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November-December 2011

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From Field Trips to Fireworks: First International Mindat.org Conference, 10–17 July 2011

All computer-literate readers of Rocks & Minerals by now know the website Mindat.org but may not know that Mindat organized an international mineralogical conference in Poland this past summer. Those 105 mineral enthusiasts lucky enough to participate in what we hope will be just the first of many such events, share one feeling about the rest of you: Whatever reason prevented you from joining us, we are sorry you couldn't make it and look forward to meeting you at the next one!

Caption: Figure 1. Overview of the peaceful town of Lwówek Ślaski before the fourteenth annual Crystal Days Festival transformed the streets. The town also hosted the first International Mindat Conference. Katarina Davydenko photo.

Caption: Figure 2. Our genial host, Tomasz Praszkier, serving Polish vodka at the welcoming dinner, held in the wonderful setting of the beautiful town hall, which dates back to 1217. Jolyon Ralph photo.

The Host Town

The little medieval town of Lwówek Ślaski (population about 10,300) in southwestern Poland has, for the past fourteen years, hosted an outdoor gem and mineral show, the largest in Poland, attracting throngs of visitors. Called the Crystal Days Festival, it overflows with merriment, minerals, and music, and what can only be described as a carnival atmosphere. The town fathers were enthusiastic and most cooperative when Tomasz Praskier of the Spirifer Geological Society suggested that Mindat hold its first conference there simultaneously.

Caption: Figure 3. Bountiful tables laden with food made the welcoming dinner—in fact every dinner—a feast. Jeff Scovil photo.

Caption: Figure 4. Ricardo Modanesi, shown here at the welcoming dinner, came to the conference by bicycle from Italy with a small tent for camping under the stars. Terry Huizing photo.

Caption: Figure 5. After being greeted by Tomasz Praskier, Jolyon Ralph, and the mayor; serenaded by local singers; and wined and dined, the welcoming party moved into the exhibition gallery's special quartz displays. Jeff Scovil photo.

Attendees

Participants came from nineteen countries on four continents, including thirty from our friendly host country, Poland; seventeen from neighboring Germany; sixteen from the United States; seven from Hong Kong; six from Britain; five from Norway; four each from Australia, Austria, and Canada; three each from Italy and the Netherlands; two each from Finland and Russia; and one each from the Czech Republic, Japan, Latvia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland, and they ranged from beginning collectors all the way to professional mineralogists and museum curators. Linguistically challenged Anglos had no problems, as all proceedings were held in English.

Caption: Figure 6. One of the small groups outfitted to go 1,000 meters below the surface at the famous Lubin copper mines on the first of three days of field trips. Ida Chau photo.

Field Trips & Hospitality

Registration on the first day, 10 June, was followed by a welcoming dinner party with good food and plenty of ethylic libations that continued into the wee hours of the morning. Then came three days of field trips, which included a tour of the enormous underground Lubin copper mine, and field collecting at a few of the famous Strzegom pegmatite quarries, several prolific agate localities, and the classic Sklary chrysoprase locality. Collectors divided up into manageable groups carried by comfortable coaches, so there was no overcrowding at any one site. Bag lunches and snacks were provided at most of the field trip sites, and in the evenings everyone came back together in Lwówek for a good dinner and party, sometimes entertained with live music, and always generously lubricated with rivers of good Polish beer and vodka. My favorite was Krupnik—vodka with clover honey and no headache. The Lubin field trip left at 3:30 A.M.—too bad for those late-night revelers who had stayed up until 1 A.M. the previous evening – but the other field trips all started at the more civilized hour of 9 A.M. The summer weather was quite pleasant, not too hot or wet.

At a couple of localities, a backhoe had been hired to uncover fresh material for our eager participants, and at one site a local lady showed up with oven-fresh homemade plum cake and other goodies for the visitors. Local Polish collectors, having been forewarned of our arrival, had set up tables at some of the field trip locales to sell their field-collected specimens, and so trip participants had the opportunity to do some silver-picking too, at very reasonable prices. I purchased some lovely little feldspars and agates for prices ranging from 3 to 15 euros, and a mere 50 euros would get you a great cabinet-sized specimen if your tastes, unlike mine, incline toward the heavy. The agate field trip also had a nice extra feature: a local collector had set up a diesel generator and diamond saw in the quarry where, for the very modest fee of 2 euros, he would saw open your agate nodules so that you could see the inside before deciding whether to lug it back to the airport. Overnight polishing service was also available. I was left with the impression that if one ever needs a field-collecting trip organized, get the Poles to do it because they truly think of everything!

Caption: Figure 7. Collecting the agate fields. Jeff Scovil photo.

Caption: Figure 8. Field trip leader Jacek Bogdański checking the excavation progress at the Gozno agate prospect. Terry Huizing photo.

Caption: Figure 9. Collecting agates at the Gozno agate prospect is hard work—just ask Scott Werschky! Terry Huizing photo.

Caption: Figure 10. Gerhard Brandstetter with a clutch of agate thundereggs from Nowy Kościól. Terry Huizing photo.

Caption: Figure 11. Terry Huizing in the Nowy Kościól (New Church) agate pits.

Caption: Figure 12. A local collector sawing agate nodules found by the field collectors. Terry Huizing photo.

Conference Talks, Show & More

The next four days we all stayed in Lwowek for the conference proper, occupying the well-equipped facilities provided for us by the town. There were programs by a diverse group of speakers, on minerals from India, Poland, Slovenia, Japan, England, the United States, Madagascar, and Peru, along with more technical topics such as the formation of agate, melanophlogite, and clay minerals. Separate rooms had mineralogical sessions for local children, and there was also a room available for swappers to display specimens, chat, and haggle over trades. Anyone desiring a break from talks could walk into the town center and visit the show, held along streets lined with curbside birch-log booths where Polish and worldwide minerals were available along with wooden cookware, ceramics, toys, bread, beer, and any manner of other merchandise, entertained by live bands, strange carnival contests, and a parade (in which a large contingency of the Mindat group marched, right behind the local motorbike gang). Mindat also held its own concurrent mineral specimen and publications show, indoors in the conference venue. And in the evenings there was the usual great assortment of Polish food and drink, including one memorable evening of an outdoor dinner with bonfire where we also witnessed a reenactment ceremony of inducting a new member into the local red-robed Miners' Fraternity. And, of course, there was music, always music, even some dancing.

As an added bonus, Mindat members had organized mineral exhibits in the town hall as part of the Crystal Days Festival. Up in the tower, there were several displays, among them the Spirifer Geological Society's great mineral display. Jolyon Ralph, Mindat's founder, put in an enviable case of British minerals, and Ida Chau displayed a delightfully original micromount collection set up in miniature cabinets in dolls' houses, as if they were in fact a magically shrunken cabinet collection! Downstairs, in the “dungeon” of this ancient town hall, Amir Akhavan, assisted by local Polish collectors, put in a stunning, educational gallery-exhibition of quartz illustrating its astonishing number of habits and varieties, with the quality of cases and lighting being equal to those in the best museums. This display remained in Lwówek for three months for the townsfolk and tourists to enjoy.

Caption: Figure 13. Following the field trips, two days of talks were held in this modern conference hall. Terry Huizing photo.

Caption: Figure 14. Local collectors offering for sale their findings from the Strzegom quarries. Terry Huizing photo.

Caption: Figure 15. Adjacent to the lecture room was a minishow with mineral dealers and publications, including Mineralogical Almanac, Mineralien-Welt, and Rocks & Minerals. Terry Huizing photo.

Workshops

On the last two days there were workshops offered on mineral photography by the renowned Jeff Scovil, and workshops on how to contribute to, edit, and improve Mindat, by Mindat's founder and benevolent dictator-for-life, Jolyon Ralph, whom many Mindat users were able to meet in person for the first time. Nine members of Mindat's management team participated in the conference and held a meeting to discuss future plans for the website. The program ended Sunday night with a grand fireworks display put on by the Crystal Days Festival.

Caption: Figure 16. Jeff Scovil conducting his photography workshop. Joanna Gajowniczek photo.

Caption: Figure 17. Dealers setting up their wares in preparation for the Crystal Days Festival. Terry Huizing photo.

Caption: Figure 18. Music on-stage and streetside added to the festivities. Jeff Scovil photo.

Caption: Figure 19. The mayor and local singers, part of the opening day ceremony for the Crystal Days Festival. Terry Huizing photo.

Caption: Figure 20. Everyone loves a parade, especially this one, which wound through the city streets and ended at the huge stage, where more entertainment, a full marching band, and dignitaries awaited. Mindaters queued up with dancing dishes (representing the local ceramic industry), gossamer belly-dancing butterflies, drummers from the Miners Fraternity, the local motorcycle group, and more. Shown is Liam Shofield (left) and Mindat's leader, Jolyon Ralph (right). Holding the Mindat sign is a nine-year-old budding mineral collector from Lwówek Ślaski.

Caption: Figure 21. Also part of the Crystal Days opening ceremony were members of the torch-bearing, red-clad Miners Fraternity. Eyes turned skyward as heralding trumpeters in the town hall tower made the opening official. Terry Huizing photo.

Caption: Figure 22. One of the enormous Strzegom granite quarries visited by collectors. Terry Huizing photo. (For more information on these quarries, see Tomasz Praszkier's article, “A New Find of Topaz in the Strzegom Granites, Poland,” in the July/August 2011 issue of Rocks & Minerals, pages 338–345).

Caption: Figure 23. Mindat manager Rob Woodside caught a flower in the parade. Terry Huizing photo.

Caption: Figure 24. Fireworks marked the end of a memorable conference. Leslie Albin photo.

Parting Thoughts & A Look Ahead

In summary, the title “conference” is rather misleadingly dull for what was really a fast-paced combination of conference with field-collecting and parties—the most fun squeezed into one week that I've had in a long time. I think it would be safe to say, for most participants in the Mindat Conference, that the best thing about it was that it was only the first, and we'll be able to enjoy them every year! The Second International Mindat.org Conference will be held the first week of November 2012 in the town of Midelt, Morocco, brought to you by the same crew that organized the first one in Lwówek Ślaski: Hold that week free on your calendar!

Alfredo Petrov, a geologist, is a dealer in rare minerals and regularly collects in Bolivia and Japan, among other places. He is also a consulting editor of Rocks & Minerals and part of the Mindat.org management team.

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