A two-day rock show being staged in Augusta this weekend is intended to showcase some real gems, a few old fossils and the apt picking styles of many participants.
The 23rd Annual Rockhounders Gem and Mineral Show is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the National Guard Armory in Augusta.
The show will feature 20 vendors who will offer a variety of rocks, minerals, precious stones and fossils — some in their raw state and others processed by lapidists, who cut, polish and occasionally engrave gemstones for display or to be mounted in jewelry settings or such.
The event is sponsored by the Kennebec Rocks & Minerals Club, a member of the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies and the Eastern Federation of Mineralogical & Lapidary Societies.
According to Kennebec Rocks & Minerals Club treasurer Ron LePage, the club exists to support rockhounding work and education about the pastime.
“Rockhounding is the pursuit or collecting of precious stones, ice crystals or minerals from quarries and mineral-laden areas,” said LePage.
LePage, 65, of Waterville, has been at the hobby since a friend enticed him to go rock collecting in high school. He now has an impressive collection of rocks, crystals and minerals to show for it — most of them peppered about his home for display.
Those specimens range in size from a purple amethyst crystal, the size of a softball, to mineral fragments so tiny you need a microscope to view their beauty.
A retired postal worker, LePage also is owner of the business Ronnate Mineral and Gem Company, which deals with collection and sales of varied rocks and gems discovered in Maine, the nation and the world.
Named for Ron and son Nathan LePage, 36, who shares his passion for rockhounding, the company is a part-time business that both travels to shows and hosts them to purchase and display specimens for their collections.
But Ron rarely sells his own finds. He can’t seem to part with them or the delight at having discovered them.
Ron has been a member of the Kennebec Rocks & Minerals Club and its treasurer since 1988 after a chance stop at the Winthrop Mineral Shop and a chat with its past owner, (the late) Priscilla Chavarie, who gave him an education in rock collecting. Two decades later, Ron enjoys the affiliation for the companionship and the perks that membership affords.
“A big benefit of club membership is the experience you glean from other rock hunters about collection sites,” said Ron. “Our club offers monthly meetings, which are open to the public, and monthly outings (for rock collecting) from May until the snow flies. Another perk is that many of the places we collect from are exclusively accessible to rockhounding clubs who have insurance that protects landowners (from being sued in the event of an accident).”
Many of the sites are discovered by reviewing old prospector maps.
Often, club members search out sites near World War II mining operations that conducted large-scale digs to mine feldspar, used in fertilizer. The excess rocks and debris from those digs were hauled away to dump sites, where mining companies’ trash could now become a rock hound’s treasure.
Carrying picks, shovels, scraper tools, screens, 5-gallon buckets and gloves, LePage and other collectors spend entire days at the sites, turning over rocks, tapping, hammering and scraping to look for vugs (varied-size cavities in rocks that contain gemstones).
“We go to places like Mt. Mica or Mount Marie or mines in Oxford County where we find things like tourmaline, the Maine state gem, or beryl, a gem that ranges from light to dark blue.
“The colors we find are due to the varied minerals present in the rock that seep into cavities and form different shapes and colors over time. The clearer the crystal, the more it’s worth,” he said.
Some of the collection outings are free. Others, including a recent day trip to Mt. Mica in West Paris, are managed by companies like Maine Mineral Adventures, which charges a $25 fee, of which the club pays half.
Regarding this weekend’s show, Ron said, “If it has anything to do with rocks or minerals, likely we’ll have it here.”
Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:
Correction: This story was revised at 10:30 a.m., Aug. 27, 2012, to state that admission to the 23rd Annual Rockhounders Gem and Mineral Showis $2 per person and includes automatic entry into raffles for a variety of door prizes.