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Mendy Ouzillou Interview

This feature is devoted to one of the personalities within the meteorite community. This month we are delighted to share an interview we had with Mendy Ouzillou.

(MT) What or who got you interested in meteorites?

(MO) I will be forever grateful to the Meteorite Men for bringing me into this hobby turned obsession. I was channel surfing one day and stumbled onto a typical episode where Geoff and Steve were gallivanting around the globe having a blast hunting these elusive rocks from space. Needless to say, it only took one episode and I was hooked. I always collected “things” as I was growing up including rocks, minerals, fossils, stamps, coins and comic books. As I got older and started my professional career, my tastes changed and I began collecting art and sculpture. Seeing Meteorite Men rekindled my love of collecting rocks but in a more sophisticated way that also drew on my love of art, science and history.

(MT) What was your first meteorite and when did you get it?

(MO) I bought two meteorites from Geoff Notkin and Aerolite Meteorites on Oct. 25, 2011 and both were Sikhote Alins. I have always been a collector that focused on quality rather than quantity and chose the two best pieces I could afford. One was an oriented shield with a complete rollover lip (http://bit.ly/1mYu4c8) and the other an individual with two holes that Geoff had dubbed “The Mask” (http://bit.ly/1zSlot3).

(MT) Do you still have it?

(MO) I still have both pieces and still enjoy them.

(MT) Do you have special areas of interest that you focus on in regards to meteorites (thin sections, photography, chemistry, age dating.. etc)?

(MO) As my collection grew, I tried taking pictures to post on Facebook and eBay, and was always dissatisfied with the results. Prior to last year, I knew next to nothing about photography much less about macro photography, so I decided to teach myself. I had many failed experiments, but eventually my results improved. However, it was not until I designed my own custom light box that I finally got the results I was really looking for. As a recovering perfectionist, I’ll probably never be “done” with optimizing, but I now feel that when someone sees pictures of my specimens, it is pretty close to what it will look like in their hands.

I love to learn about meteorites. I am an avid reader and continually try to increase my knowledge and understanding. One of the joys about collecting meteorites is learning about where they came from and how they were created. And, as a bonus, I finally get to make use of the AP Chemistry classes I took in high school. I also have a passion for helping and teaching others and do my best to help our small community grow in whatever ways I can.

I have been tempted by thin sections, but have resisted that siren song so far.

(MT) Does your Family share in your interest in meteorites?

(MO) My family shares my interest, just not my obsession. I have some of my big irons displayed on the coffee table in the living room and my wife, Crystal, has grown very fond of the 13kg Canyon Diablo we have. She has not named it yet, but it is clearly a part of the family. The CD has special meaning to her because even before I became involved with meteorites, she had visited the Barringer Meteor Crater and was awed by its size and stark beauty. My son, Jacob, thinks meteorites are pretty cool, but prefers video games. I’m hoping to get him roped in eventually.

(MT) Do you have any special approaches to collecting? (Type collection, only stones, only irons, only by aesthetics, etc. or any and all that you like.)

(MO) Yes, I drive a cheap old car so I can buy the best specimens possible. All kidding aside (and not really kidding), I had to have a strategy to start my collection and decided I wanted to build a type collection. However, I kept being drawn to specimens that fell into four basic categories:
1) Sculptural irons

Agoudal (Individual Iron IIAB, 153g)

2) Specimens with unusual features (e.g. exceptionally large chondrules and weird inclusions)

Moorabie 35.19g

3) Rare specimens (e.g. low TKW of an unusual type)

Almahata Sitta 2.29g Bencubbinite

4) Historical falls especially with old specimen cards or unusual provenance.

As all collections mature they evolve and transform in different and unexpected directions. My collection has been no different and I’ve decided to simply enjoy the journey since choosing a destination implies an end to the road.

(MT) Do you mind saying how many locations your collection represents?

(MO) I do not collect locations, though certainly understand the allure. I tried for a very short amount of time to collect all the Texas meteorites, but one can only have so many olivine bronzites in their collection. My favorite location will always be Antactica and am happy to have nice specimens of Thiel Mountains and ALH 76001 that are part of my permanent collection … unless I can find an even bigger and better pieces.

Thiel Mountains 23.3g, Pallasite, PMG (Antarctic)

(MT) Is your collection displayed or kept in a dry box or both?

(MO) Different meteorites require different solutions. I would love to display all of them but that is neither practical nor wise in many cases due to their susceptibility to our unfriendly atmosphere. Many of my meteorites are stored in acrylic display boxes with desiccant inside in the same way as many European dealers.

Larger specimens are stored in baggies with desiccant, dry boxes with desiccant, membranes boxes inside baggies with desiccant, … The common theme is, no surprise, desiccant. We spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on our specimens and ensuring their long-term stability is key to enjoying them.

(MT) In what ways do you use your computer for meteorites? (met-list, social media, meteorite research, shopping, etc)

(MO) The computer is indispensable for me and use it for all the activities listed above. However, the one activity I never anticipated was how it would enable me to establish exceptional friendships and relationships with people all around the world – most of whom I have never met in person. Luckily, I do travel often as part of my professional career, and have made it my mission to meet in person as many of my virtual friends as possible.

(MT) Do you ever hunt for meteorites?

(MO) I do and I love doing so for what would appear to be contradictory reasons. I love the solitude and the camaraderie, as well as the long quiet moments occasionally interrupted by the thrill of the find. I think many meteorite enthusiasts are adventurers and explorers at heart and anytime we can get the chance to go on a hunt, we do so.

An important aspect of hunting meteorites is getting to appreciate how terribly hard they are to find. I hunted Holbrook, Sutter’s Mill, Novato, Franconia and various California dry lakes and the one thing they have in common is that there is never a guarantee of making a find. If you are out there to make money, and some are quite successful doing so, realize that it can easily be a money losing proposition. So, never be disappointed and enjoy the hunt for the sake of the hunt.

The results of an entire week of hunting different locations … 0.6g of SAW 005 iron and I was thrilled.

(MT) What is your favorite meteorite in your collection?

(MO) That question is like asking what my favorite food is. How do you choose among so many worthy candidates when it comes to meteorites? Well, like choosing my favorite food, it depends on my mood and circumstances. Planetaries are great because I enjoy watching people’s reactions when I put a piece of the moon in one of their hands and a piece of Mars in the other.

I was fortunate to be able to buy a large percentage of Ron Hartman’s collection and he clearly had his favorites as well. I really wish I could have met him as our collecting styles were so similar and based on all I have heard, he was such a gentleman. So, one of my favorite meteorites is a slice of the Antarctic meteorite, Thiel Mountains, that he made part of his “Ron Hartman Collection” pieces. See the picture above.

In one of the first trades that I did, I was able to get a 500g+ slice of the Bondoc pyroxenite nodule from ASU. There is only one other slice in private hands and though Bondoc is plentiful, there is precious little of the pyroxenite nodule to go around. There is an interesting paper written about this nodule that can be found at http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2010/pdf/1386.pdf. That interaction led to my being able to acquire the 2nd largest Bondoc iron nodule weighing in at 2.6kg. And before anyone says anything, this nodule has been stable since I acquired it.

Then again, how could I forget finding my 1.6g of Sutter’s Mill – that was an experience I will never forget and one that allowed me to meet so many of the people that have helped influence and shape my collection as well as become friends.

This list would not be complete if I did not mention one of the highlights of my very short collecting life and that is partnering with Adam Bates on the classification and sale of NWA 8276, one of only three 3.00 meteorites in the world.

(MT) What is your favorite overall if it is not the one above?

(MO) The next one I buy or find for my collection …

(MT) What makes these of special interest?

(MO) The thrill of the hunt whether on eBay, ferreting out an old collection or finding it in the field. As a collector, there are few things more gratifying than making that next acquisition especially if it was tough to get.

(MT) What meteorites are currently on your wish list?

(MO) Ibitira, Sera de Mage, Pasamonte, Puerto Lapice, a large uncleaned Sikhote Alin with great crust and Russian museum label, a really sculptural Gibeon, a large oriented NWA with deep fluting and a good crust, and any meteorite that allows me to make new friends and ponder my place in the universe.

(MT) What methods have been most successful in building your collection? (Buying at shows, from dealers by mail, auctions on the web, trading… etc)

(MO) As you may have guessed from my earlier responses, I put a great deal of importance on building relationships. Even in this day of computers, cell phones and Facebook – nothing beats a personal relationship based on mutual trust and respect. I strive towards clear and transparent communications, and set clear expectations. Then I keep my word. In my 25 years in high tech and the last 15 in semiconductor marketing, those guiding principles have always served me well and expect them to do so as well in our community.

(MT) Which Shows do you attend?

(MO) I have attended the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show the last two years and really enjoyed it. I will try to get to the Denver show this year and am really hoping to go to Ensisheim in 2015.

(MT) Do you also collect related materials like impact glasses, breccias, melts, tektites, shocked fossils, native iron rocks etc?

(MO) I did not plan to, but when I was in Tuscon earlier this year (Feb. 2014), I purchased a perfect 4.55g Ivory Coast tektite from Alain Carion. When I hear the word “rare”, I can’t help but become interested and decided that was a worthy specimen to start my tektite collection.

I then followed up that purchase by adding 2 beautiful and fully flanged Australites to my collection – again quality over quantity.

Flanged Australite Button – 4.2g Found in Pine Dam, Australia in early 1970s (pictures taken using my custom made light box).

So, it looks like the tektite siren successfully lured me into that abyss – but I went willingly. I also now collect impact glasses like Darwin glass and when interesting specimens come up, I’ll even collect breccias. I am waiting to add a really large and finely featured shatter cone.

(MT) Do you prepare any of your own specimens? (cut, polish, etch, etc.)

(MO) I do prepare my own specimens with a focus for now on etching of irons. No surprise to anyone that even with the best curation and preservation techniques some irons will rust (short of storing them in a big bin of ATF fluid). So when I started noticing some rust on specimens and bought specimens that needed to be re-etched, I decided to embark on that journey. I mean, how hard could it be? Well it is hard – very hard because the real art comes in not just the etching itself but making sure that the etch will remain bright and rust-free for a long time.

One of the clear artists in this area is Mirko Graul. His work is amazing and he has clearly perfected his techniques over many years. He keeps his trade-secrets very secret and rightfully so. After doing my own experimentation, and comparing etching results among many other dealers and preparers, I realized there is a big range in quality. So, if I was going to set a goal, that goal would be to become “almost” as good as Mirko – and other European masters. Through intensive research, experimentation and some private advice from some of my friends, I am making good progress and have achieved some beautiful results – but I still have a long way to go!

Later this year, I hope to start slicing my own meteorites and that will open up a whole new world of challenges.

(MT) Have you had to take any special measures to protect them from the environment?

(MO) Protection and proper curation of meteorites are crucial to maintaining a collection. Unfortunately, I think some new collectors are not aware of these requirements and are rightfully disappointed when their specimens deteriorate. Different measures are required depending on the climate in your area, but I treat all my meteorites as if they were going to spend the rest of their existence in Houston, TX for example. As described earlier, I try to reduce exposure to the outside world as much as possible and use desiccant liberally.

(MT) How have meteorites enriched my life?

(MO) There are people in our community that have taken the time and effort to mentor me. They have helped me understand meteorites and the business of meteorites. They have opened doors for me that would never have been available to me like a private tour of the Mona Kea observatory and seeing the non-public meteorite collection at the British Museum. I am very happy to say that through meteorites I have made connections that allowed us to become friends and even best of friends – even though some I have never met personally but hope to do soon.

(MT) Do you have any final thoughts?

(MO) As my interest in meteorites has grown, so has my desire to become more involved. As such, when Tomasz Jakubowski approached me to become a native English reviewer for the open access journal “Meteorites”, I jumped at the opportunity and actively participated in the latest issue to be found on the website http://meteorites.pwr.wroc.pl/).

I also spend a great deal of time administrating two Facebook pages including “Meteorites” (www.facebook.com/groups/spacerocks/) and “Is It a Meteorite?” (www.facebook.com/groups/isitameteorite/). The Meteorites page recently exceeded 2,000 members and each member is personally reviewed by either me or by the other admin, Ben de la Vega. Both of these pages strive to educate potential new collectors and engage their imagination.  I encourage readers to “friend” me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SkyFallMeteorites.MendyOuzillou

As I mentioned before, I personally want to expand the number of collectors in our community and provide a trusted online resource for people at all levels of education and interest. I am presently in the process of developing my new website, www.skyfallmeteorites.com, which serve as both a commercial and educational portal. For now, other specimens I have can be found at www.meteoritesusa.com. You can also see my offerings on eBay: http://www.ebay.com/sch/skyfallmeteorites/m.html? where I have listed some really spectacular specimens.

My next goal is to become an IMCA board member. I am working on my platform and preparing for the election. I see so much opportunity for the IMCA to spread the excitement we all share in meteorites, and I want to contribute towards that goal.

I’ll sign off with the little sign that my son Jacob made for me:

About the Author

Paul is the webmaster for all of The Meteorite Exchange's websites including Meteorite Times Magazine. His fascination with all things space related began as a young boy during the Space Race. His free time is divided between meteorites, astrophotography, webmaster, and the daily operations of the eCommerce website www.meteorites-for-sale.com.