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March-April 2016

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In Memoriam: Arthur Tracey Grant Jr. (1925–2015)

If ever a person's legacy could be said to be “written in stone,” it may well be that of legendary gem cutter Arthur Tracey Grant Jr., who passed away on 24 September 2015 in Richmond, Kentucky. A visit to our nation's venerable Smithsonian Institution is hardly complete without viewing some of the largest and most magnificent gemstones in the world, including several record-holding stones faceted by Art: nine by his own count. Perhaps the most famous of these on display as part of our National Gem Collection are the 3,965-carat blue fluorite known as “Big Blue” from Hardin County, Illinois, and the 1,800-carat twinned calcite from Balmat, New York, both gifts from two of Art's most enthusiastic patrons, Doris and Harold Dibble. These are notable not least of all for being the largest faceted examples of their species known today.

Although his magnificent gemstones will permanently reflect his accomplishments in the gem and mineral world, even to those who never met him, he was so much more to those who knew him well. Art was a member of the so-called Greatest Generation, those who served in World War II and whose ranks are diminishing each day at an alarming rate. By all accounts, Art embodied the spirit of that generation, living a long life devoted to family and those around him. Born in Stamford, Connecticut, on 20 September 1925 to the late Arthur Sr. and Marion Burns Grant, Art enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from high school and served as a tail gunner based in England. After the war, he enrolled in the State University of New York, Cortland, and earned a degree in physical education. He taught and coached for thirty-three years, most of them at Hannibal Central School in Hannibal, New York, earning honors and becoming charter president of the New York State Elementary Physical Education Association (Stripp 1988). Married in 1950, he and his beloved wife, Jane Springston, raised five children in this small upstate New York town of which he also served as mayor at one time.

In 1970 John Lenhard, another resident of Hannibal, taught him to cut his first stone, and not long after that he was encouraged to attempt cutting exotic gem materials by Elvis “Buzz” Gray of California who provided him with rough with which to experiment (Stripp 1988). In 1987 Art helped found Coast to Coast Rarestones with fellow Rochester Mineralogical Symposium alumni John Bradshaw and Mike Gray, an enterprise that later grew to include his daughter Nancy and, eventually, Brad Wilson. According to Nancy, her father was always affectionately known as “The Old Guy” by the rest of the Coasters (as they were called) and was their resident “schmoozer,” as he loved to talk to everyone. He was also known as “Mr. Fluorite” because of the many fluorites, sourced from numerous localities, that he then faceted, including the “Big Blue.”

Art was well known for opening the door to faceting for others. This generosity, enthusiasm, and encouraging nature were universally admired by those who came to know him. In her 1988 Lapidary Journal article, “The Soft Touch,” Dorothy M. Stripp wrote (p. 22) that Art gave “full credit to prominent mineralogists like William Pinch, Charles Key and Paul Desautels for educating him in the field of mineralogy.” She further relates from Carl Francis that “one of Grant's finest traits is his willingness to share information. He has learned so much from others and feels that he should share the results of his experimentations” (Stripp 1988, p. 22). Facetors Brad Wilson and Jay Medici, as well as others whom Art mentored, have expressed deep gratitude for his willingness to share techniques and tricks essential to being able to work fragile minerals.

Of the many testaments contributed, I would like to share the following sent to me by Susan and George Robinson (pers. comm., 2015): “We knew him for many years and were amazed that his worn, rounded fingers could create such beautiful cut gems. Art could work his magic with nearly any mineral you gave him, and we always enjoyed seeing his displays of recently cut stones at many of the larger mineral shows in the United State. He was a pioneer in developing new techniques for cutting and polishing soft, heat-sensitive stones. He never bragged about what he created and always was friendly and approachable. Art was a great guy to know, and we have missed seeing him these many years after he stopped going to shows and moved from the area.”

Longtime friend Rochester Mineralogical Symposium's Steve Chamberlain expressed the thoughts of many (pers. comm., 2015): “Art Grant was a warm, very bright person with a great sense of humor and ultimate gem-cutting skills. He went out of his way to avoid cutting collectible crystals, preferring broken pieces as rough. We shall all miss him.”

Art Grant was indeed a living legend among his colleagues and in the wider gem world. Many personal stories were shared with me about this generous and remarkable man, too numerous to include all here, but giving me a deeper appreciation for this man whose legacy is written not only in stone, but also in the hearts of many.

REFERENCE

Stripp, D. M. 1988. The soft touch. Lapidary Journal 41 (September): 20–22.

Elise A. Skalwold, BSc, is an Accredited Senior Gemologist and author involved in curating and research at her alma mater, Cornell University.

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