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James Madison University Mineral Museum
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John S. White
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PostPosted: Nov 07, 2021 10:19    Post subject: James Madison University Mineral Museum  

What follows is a report about a celebration written by my very good friend from Baltimore, Maryland, Jake Slagle. Jake started a blog about minerals in 2009 ( http://mineralbliss.blogspot.com ) and his report of this celebration is his most recent effort. The event was the Grand Re-opening of the James Madison University’s Mineral Museum, now featuring the extraordinary Peter L. Via mineral collection. Via was a stay-at-home collector. Mineral dealers would go to him (mostly) or mail specimens to him. As he had a reputation for spending very large sums of money on minerals, specimens offered were usually quite exceptional. He was a remarkably generous donor to a wide variety of beneficiaries including the American Saddlebred (horses) Museum, hospitals in Roanoke, Virginia, where he lived, the local SPCA, the Virginia Technical University and (previously) individual mineral specimens to James Madison University.
It is a special event when a sizable group of mineral collectors gathers to be the first to view a large selection of world class minerals. Recently attracting such a crowd was the $16,800,000 former Peter Via collection at the James Madison University Mineral Museum in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
The collection had never left Mr. Via's private home in Roanoke until after his death in 2018. His bequeathal of it to JMU was the largest gift the University has ever received. Because of Covid, a grand reopening event by invitation only at the museum’s new home had to be rescheduled from April 2020 to October 29, 2021.
The crowd poured into the Lower Drum of JMU's modern Festival Conference and Student Center on its East Campus. With leaves approaching peak color, it was a prime time of year to be in the area. Torrential rain and westbound traffic backed up for numerous miles on I-81 West were less cooperative.
Notwithstanding, the number of mineral aficionados that managed to attend the event was substantial. After a short walk from easy parking, guests wound their way downstairs to a large visitor-filled room where volunteers at a check- in table handed out pre-printed tags. Penned onto each was a number referring to the group with which the holder could enter the museum. Wine and a few snacks were available to everyone. Down a short hallway, a designated group stood waiting to enter the exhibit room entrance after a previous group exited.
Unlike others who were present, this writer had by special arrangement been able to visit Mr. Via at his home in Roanoke and see this amazing collection. I had photographed as many specimens as time allowed and also had an opportunity to chat with Mr. Via in his den about his mineral collecting philosophy.
Mineral Bliss's October 27, 2014, post, “Unbelievable but True the World Class Personal Collection of Peter Via" resulted from that visit. Subsequently, Dr. Lance Kearns, JMU's Emeritus Professor of Geology and Curator of the Museum, with his wife Cindy, a current geology professor at JMU, spent time with Mr. Via during the period when the latter decided to bequeath his collection to the university.
When the Via collection arrived, the world-famous mineral photographer Jeff Scovil went to work with his camera. Also involved was Wendell Wilson, the Publisher and Editor-in-chief of Mineralogical Record. He personally authored a 23-page article about the collection that appeared in that publication’s September-October 2020 edition. At present, numerous images of the specimens are available online in association with a brief video narrated by Dr. Kearns.
Lance and Cindy Kearns were immediately inside the museum door as guests entered. When I greeted Lance, he mentioned that the 2014 Mineral Bliss’s post had prompted the discussions leading to the bequest of this amazing collection to James Madison University.
The specimens intermingle with the larger collection that Dr. Kearns describes as "a composite of five collections." Prior to owning the Via specimens, JMU had always displayed specimens in systematic suites based on chemical composition and atomic structure. While the systematic arrangement remains largely in place, many of the Via specimens are arranged in different kinds of small groups, especially when based on visual qualities of a given species or genre. In addition to specimens on display, JMU owns 1770 catalogued specimens in storage. Some will undoubtedly be candidates for rotation into the display.
At its past locations on campus the James Madison University Mineral Museum was well known and worth a stop. With the addition of the Peter Via collection, it has been transformed into what Dr. Kearns describes as a "Destination Collection.” It means that people will now be traveling to James Madison University from far and wide for the sole purpose of viewing its mineral museum. Museum hours will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 am to 3 pm.
By the way, the wearing of masks by the attendees was required

Some of the guests
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John S. White
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