(ROCKWALL, TX — September 26, 2018) For the past 13 years, Rockwall residents Jim and Gail Spann have poured their passion into building a fine mineral collection that has to be seen to believed.
The Spanns have some of Earth’s rarest minerals and rocks beautifully displayed in rooms all over their spacious Rockwall home. It’s a massive collection, with more than 12,300 rocks and minerals sitting delicately in over 70 gorgeous display cases throughout the residence.
“Most new collectors want minerals and rocks with vivacious color. We have those, but we also like the things that are scientifically significant,” Gail said. “Our collection is one of a kind because it consists of rare worldwide minerals and rocks of all sizes.”
The Spanns recently invited well-known mineral collectors, miners, museum curators, and scientists to peruse their vast collection in an event they host each year: Brunch with a Crunch.
Brunch with a Crunch
On Aug. 26, the Spanns welcomed over 200 guests to view their state-of-the-art mineral collection during their 11th Annual Brunch with a Crunch soiree. The invitation-only event brought together mineral collectors from all over the world to enjoy good eats, fun socializing and the nearly-overwhelming amount of marvelous minerals on display.
Gail said she loves hosting and introducing people she knows or has met before to their private home mineral collection.
“Our desire is to have Earth Science be something exciting for people,” Gail said.
The Spanns recently added 9,000 square feet to their home for entertaining and to accommodate their fast-growing collection of minerals. The collection houses some of their rarest rocks and award-winning displays, with rocks the size of a thumbnail to those as large as a boulder.
The Spanns generously donate and loan their pieces to private museums all over the country. They currently have 82 pieces on loan at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, where Gail serves on the Board of Directors. The Spanns played a large part in designing and incorporating the Lyda Hill Gems and Minerals Hall at the museum.
Gail educates visitors of the Lyda Hill Gems and Minerals Hall as a museum docent every Wednesday morning; She loves relaying the stories of how the rocks were mined and came to be displayed at the museum.
“These aren’t your typical rocks from a rock garden. These are pieces that come from all over the world that someone worked hard to extract, and somebody else worked hard to clean them and prep them. Each mineral touches so many lives until it gets to the person who owns it,” Gail said.
From Bike Racing to Mineral Collecting
Looking at the display cases chockful of extravagant rocks in the Spanns’ home, it’s hard to believe that at one point in time, they knew hardly anything about minerals. In fact, it was bike racing, not mineral collecting, that brought the two together. Gail was a state champion mountain and road bike racer. Jim was also a longtime mountain bike racer and road cyclist. Gail served as the Chair of BikeTexas, a nonprofit bicycle education and advocacy organization whose mission is advancing bicycle access, safety, and education. She also served as Chair of the League of American Bicyclists, a national organization based in Washington, D.C.
Their lives had been all about bike racing, and the two even honeymooned at the Tour de France.
Then one day 13 years ago, they walked into the Cultural Hall of Gems and Minerals at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, and their lives forever changed. They absolutely fell in love with the beautiful crystals and gemstones on display. Gail found herself particularly drawn to a mineral on display from a mine in Mexico known as Wulfenite. She said she kept circling back to it, and wanted to learn more about it. So she went home and did a little online research on Wulfenite.
What happened next, she said, will forever go down in the history of the Spanns.
“I leaned back in my chair and yelled out to my husband, ‘Hey honey – you can buy this stuff!’ And so we did,” Gail said.
Building Their Collection
The Spanns started participating in online auctions, where they would win various minerals and rocks. The rocks would always come with labels which told all kinds of information about them, including where they were found and who owned them before. Many of the minerals they acquired through auctions were shipped from The Arkenstone in Richardson, Texas – one of the largest, most diverse collectible mineral supply dealers in the world.
The owner, Dr. Robert Lavinsky, began to take notice that many of his rocks were being shipped to the Spann’s home in Rockwall. Since The Arkenstone was only about 30 minutes from Rockwall, he decided to invite the Spanns for a tour. There, Jim and Gail saw their first ever mineral display case complete with the beautiful lighting and bases with the minerals’ names on them.
They started purchasing pieces from The Arkenstone and other mineral dealers to build their collection – the beginnings of a new hobby which would eventually become a way of life for the Spanns.
Gail, who’s also an artist and used to own an art gallery, said she was shocked that she had never known about minerals – what she calls nature’s own version of art.
“I didn’t know about nature’s art. I only knew about manmade art,” Gail said. “That was an eye-opener for me. The art world is about people’s concepts, and nature just blew me away because it was in many ways better than manmade art.”
Immersed in the Mineral Collecting Culture
Soon word began to spread about Jim and Gail’s ever-growing collection of rare rocks. Lavinsky had renowned collectors from across the country calling him and asking to be introduced to the Spanns. Through dinners at their home with these well-known collectors, Jim and Gail began learning more about minerals than they ever imagined. The collectors offered to critique their pieces, teaching them some invaluable knowledge on minerals and mineral collecting.
It wasn’t long before the Spanns soon became involved in the local mineral collecting scene. Lavinsky introduced them to a group of mineral collectors known as the Mineralogical Association of Dallas. They were invited to become members of the group, and soon began familiarizing themselves with others from the DFW mineral collecting community.
As members, Jim and Gail were able to tour the private collections of others in the group, and hear from guest speakers at meetings telling of exciting adventures extracting minerals from mines and mountains in faraway places across the globe. The experience taught them a lot about the nuances of mineral collecting, and how widespread the practice has been throughout history.
“There’s very few collecting habits that have been involved throughout all cultures of the world, but rock collecting has,” Gail said. “Every culture, every ancient culture, collected rocks.”
Mineral Digging Exploits
The Spanns often love to get their hands dirty and go digging for minerals in mines, mountains and underground caverns.
Gail recalled one of their most fascinating finds on a digging expedition in a mountain in Bingham, New Mexico. Jim and Gail were invited to explore the mountain for minerals alongside a group of longtime collectors. Gail said the atmosphere inside the mountain was very dry, and about 20 degrees cooler than the outside. The main cavern held numerous crystals encased in hard limestone. This made it nearly impossible to extract them without shattering the crystals. While the rest of the group busied themselves with the crystals in the main cavern, Gail and Jim found a narrow tunnel off the main cavern. Clad in helmets, thick jeans, steel toed boots, gloves, elbow and knee pads, they crawled on their hands and knees. After some time, Gail came across a tiny crack in the stone.
“I lay on my side and I could only lift my head six inch-es,” Gail said. “I took my chisel and hammer, and I opened a pocket of incredible purple and blue fluorite cubic crystals, a lead mineral called Galena, and the little shiny druse quartz crystals which made it sparkle all over. When I looked in there with my lamp I thought, I just found buried treasure.”
Gail said the group could keep whatever they found – within reason. After harvesting most of the minerals in the pocket, Jim and Gail made their way back out of the mountain. Along the way, Jim discovered another rare find: the beautiful deep blue mineral called Linarite. That same Linarite can be seen on display at the Spanns’ home.
The Story Behind the Rock
Most all of the rocks and minerals at the Spann home have a captivating story of how they were mined. For the Spanns, that’s the true joy of being mineral collectors: to share the story and science behind the rock. They want nothing more than for people to learn and become excited about rocks and minerals.
“We want people to fall in love with the beauty and science of minerals just as we did 13 years ago,” Gail said.
Story and photos by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News.
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