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Arthur E. Smith, Jr. (1935-2009) Deceased

Posted by Dana Morong  
Dana Morong December 12, 2009 03:32PM
This was on the front page of the November issue of "Mineral News" (this issue happened to be a bit late in press which is why it got in). He died 12 November 2009, a sad loss as he was a prolific writer who for years shared information, specimens, time, and kindness to other collectors. I wrote up a bit intending to add it to a post announcing this, but have to start a topic here. Here goes:

The first I knew about the passing of Art Smith was when I glanced down at my mail, noted a familiar name “Deceased: Arthur E. Smith, Jr.” (front page of Mineral News, November 2009): It took me a minute to register the “Deceased” and then to realize why I hadn’t gotten a reply from him lately. Usually I have been used to reading his name as an author, not as the subject of an obituary. And I loved his incorporating of the mineral name Artsmithite into his e-mail address; alas, we shall not be using it in that setting anymore, nor getting any more of his articles, all of which I (and many others) enjoyed and appreciated.

I had correspondence with him for several years, and have noticed that he never prevaricated, equivocated, nor misinterpreted my meanings; one of the more honest correspondents with whom I’ve had the pleasure of writing. Like Atticus Finch, he had only one side; no two faces to the world. Also generous: He sent me a copy of Peter Bancroft’s “Gem and Crystal Treasures” (1984, a sort of history of 100 world-famous mineral specimen localities); I think he may also have sent another book; I only hope I remembered to thank him. He was really into the literature, as well as having been responsible for a lot of it himself (the earliest article of his I can find in Rocks and Minerals magazine is “Some Mineral Locations in the southern Black Hills, South Dakota” in the Sept.-Oct. 1961 issue, pp. 453-458, text and maps). But a list of his writings would fill a bibliography, some of which he wrote himself (I was only one of many of his friends who helped proofread the draft of “New Hampshire Mineral Locality Index” which was published in the July-August 2005 issue of Rocks & Minerals magazine, pp. 242-261). In fact, I think a bibliography of his works might be a good follow-up to a full memorial to him and his work; it would make a good article.

Art was into research and learning in both small and big ways. In small ways, as nothing too small was unworthy of looking. I recall visiting him at his summer place in Wakefield, N.H., and having brought along some micromounts from a favorite locality. He tried to photograph a specimen that he said was “very unusual” but couldn’t (at least then on the spot) as the contrast of the light and dark was too great (I can understand that). Also in big ways, as he researched and learned. He used books to good advantage. Excerpt from two letters from 1989:
“Thanks for your letter. Excuse my slowness in answering. You are right. Like you I enjoy minerals more than just collecting and selling them. They all can tell a story if enough data is gathered and you make some basic observations. It is discouraging, however, trying to get others to see things the way we do. I have been donating my library to the Houston Gem & Mineral Society and setting up one for them. It overflowed the first room and now I've added a second. Everything is catalogued and indexed and we are slowly binding all the journals. What's the problem? I can get very few people to use it.”
“I have donated most of my reference books to our club library which is in two rooms of our club house. Others have also donated books and the library is well stocked but now the problem is to get people to use it. They ask me to find the information for them but are unwilling to do any research for themselves. I have 6 card file drawers where much of the material is indexed by locality and subject so things can be easily found yet still when they take a trip they call me before they leave asking were to collect when they could spend a few hours and copy what they need from the library. We also have a copy machine. So I know the frustrating feeling you get when you have people who will not use books particularly when they have them.”

I have kept all his letters; some time ago I transcribed them into computer file, along with mine to him. This was later simplified when we started to send letters by his Artsmithite e-mail address. There are notes on finding the new mercury phosphate mineral (1/28/98 letter) but I cannot seem to find his comment about the guy who knew it was a newly found mineral species because there had been no mercury phosphate known before; this may have been a verbal comment either personally or over the telephone.

He was a real, down-to-earth collector. In a letter he mentioned a certain well-known person as pompous, but Art was never so himself. An excerpt from a letter of April 2005 shows his reality:
“I was asked by an individual if they could nominate me to the MM Hall of Fame and I told them not to waste their time. I also mostly use mineral tack and if I do use a glue it is water soluble, Elmers. So it would never get by him. I tell people, I am not a micromounter, its some what of a dirty word, but I am a micromineral collector. I want to preserve as much matrix as possible and never take crystals off matrix and mount them separately unless they came that way. I encourage other micromounters to think twice before they do so and particularly before they permanently mount a crystal.”
His research, sharing, intregrity and kindness will be remembered by many.
I wish that all collectors could profit by his good example.
Nancy Smith December 13, 2009 09:14PM
It is so heartwarming to read notes about Art. In the short time we were together, he taught me much about minerals, especially his love, micros! We were married just 10 short months, but before that had been friends for 52 years, a friendship that started in college. Typical of so many college students, he really didn't know what he wanted to do in life, and then with his first course in geology, he just caught fire, and the rest is history. I miss him so, but have great memories of an honest, kind, gentle, and patient man. He never laughed (at least not outwardly) at my uninformed questions but took each one as a teaching opportunity. As I read your notes, I'm glad that I too am one of the fortunate people that had a chance to call him my friend. Nancy Smith
Dana Morong December 17, 2009 12:13AM
My sympathies with you.

David Von Bargen has kindly supplied a link (between our posts) to more comments; I'm sorry that I had somehow missed it (though I had briefly searched the "Rockhounds" section of the message board, I must have gone right by it or somehow failed to recognize it), so I thank him for providing the link for more comments about our deceased friend.

I wish I had written to him earlier, as I have had such an interesting micro-mineral project lately that Art would have been interested in hearing about.
Carl N. Staszak December 22, 2009 05:16AM
I had recently started conversing with Art via e-mail about general stuff – just catching up on time (I moved from Houston in 2002, and I had last seen him in 2005.) He told me he was sick but seemed pretty determined to beat it. I had sent him an e-mail sometime in November of this year to pick his mind about digital SLR cameras for shooting micromineral images. He hadn’t got back to me for awhile, and I had a strange feeling about that. I checked obituaries on the internet and found out what we all know now.

Where do I start? I think I first met Art at the 1995 HGMS Mineral Show at the George R. Brown Convention Center. I asked someone where he was and he replied “Just look for the tall skinny guy with the pot belly.” I finally found him, and shortly thereafter my girlfriend Leslie Cook and I became members of the club. Art was always the first at the clubhouse and usually the last to leave. Between the library and his scholastic rock and mineral sets he always had things to keep him going. I was one of the people in the club who actually used the library, always doing research on new field collecting localities, and I think Art took me under his wing because of that.

He was a prime motivator toward my interest in microminerals, and he would always invite me over to his house where we’d hang out in the mineral room (with the TV always on a baseball or basketball game) and help me identify the micros that I brought back to Houston from my collecting trips to the Southwestern US. Very shortly after this I purchased my own microscope (with a phototube, of course), but a microscope alone is not very valuable without the knowledge to identify what you’re looking at. Art was always there with that.

I was rewarded one year with an invitation from Art to join him on a trip to Arkansas with the “Coon Creek Association”. This was so entertaining and educational to hang around guys like Art, Al Kidwell, Henry DeLinde, Mike Howard and even Meredith York that I attended the next four or five trips during the second half of the 90s. Art and I always shared a room, and we never got into any arguments about each other’s snoring. Art was with me when I found what he thought was the first arsenopyrite in Arkansas, and I was with him at Cowhide Cove when the Artsmithite find was made, even though at the time I thought I had the big find of the day with a pocketful of mercury.

There were so many good qualities about Art – honesty, integrity, congeniality, humility, generosity – I could go on – that just came naturally. I am so grateful to have been blessed with his friendship for the short time that we knew each other. I will miss you very much Art, but I know you’re in good hands on the big mine tailings pile in the sky.

Carl N. Staszak
Depew, New York
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