Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

The Diorama Dilemma

Touching up wolf display at American Museum of Natural History. Photo: Roderick Mickens/American Museum of Natural History.

Max Kutner, Museum Dioramas Are as Endangered as the Animals They Contain, 2 August 2015

Aliens chose Devils Tower in Wyoming as their landing site in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. President Teddy Roosevelt made it America’s first national monument, and later a taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York visited the spot to collect mule deer specimens for a habitat diorama.

The diorama, completed in the 1940s, is now one of at least 117 at the museum, and Michael Novacek’s favorite display. “I can almost feel the air. It’s so perfect. The little amount of haze, the clouds floating by. It’s so transporting,” he says during a recent visit, without looking away from the diorama. A deer stands perched with its majestic antlers framing the Devils Tower rock formation painted in the background. Another deer sniffs the sloping ground behind a needley shrub. Novacek, the museum’s senior vice president and provost for science, folds his arms, shakes his head and says, “Just amazing.”

Since museums began constructing them more than a century ago, habitat dioramas have carried millions of visitors to other times and places. The mule deer display triggers such an emotional response from Novacek because it reminds him of when he was a graduate student, studying extinct mammals near Devils Tower. Not that one needs a personal connection to feel its power. A few display cases away, visitors are practically climbing over one another to get a better look at the jaguars. There’s a chorus of whoas and oh my gods, and one kid says with awe, “It looks so real!”

Read more

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2022
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. No claim is made as to the accuracy or authenticity of the content of the website. The Council of Australasian Museum Directors does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) which is provided on this website. The information on our website is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the site undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. No responsibility is taken for any information or services which may appear on any linked web sites. Hostgator.