With a name like the Tampa Bay Mineral and Science Club, you may think it’s a group of people that come together to look at rocks under microscopes, but that’s far from what this club is about. If anything, the TBMSC is more about art and craft, serving as a place for people to take classes to learn the lapidary -- the art of cutting stones -- and metalsmithing.
Though this organization has been around since 1957, its mission has changed slightly from its original inception. The founders of the TBMSC, Kenneth MacKintosh and R. D. Arkwright, initially started this club because they had been collecting petrified coral specimens from Ballast Point, cutting, and selling it internationally, which gained notoriety for this special, very localized material. Though people aren’t permitted collect coral from this site anymore, the club itself grew and morphed from focusing on coral to now rocks, craft, and rock craft.
“When people take vacations, they go rockhounding in other states and want to do something with their rocks. We are one of the only clubs that has a permanent facility that still has an open shop. Through the pandemic, most clubs are shut down because they have to rent space which is sad. We are lucky that we have our own place with the support of a few benefactors,” explains Gerri Lundergan, President of the Tampa Bay Mineral and Science Club.
Because there is a lack of local opportunities to study and learn the art of lapidary, they’ve had students come from as far away as Gainesville, Sarasota, Orlando, and even Naples. Through the pandemic, they have been holding smaller classes with safety measures in place. Courses range from faceting to precious metal clay to gem trees and last for 3-4 hours, giving students the chance to get hands-on experience, ask questions, and meet other artists with a passion for rocks.
While most of the club is run by an over 50 crowd, they are working on outreach to get younger people in the clubhouse.
“We have all of these people with knowledge, as we need to pass that on to the next generation,” Lundergan says.
One way they reach out to the community is through their annual Fall Show, but they have now set up their First Annual Hot Rocks, Cool Gems Spring Show at the Sadye Gibbs Martin Community Center in Plant City from March 20-21, featuring 135 vendors and making it even bigger than their Fall Show.
“Because all other shows have been cut off due to the pandemic, we have vendors coming from places like Ohio. Everyone is excited to be showing again, and we gain new members every time we have a show. Some people still don’t know that we’re here,” says Lundergan. “Many people have kids who love rocks and get them a tumbler, but then what do you do with it? Right now, people need a place to go with something do with like-minded people.”
To learn more, visit the Tampa Bay Mineral and Science Club website or follow the Club on Facebook.
Disclosure: The author of this story is a new member of the TBMSC.