Tuesday, September 16, 2008

IMAGES IN STONE: Art in Fossils from the Larry Gotuaco Collection

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Images in Stone-Art in Fossils from the Larry Gotuaco Collection

Tucson, Arizona is known for a lot of things, but every third week of January until the second week of February, it plays host to the “Greatest Show on Earth” in the mineral world (Wilson 2004). This is the annual Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase, going on its 55th year. Popularly known as the Gem and Mineral Show, the Tucson Show, or simply “The Show,” the Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Showcase has all the elements of commerce, earth sciences, paleontology, archaeology, technology, art, curating, culture, and crafts. Many of the world’s top private collections and public museums have exhibited here. The fellowship, networking and learning experiences generate so much social and cultural energy amidst the high desert scenery of Tucson. To Bob Jones who has attended it more than 40 times and who wrote about its 50 year history in 2004; “it is the “single most important gem and mineral event in the world.”

The Tucson Show is simultaneously a show, museum tour, exhibition, market, bazaar, swap meet, convention, conference, workshop, party, fiesta, pow-wow, food-fest, and tourist destination that brings together over 50,000 unique visitors, collectors, curators, dealers, buyers, scholars, enthusiasts, tourists, students, artists, even hippies to this three-week event. In 1969, then curator Paul Desautels of the Smithsonian Institution and one of the most active supporters of the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show called it “The New York Stock Exchange of the (mineral) world”. Bob Jones quoted him saying “the price of mineral specimens for the world is more or less set at this show.”

If you want to see the latest mineral find, some of the most exquisite gems, or newly unearth mammoths, the Tucson Show is where you should be. Do fossilized dinosaur molars or coprolite (dung) pique your interest? How about petrified wood? Have you seen a meteorite weighing more than 600 kgs.? How much exotic seashells and corals are from the Philippines? Do you want to know and see what ammonites, crinoids, or trilobites are? There is no other showcase like the Tucson Show and it is something an enthusiast should experience even once.

The recent 2007 Tucson Show had 5,079 exhibitors in 49 individual shows, the most ever not counting the unofficial ones. This year the numbers dipped because of the U.S. recession and the housing meltdown that hit Arizona hard. Nevertheless, these shows were scattered all over the city in banquet halls, foyers, and bedrooms/ suites of hotels, convention centers, parking lots, warehouses, or any available space, security permitting. Most shows are open to the public. An economic impact survey-assessment of the Tucson Show by FMR Associates (2007) estimated total gate attendance at 362,816 buyers, each of whom attended an average 6.6 shows. They estimated unique persons attendance at 55,056, the highest ever and 59% more than the 2000 estimated figure of 34,618 persons. Exhibitors came from 42 states of the United States and 38 countries, while buyers came from 43 different states and 24 different countries. If you want to see globalization localized, the Tucson Show will make for a good study.

Economic Impact

The FMR study (2007) noted that the Tucson Show is an economic juggernaut conservatively contributing over $100 million in direct expenditures to the local economy, up from $76.4 million in 2000. Lodging, food/beverage and in-town transportation expenditures alone amounted to $49,549,718. The estimated tax revenue from the show was $9,057,217 in local taxes paid on $90,206,326 of taxable expenditures. This is an increase of 51.2% from the year 2000 figures. In terms of likelihood of return to Tucson, majority of the majority of exhibitors (63%) and out-of-town buyers (78%) indicated that they will return and/or attend the 2008 Tucson Gem Show. These figures do not include the sales and trades made during the three week period. Further, as many of these sales are wholesale, the multiplier effect of retail sales as well as conversion into artistic pieces or jewelry for sale worldwide are not accounted in this study.

The Tucson Gem and Mineral Society itself has long been active in community affairs, which also helps the local economy and education sector. Proceeds from the Show have assisted the Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona Mineral Museum, the Southern Arizona Regional Science Fair, the Southern Arizona Rescue Association, the American Federation Scholarship Fund, the Tucson Special Olympics, the Arizona Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, the Arthur I. Flagg Memorial Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, Mineralogical Record magazine and Rocks and Minerals magazine. Significant amounts of money have funded scholarships to the Advanced Studies Earth Science Programs at the University of Arizona according to Bob Jones.

Tucson show in Manila!

From Downright with Ammonites

For the last five years, we’ve been fortunate enough to host our godparents who are avid collectors of fossils, petrified wood, and minerals. This couple, Larry and Pat Gotuaco, of San Francisco and Manila, are well-known and highly regarded in the seashells, Chinese blue and white ceramics, and now minerals and fossils collecting worlds. Tito Larry along with Rita Tan and Allison I. Diem are the authors of the much sought after coffee table book, Chinese and Vietnamese Blue and White Wares Found in the Philippines (1997). After assembling a fantastic collection of seashells and Chinese ceramic, he has now focused his attention on the what he calls “God’s Art.” Afterall, he says, “in Chinese blue and white ceramics you can endlessly debate on the age of a ceramic piece, which is of a time period of a few decades to a few hundred years, but in fossils and petrified wood, we’re talking tens to hundreds of millions of years ago.”

Exquisite ammolite up close from Downright with Ammonites"

What really caught the eye of the Gotuacos on their worldwide search and collection of fossils, minerals, and petrified wood is the natural color and beauty of these specimens. No artist, living or dead, can surpass the color combination, structure, and composition of each piece, whether it is a mammoth’s tusk, fossilized dinosaur dung, or the most colorful Arizona petrified wood. Indeed there is beauty in nature that is simply breath taking. Even the processes of fossilization and petrification, wherein organic matter such as bones, felled trees, or even dinosaur dung get buried in sediment for millions of years, with their organic material eventually being replaced by minerals and silica/minerals respectively, are short of awe inspiring.

These specimens though give you another surprise. Get a camera and take a “macro” or close up shot of a small part of the piece and you see the complexity of colors and structure. It is even more beautiful and majestic.

Words, however, will never be able to describe the fiesta atmosphere of the Tucson Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Show. Worse, words do not let you see and feel what these tens of millions of years-old specimens are.

The Gotuacos though are a very generous couple. They are also stalwarts of experiential learning. Since they started collecting, they’ve always dreamed of bringing the Tucson Show to Manila. They saw the value of an exhibit engendering interest in geology, paleontology, archaeology, astronomy (yes, meteors!), and the natural sciences. Filipinos need and deserve these kinds of learning experiences. Thus, despite, initial setbacks, they managed to convince Ayala Museum to exhibit part of their collection.

Images In Stone

Entitled IMAGES IN STONE: Art in Fossils from the Larry Gotuaco Collection, the exhibit opened on 16 September 2008 at the Third Floor Glass Lane, Ayala Museum and will run until November 30. Workshops are being scheduled for macro photographers and even a kids session on collecting this coming September 27. This is a precursor to the book he is writing on petrified wood.

This is one exhibit the family should not miss.

Give yourself an hour or two for the exhibit. Better yet, give yourself half a day to explore the other exhibits and collections at the new Ayala Museum. The Crossroads of Civilization is a must see. For the politically inclined there is the I am Ninoy exhibit.

Bring the family, learn something new, and learn more about your country.

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