An Art Collection for the Ages: Richard Berger’s Masterpieces of the Earth

Filled with planetary treasures, Richard Berger’s Masterpieces of the Earth collection—including a 6,000-pound crystal cluster, otherworldly sandstone formations and a 2-ton amethyst cave—is one for the ages
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
Collector Richard Berger, and his wife Miriam Dyak, stand with pieces of the collection including a 800-pound, 95 million-year-old three fossil ammonite nodule

Not many people can muster a physical representation of their life’s work quite like Richard Berger. The longtime art gallery owner and Bronx native turned Seattleite has spent 40 years amassing a collection like none the world has seen. His Masterpieces of the Earth collection boasts some 150 of the rarest natural formations on earth—and now Berger hopes to share them with Seattle. 

There’s a 700-pound cluster of craggy pyrite crystals; a half-ton, 180 million-year-old luminous crystal cluster; and a 14-foot-tall, 50 million-year-old fossil seascape excavated from a Wyoming quarry. Several Fontainebleau sandstone concretions—smooth, swirling formations found in France—reveal what a brilliant modernist sculptor Mother Nature was two million years ago.

Collecting crystals and fossils was not part of Berger’s original career path. In fact, he was taking a hiatus from medical school in 1968 when he acquired his first crystal in a Wyoming rock shop. He soon realized that his zeal was for nature, not medicine. “I think I may have been the first person to quit medical school twice in two years,” he says with a laugh. “But I knew I had landed my new passion.”


Photo by Hayley Young
A massive 6,000-pound, 520-million-year-old giant crystal cluster from Namibia, Africa

He ran a natural crystal and fossil gallery in Manhattan in the 1980s and a similar gallery at Seattle’s Alexis Hotel in in the ’90s, traveling the world three months a year and establishing an international network of miners who helped him hunt down pieces.

Over the years, the assemblage—currently housed in a private local location—grew to be one of the world’s largest individual collections of giant crystals and fossils. Quantum physicists Stephen Hawking and Fred Alan Wolf lauded its extraordinary excellence. “It would be rare anywhere in the world to see specimens of this caliber,” says Burke Museum director emeritus Karl Hutterer. Some of Berger’s finds have wound up in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where three of his giant crystal formations surround the Hope Diamond.


Photo by Hayley Young
An exotic multi-faceted zeolite crystal cluster discovered in India

And while it began as a personal collection, as more astounding pieces were discovered, Berger began to dream on a grander scale. “As it grew, I knew I had to share the collection so that others could rediscover and reconnect with our precious planet,” he explains. “As technology advances, we are losing our connection to the natural world or only hear about what our earth can no longer do. This collection reminds us what it can do.”

Thus came the idea to create a planetary museum centered around his ancient wonders, a place where the public could commune with these treasures of the earth—and Berger believes Seattle, with its inherent love of nature, is the perfect place for such an exhibition to call home.

In his vision for a museum, pieces would be integrated with water features and tropical plant life to create a peaceful and awe-inspiring ambiance. Berger has worked with Yale to create renderings of the possible exhibits, which show gargantuan, glittering crystals complemented by vivid up lighting and his signature fossil seascape tucked beside a reflecting pond to dramatic effect. He also envisions private spots for people to meditate, reflect or pray, or even board rooms where companies and individuals who seek mediation could meet in a peaceful setting to discuss their differences.

Berger has fielded offers from Asia to purchase and move the collection there. But he is holding out hope he can find enough support to build the museum here. A few local investors have expressed interest (there is a multimillion-dollar pledge with some contingencies), but the project needs more funds to become a reality.


Photo by Hayley Young
A perfectly formed prehistoric egg set inside an agate found in a Montana quarry


Photo by Hayley Young
This towering 2-million-year-old sandstone concretion from Fontainebleau, France, was formed by the swirling of water through fine white sand. Long treasured by French royalty, there have been Fontainebleau concretions in the gardens at Versailles since 1677

“To walk into a place with over 100 million years of history would be so inspiring,” Berger says of the museum of his dreams. “The imagination of the planet truly is limitless. Hopefully, Seattle’s is, too.”

To arrange a private showing or to find out more about how to support the planetary museum, visit masterpiecesoftheearth.com.

Related Content

That morning, the rock stars were just a couple Seattleites in the crowd.

A week after her husband's death, Vicky Cornell is speaking out.

From the red carpet and beyond, Nancy Guppy digs deep into the annual film fest.