Dead center in the Lyda Hill Gems and Minerals Hall sits the newest prize landed by the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. A cluster of people at yesterday’s media event timidly kept a safe 5-foot distance from the shiny new acquisition. The room was quiet as Daniel Trinchillo, president of Fine Minerals International and mineral dealer for Lyda Hill, recounted to a camera crew the story behind the 64.3-pound, 2-foot-tall fluorite and quartz mineral specimen. Hill herself happily shook hands with people as she rained down the praise on her latest purchase, The Eyes of Africa. The mineral got its name from the cluster of green and black Alien Eye Fluorites.
Ten years ago, in the Erongo region of Namibia, head miner Herold Gariseb and his small team of discovered the Alien Eye pocket, so named because it was full of minerals that resemble glowing green eyes in cube-shaped form. That’s where Gariseb unearthed The Eyes of Africa. He knew right away that he’d found something quite rare. It would later be acknowledged as one of the largest such specimens. Fearful that the mineral would be stolen from his home, Gariseb tucked it away in the trunk of his car to keep it safe.
At the time, American mineral collectors Mark Kielbasa and Jurgen Tron were in a neighboring region. The collectors caught wind of the major find, hearing that it was stashed in the trunk of a white Mercedes. The men drove around for 10 days, following leads from locals, and eventually spotted Gariseb’s car parked in front of his house. They made a deal with Gariseb that he couldn’t refuse.
The collectors’ next task was to bring the huge mineral back to the States in one piece. So they bought 400 diapers and used them to pack the mineral into a 30-gallon tub and then into a 55-gallon oil drum. They shipped it off toward home.
“Unconventional, but the diapers worked,” said Mark Pospisil, adjunct curator of minerals, as the sparkly rock glinted from its backlighting at the Perot. Though cagey about the price Hill paid for the piece, Pospisil did allude to the small number of wealthy elite that are drawn to such items. He called The Eyes of Africa a “Monet or Van Gogh of minerals.” Figure the cost accordingly.
Hill is as excited about minerals as any other wealthy collector, but she differs in one big way. Her curiosity about such natural treasures drives her to want to share that interest. When most collectors would stash away such a prize, Hill acquires them for the purpose of sharing. She said yesterday that if she didn’t have a place like the Perot, where she could share these finds with the public, then she wouldn’t be interested in buying. “There’s no point in my having something like that sitting at home,” she said.
Hill has had an interest in nature, science, and, yes, rocks since she was a child. She bounced around happily when asked about her passion, gesturing at the mineral, saying, “I just like nature, and nature is cool. Nature makes this stuff. Humans can’t make this stuff. This is all nature!”
She stood next to The Eyes of Africa to take a picture with the Perot’s new CEO, Linda Abraham-Silver. Hill smiled and laughed in each photo, pointing at the rock and giving a thumbs-up while the photographer asked if they could take just one normal photo, but Hill replied that the new signature piece of the Perot Museum was too amazing for her to stand still.
The two women fussed over the rock as if it were a newborn infant, and Abraham-Silver whispered that she just wanted to touch it so badly. Hill encouraged her to go for it. “Why not?” she said.
Museum-goers won’t have that opportunity. The Eyes of Africa is now on display at the Perot, safely ensconced in its glass case. No diapers needed.
Isabella Nucci is a D Magazine summer intern.