Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems

Hillman Hall Today

In 1992, twelve years after the opening of Hillman Hall, Marc Wilson took over the management of Hillman Hall. Under Wilson’s stewardship and with the continued support of The Hillman Foundation, the museum’s century-old mineral collection has blossomed. New exhibits have been developed and specimens upgraded to include an abundance of world-class minerals and gems.

Among the hall’s improvements since Wilson’s arrival is the complete makeover of the Pennsylvania Minerals exhibit. Obtaining the best available Pennsylvania specimens has long been a goal of the Section of Minerals and this exhibit represents the roots of the Carnegie’s mineral collection. The exhibit currently displays specimens from the Bryon Brookmyer collection, on loan to the museum.

AmberIn 1995, Amber was added to the gemstones section. Beautiful as well as educational, the exhibit shows the two types of amber–succinite and retinite. Also included are two types of a common amber substitute, copal. Amber and copal are shown in their rough forms, and as freeform polished specimens and jewelry. Insects embedded in amber demonstrate how life forms become fossilized in the resin.

The evolving nature of the hall was evident in late October 1996, when Wilson unveiled a new exhibit of Pseudomorphism in Minerals. One example is the museum’s first world-class mineral, accessioned in 1897—pseudomorph of hemimorphite after calcite, now on display in Masterpiece Gallery. Over the past century, this pseudomorph has not been surpassed, and it remains perhaps the most significant specimen in the collection.

Another addition to Hillman Hall occurred in 1997 with the opening of the Minerals of the Former Soviet Union exhibit—some 30 spectacular minerals from the recently acquired collection of 250 high-quality specimens. Minerals from the former Soviet Union have only recently begun entering western collections as a result of the fall of Communism.

The Micromineral exhibit, installed in 1999, utilizes a microscope to give the viewer a closer look at minerals not easily seen with the naked eye. This innovative technique makes it possible to display minerals that would otherwise never be viewed by the public.

The year 2000 brought two renovations to Hillman Hall exhibits. The Fluorescence and Phosphorescence exhibit received spectacular new specimens and presentation to show how minerals “glow” under ultraviolet light. The Twinning in Minerals exhibit uses beautiful minerals to show how crystals can become twinned.

The year 2002 saw the unveiling of the Quartz exhibit. Because quartz, the most common mineral on earth, can be classified as a silicate or an oxide, it was decided to take all quartz specimens out of the Systematic Collection and create an exhibit of its own. This display features specimens of quartz with diverse colors, crystal habits and inclusions from localities around the world.

QuartzAlso in 2002 the Museum received a donation of a mineral collection from James E. Moresby White, a Pittsburgh resident who had been collecting since the 1950s.

A proposal was made in May of 2004 to expand and improve Hillman Hall and in 2006 the renovations and expansion project began. Many changes were made to the hall including both additions of and removal of exhibits. Most of the jewelry and gemstones were taken off exhibit for use in their home of Wertz Gallery: Gems and Jewelry. This new addition of Hillman Hall opened in September 2007 and includes an additional 2,000 square feet of exhibition space dedicated to gems, the crystals from which they come, and jewelry comprised of these precious stones.

When Hillman Hall reopened in June 2007, it no longer contained an exhibit on meteorites, but visitors can enjoy improved exhibits on Lithology (the science of rocks), an expanded Masterpiece Gallery and new exhibits on locality suites to complement the already existing exhibit on the Former Soviet Union. These suites feature minerals from England, Romania, India, and Bulgaria. A beautiful new entrance greets visitors with stunning specimens as they enter and exit the hall. Also displayed near the entrance are “Mineral Slices,” backlit slabs of beautifully colored minerals and crystals. Look for many of your favorite exhibits which will still grace the hall such as the Systematic Collection, Quartz, Twinning, Fluorescence & Phosphorescence, Pseudormorphism, Radioactivity, and Microminerals.

Still on the drawing board are plans for a computer station in the hall to give visitors access to complete information on any specimen on exhibit. Under Marc Wilson’s expert guidance, Hillman Hall will continue to develop to meet the interests and needs of its visitors. Your support in the form of donations, whether monetary or specimens, is always appreciated and helpful in our continuing effort to keep Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems one of the finest mineral exhibits in existence.

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