Growing Up ROCKS - Lauren Megaw's Mineral Story
Growing Up as a Young Competitive Mineral Collector
By Lauren Megaw
I grew up in a household filled with minerals, books, and records. My father, Peter Megaw, is one of the largest squirrels - in every sense of the word - around, and in my case insanity didn’t skip a generation for I too fell in love with collecting. Collecting is and was something that I did with my Dad. We went to yard sales where I honed my “eye” looking for items that others felt they didn’t want that I could make into my own or another’s treasure. But the most important collecting activity for me in becoming a young mineral collector was when my Dad would come home from a trip to some faraway place and bring back a shoe box or banana box filled with minerals. After dinner, I would sit on the concrete steps leading down to my father’s office and we would unwrap the minerals from their toilet paper cocoons. It was like Christmas, but multiple times a year, and it wasn’t just because of the easily identified similarities to the holiday, but more because it was time that I got to spend with my father. I had my Dad all to myself for a couple of hours, talking about the minerals, learning the names, talking about where they came from, what made one better than the other, and if I was lucky my Dad would allow me to select a specimen for my “When I’m six” box. The specimens in that box were more than just the best specimens in my collection, waiting for me to be old enough to fully appreciate them, they were also representative of the moments with my father. The danburite became more than a clear pale-pink crystal, it was the adventure of mineral deals in distant Mexico. What I learned through all of this was how to handle minerals, how to treat minerals with respect, how to identify minerals on sight and how to use my nifty hand lens for the trickier ones. This time spent with my Dad morphed into something else: a love for the minerals themselves. The specimens had relationships with each other and with me, and by extension myself and other people’s collections. When I saw other people’s mineral collections, I saw specimens that were relatives to pieces in my own collection.
When I was six, I walked into a sales room at Tucson and found myself in a room full of rhodochrosite; big strawberry jello cubes (rhombohedrons I later learned), and I wanted one! I informed my father that, and he told me that I was going to have to save up a lot to get one. These after all were not vanadinite crystals from Morocco, calcite from Mexico, or pyrite from Spain, they were rarer and finer specimens with much larger price tags. So I put out an ad in Mineral News for “Armchair Micro-Mineral Field Trips to Mexico,” where for $35 dollars I would send the buyer 10 samples of micro-minerals from Mexican localities that my Dad brought home from regional prospecting there. The mineral community embraced the idea of a 6 year old selling minerals (and hustling as a young mineral collector) and by the next Tucson I had the enough money to go and buy my very own Sweet Home rhodochrosite.
That year I also got my first display case, and I was going to compete at the Tucson Gem and Mineral show! First though, I had to be worthy of competing. I had to learn the names and locality of all the specimens in my case. Then (at the age of seven) I had to be able to spell the specimen names. That means that when my hardest spelling word at school was transportation, I also had to be able to properly spell rhodochrosite. My Dad and I went to the fabric store and talked the pros and cons of different colors and textures of fabric and I made liners for my two foot display at TGMS. We sat down and my Dad helped me type up the labels with proper localities for my specimens. But most importantly I had to select my “team.” These were the specimens that I was going to compete with, they were going to have to work together to win the trophy. Sitting on my father’s lap we went through and discussed the strengths of the different specimens I had, picking the specimens to display on the main floor of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. We set up a mock case using my liners on the kitchen counter, and I arranged them, determining “dancing partners” - pieces that balanced and accentuated each other- and discussing the merits of each piece. With liners ready in large black garbage bags, a bag of towels to put on the concrete floor of the convention center (in case of butterfingers), Windex, a giant roll of paper towels, a lint roller, a folder full of labels, two flats of minerals and my setup mentors, I received my case assignment and descend the elevator to the main floor.
Because my Dad was exhibits chairman of the show and set up day was - and continues to be- rather busy for him, I had “Aunt” Mary and “Uncle” Jim to help me set up my case. They were marvelous at it too, not by telling me what to do, but rather by asking the right questions and making strategic comments: “Where would it look better?”, “Minerals look better in rainbows than rows”, and “You might want to check the spelling on Fluorite”. By the end of the day I had filled out the 22 slots in my judging sheet running left to right with properly spelled mineral names (see the above comment); put the minerals in their spots; eradicated errant pieces of dirt, lint and fuzz; cleaned the glass front of the case until it shone; and took a photo with my helpers, complete with my missing teeth. That Friday at my parents mineral show party, I began the tradition of bothering Les Presmyk about whether he knew who had won. That year I did.
I would go on to compete for another 11 years. Those who came to the Saturday night auction and awards ceremony watched me grow up from accepting my award with my hands in my mouth (hey, I was seven), falling on my face as I tripped on the edge of the stage (hey, I was nine), to wearing a dress and heels that magically changed into Converse tennies (hey, I was seventeen). I spent six years competing in Juniors and Junior masters, taking the input from the judges to help me build a better collection. Finally Les Presmyk (who presented at the 2014 Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium) bumped me up to the adult divisions where I would go on to compete, and win, in Novice, Intermediate and Masters. Competing gave me a good way to track the progression of my collection: I had a numerical way to tell how much I had grown in a year as well as feedback on the specimens that I had acquired. It also helped me gauge when I had outgrown a piece and that it had reached the end of its time on “the team”.
While those trophies were great, the true prize was the exposure of my collection to the mineral community that made competing amazing. Let me clarify, it was having adults engage me about my collection. Collectors, mineral dealers and curators tell me “I saw your collection on display. I really liked your ___”. It made me feel like a part of the community, not just as the daughter of Peter Megaw, but as a collector in my own right. It was this feeling of inclusion in the community that helped solidify my love for collecting. I learned through competition that collecting isn’t just about the minerals, but also about the people that are associated with those minerals.
Without competing I probably would not be pursuing a degree in Geological Sciences at Stanford. Seriously, I wouldn’t have been able to forge the relationships and opportunities that helped me get here. For instance, I wouldn’t have been involved with Blue Cap Production’s initial “The New Crystal Hunters” in Pala. During which I discovered that not only am I passionate about minerals, but fascinated by the mining operations that get them out of the ground as well. My fellow kid collector and best friend even joined me for the “Smoky Hawk” edition in Colorado digging for amazonite and we had so much fun! Hopefully some kids were inspired by the movies, it would make the embarrassment of hours of captured gawkiness worth it (hey, I was 14!). Collecting shaped much of my childhood, so its not surprising that my college admissions essay was about collecting at the Rogerly Mine in Weardale. At the University of Arizona I conducted an independent study in optical mineralogy, and even did the optical measurements for the new mineral yangite under the watchful eye of Stan Evans and Bob Downs (Dallas Mineral Collecting Symposium speaker in 2013). The summer before my junior year in high school, I even interned at the Harvard Mineral Museum working with the amazing Carl Francis. My work with the Elwood P. Hancock collection culminated in my putting together an exhibit, of some of the better pieces from the collection, at the TGMS the following year. These opportunities would not have existed without competing, and now with the distance of a couple of years, I can see the extent of impact these opportunities had on me and how they’ve led me to pursuing a education and career related to the minerals I love.
There are many individuals that stand out prominently in my journey into mineral collecting, and one of them is (Dr.) Rob Lavinsky. I had met him here and there, and all I really knew about him was that he seemed to have a tremendous amount of energy. My first real interaction with Rob was during my search for a San Pedro Corralitos mimetite (I had loved my father’s piece since I was little) and it just so happened that Rob had some that year (circa 2002?). I went to his small booth at the main show with my mineral savings and the $75 I won with the Junior Master’s trophy, and he pulled a flat of bright yellow mimetite from under the table. Dr. Lavinsky - being a former child collector himself - gave me an incredible deal on that specimen which to this day sits in my display. That however was not the most amazing impact that Dr. Rob had on my collection - as many dealers in the community are known for giving good deals to budding collectors (thank you!). Rather, it would be what he did two years later at the Awards Ceremony of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.
Rob had been mentored through his youth in the hobby by well-known collector Carlton Davis and Neal and Chris Pfaff (*two dealers from Ohio where he grew up working for them). That year, Carlton had passed away and he was putting together an award for Junior mineral collectors in his honor, through working with Les Presmyk on the show committee. It was a cash prize to the best Junior-aged competitive exhibit at Tucson. $500 to first, $300 to second and $100 to every single kid that competed. Before I go into how this award was important to me there are some elements that I need to point out that make this award extraordinary. First, it was junior aged, not Junior competition, which meant that even though I was competing at the adult Novice level, I still qualified. It means that a kid who is willing and able to put in the effort to compete with the adults still receives the boon of being a child for putting in the effort.
Second, that the award is a considerable amount of money (especially to a young mineral collector), it is enough to buy a new specimen or make a serious addition to the new specimen savings. Third, that it was actual real money and not a gift certificate to Arkenstone. You could spend it on anything and anywhere! In the five years that I won the award, I only once used that money towards a specimen I bought from Rob (a very cute little chalcocite from Cornwall), but those checks allowed me to tremendously improve my collection. Having access to $500 makes a huge difference in the level of specimens that a kid can buy. The other incredible thing has to be the way it brought other kids into competition. My first year competing I was the only kid; by the first year the award was given there were 3, my last year competing there were 6 kids, and last year there were 9. Competing against other kids and getting to know other child collectors is an important facet to having kids continue to collect; it is way more fun to compete against other kids than scoring a minimum number of points. The first year the award was given I found myself grinning between my best friend Nora - who had just won the inaugural first place award- and her little brother both of whom I had gotten into collecting. We spent the next day running around the floor looking at specimens and plotting about what amazing new specimen we were each going to add to our own collections!
What it boils down to though, is that Dr. Rob has made the investment to foster the next generation of young mineral collectors and I know that personally I will forever be grateful. My last year competing I walked away from the Awards Banquet with Lidstrom, Desautels and an envelope from Rob (and this time I was much taller than he was, on stage). I had just won the awards for the best single specimen and best case in competition! At 17, I was by far the youngest to do so, and it was a feat that I would not have been able to accomplish without the predecessors of that envelope. So when I opened that envelope and found instead of a the usual check, a note saying “You’re too old!” (it just as easily could have said “You’re too tall!”) I couldn’t help but grin. The next day when I tracked Rob down at his booth, he handed me a new envelope and told me he was proud of me. While I might physically tower over Rob, he is someone that I look up to and while he may have been proud of me, I was tremendously grateful to him because while I couldn’t have won those awards without the support of my family and the mineral community as a whole. I definitely couldn’t have done it without the money that I had won through those awards. That money helped me create the collection that I have today, as I hope it will help those kids who are competing this year, and the next, and the year after that. It’s an incredible investment in young collectors, in the future of the hobby, and its future growth. So here’s to you Rob and all the other mentors out there - Thanks.