If you're a New Yorker, especially an Upper West Sider, odds are The American Museum of Natural History is your go-to spot for a place to visit with kids. And why not? It's warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and so big that, odds are, you'll find something to intrigue your child on any given day. Especially those eager young scholars who get mesmerized by a topic and can't rest until they've learned everything about it - and then some.
At AMNH, there are, of course, the dinosaurs, and the Planetarium, and the IMAX movies,and the seasonal exhibits on frogs and butterflies and spiders, and the dioramas.
Yeah, about those dioramas. They're cool and all. But, weren't they also starting to look a little, you know, raggedy?
If just giving your own home a thorough cleaning livens up the space and makes you remember why you fell in love with it in the first place, imagine what a $40 million dollar renovation can do to the The Hall of North American Mammals!
On January 15, 2013, AMNH held a family party to show off their new look and, take it from me, it's spectacular. Not only is every animal now standing as proud and furry as they did while still traipsing through the plains and over mountains, but the backgrounds are vivid and even every blade of grass seems to pop in glorious Technicolor. Or, as my husband put it, "It's like they've redone the whole thing in HD!"
For more than a year, a team of artists, conservators, taxidermists, and designers worked on the hall’s habitat dioramas to re-color faded fur, dust delicate leaves, and selectively restore background paintings for the reopening of this historic hall. The dioramas—which feature more than 40 North American mammals ranging from American bison, Alaska brown bears, and cougars to cottontail rabbits and stripped skunks—are unique works of art based on field research and executed to scientific precision. New text accompanying each diorama offers the latest scientific information about featured species as part of new interpretation of the hall’s scenes.
“Here in the Bernard Hall of North American Mammals, you can walk the Great Plains 150 years ago in company with a magnificent herd of bison, or share a narrow ledge with some white sheep high above the waters of an Alaskan fjord, or peer into the setting sun as a jaguar stands right next to you,” said Ross D. E. MacPhee, curator in the Department of Mammalogy who served as supervising curator of the restoration. “Every part of these scenes is based on actual sites, actual specimens, actual scientific observations. You cannot see a better show featuring this kind of wildlife art informed by up-to-the-minute science anywhere else on the planet.”
President Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy is powerfully represented by many of this hall’s dioramas, which depict landscapes and species that have been preserved in large part due to conservation policies he championed. Several of the dioramas re-create scenes from national parks Roosevelt signed into being or national monuments he declared, including Crater Lake National Park, part of Grand Canyon National Park (which Roosevelt set aside as Grand Canyon National Monument), and Devils Tower National Monument, among others. As a natural historian, Roosevelt greatly expanded the public understanding of North American fauna and worked for the protection of animals featured in the hall, including the bison.
“The restored Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and Hall of North American Mammals are essential destinations for all who are passionate about preserving wildlife and wild lands and celebrating America’s Conservation President,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “We are proud to honor Theodore Roosevelt and his visionary leadership for the conservation movement in America.”
On the lower level of the Memorial, one floor below the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, the re-envisioned Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall features new interpretive exhibits charting Theodore Roosevelt’s journey from a budding naturalist exploring the Museum’s halls to an elected leader with a deep commitment to conservation. The hall’s four exhibition areas feature never-before-displayed artifacts from the Museum’s collections and tell the story of Roosevelt’s fascination with nature and dedication to conservation.
Visitors, especially those who share his interests, will learn about a Young Naturalist who was fascinated with birds, including three African plovers he brought back from a family vacation to Egypt and later donated to the Museum, now on public display for the first time, and his path to becoming the Conservation President who placed more than 230 million acres under federal protection, including archaeological sites such as New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, pottery from which will be on view in this hall. The hall also includes videos of sweeping American vistas adapted from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea; and a video feature about the conservation legacy of Theodore Roosevelt. A touch-screen interactive timeline—which will also be available on the Museum’s website, amnh.org—highlights important milestones in Roosevelt’s life and his unparalleled accomplishments in conservation via photos, text, and video interviews with Roosevelt experts in addition to featuring a calendar of Museum programs that illuminate Roosevelt’s impact on conservation policies and science today.
At the center of the hall, a new life-size sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt created by Brooklyn’s Studio EIS invites visitors to sit next to TR and contemplate his pioneering role in conservation and the vital importance of protecting nature today. Adjacent to the sculpture, a new bronze medallion embedded in the floor depicts American bison grazing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the North Dakota Badlands with the inscription, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country,” an excerpt from Roosevelt’s Confession of Faith speech delivered at the Progressive National Convention in Chicago on August 6, 1912. Four restored dioramas in this hall highlight several scenes related to Roosevelt’s life: the 17th-century New York of his ancestors; the Adirondacks he visited as a boy; his cattle ranch in the western Badlands of North Dakota; and the bird sanctuary near Sagamore Hill, his beloved home in Oyster Bay, New York.
The celebration of the reopening of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial extends beyond the walls of the Museum with digital offerings that will allow visitors to learn about and engage with Theodore Roosevelt and his conservation legacy both onsite and online.
The interactive Theodore Roosevelt timeline featured in the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall will also be available on the Museum’s website, amnh.org, complete with archival photo slideshows and footage as well as video interviews with experts including Museum scientists, Roosevelt biographers, Theodore Roosevelt IV, and U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
The Museum will offer a special Theodore Roosevelt Tour on its Webby award-winning AMNH Explorer app, a free app for iPhone and iPod touch that features an indoor-navigation system. The tour takes visitors through 10 permanent halls and highlights dioramas, artifacts, and other exhibits that trace Theodore Roosevelt’s lifelong connection to the Museum and his role in fostering the American conservation movement. The tour will also be available on the Museum’s website.
The Museum will also release an official app for the Hall of North American Mammals for iPhone and Android devices, featuring compelling images of the hall’s celebrated dioramas, behind-the-scenes videos of the hall’s recent restoration featuring interviews with Museum artist Stephen C. Quinn, archival photos, and science commentary from Curator Ross D. E. MacPhee.
Honoring Theodore Roosevelt’s passion for nature, the Museum is teaming up with iNaturalist.org for a special project dedicated to observing New York City invertebrate animals. Through the iNaturalist.org website or smartphone app, participants can snap photos of local invertebrates, log observations, and upload their data to the iNaturalist community.
In addition to original videos about Theodore Roosevelt’s life and legacy on the Museum’s YouTube channel and web video player AMNH.tv, the Museum has also launched a dedicated TR Tumblr blog at http://tr.amnh.org. The TR Tumblr features Museum and user-generated content about Theodore Roosevelt and showcases photos from the Museum’s Theodore Outdoor photo contest, which encourages participants to explore the natural world.
A robust video series documenting the year-long restoration of the Hall of North American Mammals, available on the Museum’s YouTube channel and on AMNH.tv, will offer yet another way to stay connected to the Museum and learn about Theodore Roosevelt, the Hall of North American Mammals, and TR’s enduring conservation legacy.