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May-June 2016

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In Memoriam: Cynthia Czapek Barnes Payne (1920–2015)

Cynthia Czapek was born on 21 October 1920, in Passaic, New Jersey, the third daughter of Emil and Sarah Czapek. Emil, a photo engraver by trade, was an immigrant from Poland; Sarah came from a farming family in Romania. The Czapek family made their home in Totowa, New Jersey, and the girls were all born in the States.

Although there is no indication that Cynthia ever obtained a degree, she had at least one year of college, and her knowledge of mineralogy, while largely self-taught, was extensive. Like many amateurs, her interest in mineralogy began with an initial dip into jewelry making. During classes, she learned that her knowledge of the materials she was working with was woefully inadequate, and on the advice of a classmate, she joined two of the local clubs: the Gem and Lapidary Society of the District of Columbia, and the Mineralogical Society of the District of Columbia (MSDC). As she later recounted, she got the bug at that time, in the early 1950s. She was well into minerals by the time of her first Eastern Federation of Mineralogical and Lapidary Societies (EFMLS) Convention in 1958, but she was really hooked when she came across Philip Cosminsky (Micromounters' Hall of Fame, 1984) with his microscope at the annual show of the Gem and Lapidary Society. He told her to look through his microscope, and that settled things: she took up micromounting.

By 1962, she had become the treasurer of the MSDC and was expanding into other duties in other organizations, among them a loose collection of micromount enthusiasts in the area of Washington, D.C. She married her first husband, Warring Barnes, in 1964. Warring was a superb craftsman who even made small optical pieces for NASA, so he and Cynthia matched beautifully. In characteristic fashion, she also threw herself into working with mineral groups, eventually helping to talk Paul Desautels of the Smithsonian Institution into teaching a weekly class in crystallography. At the end of the course, Paul suggested that the group continue, and as most were micromounters, they formed the Micromineralogists of the National Capital Area (MNCA) in 1967.

The MNCA first met in members' homes, but in 1969 she and Warring expanded their house on Iroquois Road in Glen Echo Heights, Maryland, and acquired a pool table. A sheet of plywood atop the pool table made a great space for microscopes, and a home for the MNCA was born. From that point on most meetings of the group took place at her home until 1990, when the MNCA outgrew the venue. Her husband also died in December of that year.

In terms of the MNCA, Cynthia was president for six years (over three separate sessions) and vice president for four. She also spent time as speaker chair for their annual conferences and performed a myriad of other actions on behalf of the group, including filming every annual conference.

Micromounting, of course, was merely the icing on the cake. Cynthia served as a museum technician in the Department of Mineral Sciences of the Natural History Museum, Smithsonian Institution, from 1979 to 1984 and as a volunteer in the same section for at least ten years. She was assistant to the managing editor of the American Mineralogist from 1977 to 1979, and her coauthored article (with P. J. Dunn and P. B. Leavens) titled “Magnesioaxinite from Luning, Nevada, and Some Nomenclature Designations for the Axinite Group” was published in the February 1980 issue of the Mineralogical Record.

In her spare time, for the EFMLS she was education and program aids committee chair from 1960 to 1962, geology field trip chair in 1985, and a uniform rules committee member. For the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (AFMS), she served as a judge for education, minerals, and nomenclature and was also on the uniform rules committee. Together with Micromounters' Hall of Fame member Ruth Cole Wertz, she published the AFMS Uniform Rules book in 1965. At the EFMLS conventions, she distinguished herself by taking six first-place rankings for her mineral displays—novice (1963), advanced (1964), trophy master (1965), advanced (1992), advanced (1993), and master (1996). She also earned the Eastern Citation Award in 1963.

A major contribution through the years was to the EFMLS Wildacres Workshops in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. There, she taught micromounting for seven years, worked on the Wildacres committee for nine years, and designed the Wildacres patch and pin. Even as ALS, the disease that slowly robbed her of mobility, took hold, she still made the effort to reach Wildacres until 2013.

Meanwhile, she had met and married Clarence Payne, a civil engineer and cartographer. Together, they attended mineral events, even into Canada, until his death in 2011. To top things off, she was inducted into the Micromounters' Hall of Fame herself in 2006. She died on 15 November 2015, only twenty-five days after her well-celebrated ninety-fifth birthday. Wherever she may be now, she is no doubt saying to someone, “Look into my microscope!”


I am indebted to Susan Fisher, Kathy Hrechka, and Carolyn Weinberger for providing information and to John S. White for reviewing the tribute.

Quintin Wight is the author of The Complete Book of Micromounting (Mineralogical Record, 1993).

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