Oswald, working in the mineral section at that time, became Associate Curator and devoted full attention to enhancing the mineral exhibit collection and developing the hall. In the early 1970s, during the first few years of this effort, the noted mineralogist Dr. Frederick H. Pough was retained as a consultant to assist Oswald.
The mineral section of the museum became increasingly active and gradually took on a new autonomy within the museum. Not only did The Hillman Foundation provide funds through a capital fund grant for the renovation of space allocated to the new mineral hall, it also provided funds for a specimen acquisition program. A masterpiece pegmatite assemblage from the Little Three mine in California and a 70-gram platinum nugget from the Soviet Union were purchased at this time, as was what is very likely the world’s largest single crystal of rutile, a 24-pound mirror-faced specimen from Graves Mountain, Georgia.
Supported by The Hillman Foundation, the museum acquired a 19-piece gold collection from the Harvard Mineralogical Museum and the Dr. Frederick H. Pough gem collection of nearly 800 specimens. The Pough Gem Collection represents more than thirty years of personal selection and half of it is comprised of rare and highly unusual gem species. Many of the gems currently on display in Wertz Gallery are from the Pough Collection.
Along with the increase in purchased accessions, the mineral section witnessed an increase in donor interest, which brought in many new specimens suitable for exhibition in the mineral and gem hall. The J. Allen Thiel and J. P. Gills Rough and Cut gem collections were donated as were the collection’s finest Brazilian aquamarine crystal and its finest bejeweled aquamarine and diamond brooch.
After eleven years of specimen acquisition, planning, and construction, Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems opened in September, 1980. The concept of presenting mineral specimens as sculptures was adhered to, and the beautifully designed exhibit hall provides a basic understanding and appreciation of minerals—scientifically, educationally, and aesthetically.
Oswald retired from the museum shortly thereafter, and for several years the mineral section and its exhibit hall were directly under the auspices of Mary R. Dawson, PhD, Vertebrate Paleontologist and Chief Curator of Earth Sciences. In 1982 geologist Richard A. Souza was hired to oversee the mineral section’s exhibition and education programs and the management of some 23,000 specimens. During the eight years that followed, Collection Manager Souza worked closely with Ronald W. Wertz, President of The Hillman Foundation, to develop one of the most active and successful specimen acquisition programs of any major natural history museum in North America. The goal was to acquire some of the world’s finest specimens in a variety of species while also filling in species and locality voids and significantly upgrading the other species on exhibit.
In 1987 The Hillman Foundation worked with Carnegie Museum of Natural History to establish The Carnegie Mineralogical Award. This national award is given annually at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show to an honored recipient in recognition of outstanding contributions that have promoted mineralogical preservation, conservation, and education—the ideals embodied in Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems.
Numerous grants have revitalized the mineral section’s programs. In 1988, Carnegie Institute President Dr. Robert C. Wilburn and the Trustees launched the Second Century Fund campaign with a goal of $125 million. As part of its contribution to this fund, The Hillman Foundation established an endowment for Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems to provide for continuing improvement of and operating support for the mineral program. This contribution also provided funding for a mineral conservation and preservation laboratory and a permanent curatorial position.
Also that year, portions of all eight meteorites ever found in Pennsylvania were displayed for the first time in Hillman Hall.
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