As RockFest’s coordinator for nearly 20 years, Mary Vinson has enjoyed seeing the event transform from a “little rock show” into an elaborate two-day offering. Celebrating its 29th year, RockFest will be presented today and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Tellus Science Museum.
“RockFest began 29 years ago when we were the Weinman Mineral Museum,” said Vinson, Tellus' director of guest services and operations. "At that time it was called Rock Swap and dealers would sell rocks and minerals that they had personally collected. Instead of the nice tent setup we have now, they would sell them out of the trunks of their cars or on tarps on the ground.
“I think they would normally have about six or seven dealers attend, whereas this year we will have 27 dealers. Most of these dealers participate in mineral shows all over the United States. We feel fortunate that so many of them keep returning to our show year after year.”
An expansion of the former Weinman Mineral Museum, Tellus opened at 100 Tellus Drive in Cartersville in January 2009 and became a Smithsonian affiliate during its first year.
Along with the Collins Family My Big Backyard, the 120,000-square-foot museum is comprised of three other main galleries — Millar Science in Motion, Weinman Mineral Gallery and the Fossil Gallery — a 120-seat digital planetarium, solar house and observatory.
As noted by Vinson, RockFest will feature 27 dealers — 10 inside the museum and 17 situated on its back lawn. The dealers will showcase a variety of genealogy-related specimens, such as fossils, jewelry, minerals and rocks.
Members of the Cobb Mineral Society, Georgia Mineral Society and the Meteorite Association of Georgia also will be on-site to assist patrons who are looking to join a club or embark on a new hobby.
“Years ago we incorporated a more educational aspect to the event,” Vinson said. “This year, there will be many activities provided by our education department, such as make a sand art key chain, decorate a Tellus collecting bag, make an arrowhead necklace and — a fan favorite — Rock Bingo. There will also be a lecture on Saturday from 8-year-old Delila Mae Vicent on some of her favorite locations to find great fossils.
“… One of my favorite things is to watch guests at the geode cracking station. They get so excited when that ‘ugly’ rock that they picked out is cracked open and all those beautiful crystals are exposed. We have them guess what kind of crystals are inside — quartz, amethyst, calcite? If they don’t know, they get to take their geode to the Mineral ID table and have the experts identify it.”
Like Vinson, Tellus Administrative Assistant Michelle Pate — who has helped organize RockFest for 12 years — has witnessed the event expand its scope.
“The first year I worked with the event, we were still in the Weinman Mineral Museum building,” Pate said. “Watching the event grow from a one-day event with 1,000-1,200 guests into a two-day event with 3,500-plus guests has been remarkable. … I think the thing I enjoy the most is seeing guests realize just how many beautiful and unique treasures Earth and space have to offer.
“For example, with a little polishing and shaping, what looks like an ordinary rock can turn into a stunning pendant. Or, that burned looking fragment of rock might actually be a meteorite from outer space. You never know what you might discover at RockFest.”
Free for museum members, the upcoming event will be included in regular admission to Tellus for nonmembers.
“I hope they learn that science can be fun,” Pate said, referring to the event’s attendees. “RockFest offers a tiny glimpse of some of the wonderful things that have been on our planet for, maybe, millions of years. It’s fascinating to learn about why some rocks or minerals look the way they do, what makes them so different and unique, and where one could find such treasures.
“Every piece has its own story. When you come to RockFest, you get a chance to speak to the dealers who found many of the pieces and hear the story behind what they’ve found. That isn’t an experience you could ever get at a retail store.”
For more information about the museum and its events and programs, call 770-606-5700 or visit http://tellusmuseum.org.