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  • Writer's pictureJoe Capozzi

What’s a 50,000-year-old mammoth leg doing at the Palm Beach Show’s art, jewelry and antique exhibition?


Nathalie Petersen, a designer with Stone Gallery, stands next to 50,000-year-old woolly mammoth leg Feb. 17, 2024, at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. (JOE CAPOZZI)

MORE THAN 50,000 years ago, a giant woolly mammoth roamed the icy tundra between Britain and mainland Europe.


This weekend, the mammoth’s hind leg, all 8 feet of bone, stands on a pedestal inside the Palm Beach County Convention Center, on display — and for sale — at the annual Palm Beach Show, which runs through Tuesday.


“People walk by and we will hear, ‘What the (expletive)!’’’ said Roy Masin, owner of the Netherlands-based Stone Gallery, whose exhibit booth has been turning heads this weekend. 


The Palm Beach Show is an annual jewelry, art, antiques and design extravaganza with more than 130 booths from exhibitors around the world. Among the treasures on display: paintings by the masters, Andy Warhol prints, 16th-century armor, Italian marble statues, a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk, Diane D'Amato handbags, and pendants by Cartier, Bulgari and David Webb. 


You won’t find any of that in Stone Gallery’s booth (606/707) on the sprawling convention center floor. 


But you will find a 50,000-year-old woolly rhinoceros head, complete with teeth and tusk (price tag $85,000); and a 180-million-year-old fossil of a pregnant ichthyosaur, an ancient sea monster whose name means “Fish Lizard” in Greek. (Price tag: $1.3 million.)



And those aren’t even the oldest items in the booth. That distinction belongs to the slices of iron meteorites, illuminated on a shelf by small lamps, that have “proved to be older than Earth,’’ Masin said. 


Earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old. 


“So, the oldest piece here is the meteorite, but the oldest earthly piece is this,’’ he said as he walked to another shelf where he put his hand on a smooth rock called Tiger Iron, a banded iron formation found in Australia. He said the rock is estimated to be 3.5 billion years old, around the time when oxygen first came to Earth. 


“Rocks are formed by oxidation,’’ he said, “so this symbolizes (some of the earliest) oxygen on Earth and therefore life. It is the origin of life.’’

 

But wait…. Before we go any further, let’s address the elephant — or in this case mammoth — in the room: 


What in the name of Indiana Jones do ancient fossils, mammoth bones, petrified wood and lunar rocks have to do with art? 




“This is art. It combines perfectly with (traditional) art,’’ Masin says. “And people who love art also love this because they are people with taste, with an eye for detail, for strange things, especially people who collect contemporary art. They are curious. They like things they've never seen.’’


Masin, a self-described “rock hound’’ from Holland, has been working with gemstones, fossils and minerals since 1982 when he took over his father’s business. A gemologist, he soon expanded it into a leading wholesale company in Europe, trading in crystals, minerals, fossils, meteorites and precious stones, many obtained on mining expeditions. 



Stone Gallery has furnished geological museums and museums of natural history around the world. But over the years Masin said he received feedback from interior designers and art collectors about a growing interest in decorating homes and offices with a combination of traditional art and geological art.


“If it is well combined and well placed, then one and one is three,’’ he said. “The pieces shine much more and it enriches your place. We found that’s a very good market for us so we stopped doing trade shows. What we did before was only with collectors. So we moved into the broader world of art and it has been very good to us.’’



Masin acknowledges that some traditional art collectors may not consider a woolly rhino skull in the same league as a Picasso painting. “Until not so long ago, we were not allowed in any art show because art by definition needs to be manmade,’’ he said. 


But that has changed, thanks to a growing market for geological art. Stone Gallery has sold thousands of fossils, bones, meteorites and precious stones over the years to collectors, interior designers, museums, hotels and nature lovers, he said.


“We very much belong in an art show because, in a way, this’’ — he gestured at the bones and fossils and meteorites — “is the origin of all arts. You can’t imagine great artists like Picasso, Michelangelo and Rembrandt who have not been inspired by nature.’’ 


On the walls of Stone Gallery’s exhibit are quotes by Albert Einstein (“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better’’) and Wendell Berry (“The earth is what we all have in common’’). 


But the quotes aren’t what draw visitors to the booth. It’s the framed fossils and that 8-ft. high mammoth leg, complete with claws.


“People are totally astonished,’’ said Nathalie Petersen, an interior designer who works with Masin.



Another head turner is the nearly 12-ft. skeleton of the pregnant ichthyosaur, displayed across a wall above a couch.  


“This is one of the best pieces we've ever had and it’s by far the best Ichtyosaur skeleton on the market in the world right now,’’ he said. 


How does Masin know the ancient animal on the wall was pregnant?


He points to the ribcage. “You can see two embryos,’’ he said, adding that scientists told him the fossil, unearthed in southern Germany, is 180 million years old. 


“So you are looking at a pregnancy of 180 million years,’’ he said. 


As for the 250-pound mammoth leg, pulled from the North Sea, he said: “This is 50,000 years old. So, it is extremely young.’’ 


This is Stone Gallery’s first Palm Beach Show, and Masin said the company shipped 10,000 pounds of artifacts for the exhibit via air freight. After the show ends Tuesday, it will all be flown back to Holland.





© 2024 ByJoeCapozzi.com All rights reserved.

 

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.



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