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Best natural history taxidermy dioramas

Discussion in 'Zoo Cafe' started by Onychorhynchus coronatus, 5 Oct 2020.

  1. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    I love visiting natural history museums around the world and particularly enjoy seeing artfully created taxidermy dioramas that capture the beauty or drama of scenes of nature as if in suspended animation.

    So I thought I'd ask zoochatters, many of whom are probably also fellow natural history museum afficionados, what they think on the subject.

    Which museum has the best taxidermy dioramas in your opinion and why ?

    Which individual diorama has caught your attention / fired your imagination and why ?


    Look forward to hearing your replies :)
     
    Last edited: 5 Oct 2020
  2. twilighter

    twilighter Well-Known Member

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    The Akeley Hall of African Mammals, National History Museum, New York is in the league of its own, in my opinion. Followed by the The Grand Gallery of Evolution in Paris.
     
  3. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    I've been to both of these and I definitely agree with you.

    In fact the Akeley and Asian Hall of mammals at the AMNH would have to be my personal favourite in terms of its dioramas. I love the Akeley Hall of African Mammals because of the sheer work and self sacrifice that Carl Akeley put into producing the dioramas (he is kind of one of my heroes).

    From "collecting" the specimens in far flung areas of Africa at huge personal risk of being killed to taking meticulous meteorological , botanical, geological and photographical data in the field in order to replicate as fully and naturalistically as possible the scene.

    The method in the way he modelled the bodies and poses of the animals using clay is just incredible (they almost look like they could spring to life even after a century) and I really think that Akeley was a sort of a natural history equivalent of a Michelangelo or Rodin or something.
     
  4. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Was there a particular diorama in the Hall of African Mammals that was your favourite ?
     
  5. Yoshistar888

    Yoshistar888 Well-Known Member

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    I've been to the AMNH but I actually prefer Melbourne Museums display, while it isn't natural or artistic it really shows the diversity of the planet in one room, and it has very good electronic touch screens for signage.

    Plus how can you not like some of the amazing taxidermy specimens at the museum such as this marbled cat

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    Or the boxing Jerboa

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    A cuscus on drugs

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    Finally a very sad giant otter

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    All credit goes to @Chlidonias for capturing photos of such unique specimens. :p:p:p
     
  6. twilighter

    twilighter Well-Known Member

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    Hard to choose, but I would say that the Elephant herd (8 animals headed by a Matriarch in somehow alarming positions) in the centre of the hall is perhaps one of the most impressive expositions ever made.
     
  7. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    I haven't been to AMNH yet. The Los Angeles County Natural History Museum has a very good Africa hall with dioramas. There are several pictures of them in the gallery. My favorite is of a savanna waterhole in Northern Kenya with giraffes, elephants, and Cape buffalo. If you can ignore the carnage that went into collecting the exhibited critters, it is very well done.

    The African savanna diorama in the California Academy of Sciences Africa hall has a herd of African elephants walking across the savanna on the back wall. It is a cool effect.

    Another great diorama is in an unexpected place - Disneyland. There is a very long diorama of the Grand Canyon.
     
  8. nczoofan

    nczoofan Well-Known Member

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    I have a wonderful book on the creation of the dioramas at the AMNH. It details the process that went into each one including collection of specimens, plant samples, details on the real site, and so on. The Asian hall is not detailed in this book, and while in slight disrepair is still very enjoyable.

    After the recent renovation to the North American hall I would argue it is actually the best in the museum, as the initial colors have been largely restored and signage replaced. I have shared a few of my favorites below. The elk one is probably my actual favorite though as I have a large picture of it up in my kitchen.

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  9. nczoofan

    nczoofan Well-Known Member

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    It truly is an amazing display. As are the 2 asian elephants in the Hall of Asian Mammals. To see them that close its just amazing to see their size and how much effort went int every wrinkle. It also is a genius move to slightly elevate both species on a platform to really command the attention of everyone in the room.

    [​IMG]

    Edit: Also it shocks me to know both elephant displays will soon be a century old.
     
  10. twilighter

    twilighter Well-Known Member

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    This book is very high on my wishlist
    and it's very hard to argue against the North American hall ! Probably the fact that the African hall represents specimens, almost extinct in the Mother Nature, like the Giant Sable and the Black and White Rhinos with gargantuan horns makes it my personal best .
     
  11. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    @nczoofan What is the title of the AMNH diorama book that you mentioned?
     
  12. Pleistohorse

    Pleistohorse Well-Known Member

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    Interesting topic. I think that the American Museum of Natural History is in a league of its own. I recommend the books Kingdom Under Glass by Jay Kirk and, especially, Windows on Nature by Stephen Christopher Quinn for additional insight into the history of AMNH’s Dioramas.

    I read once that the classic diorama is falling out of favor as museums evolve. Additionally the skill and expense needed to realistically, recreate a specific environment (just rendering the flora) was a factor. Related to this (especially as it pertains to changes in exhibitory preferences), I believe that the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History overhauled it’s displays several years ago (although I may be wrong as I have not visited the museum since 1988). The Anchorage Museum and the Page Museum in Wasilla, dispensed with their displays (which were very small) altogether.

    I think the Field Museum’s collection of specimens and dioramas is a nice second tier example. Contrasting as well with the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology were the specimens are exhibited in geographic groups in walk around displays (without dioramas). A different approach, not as personally appealing to me, but the collection is extensive and the taxidermy itself realistically rendered.

    Although the collection is very small, the Peabody Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, has a few very nicely put together displays. I really enjoy the scene depicting northwestern Connecticut. I’d rate Peabody up there with the AMNH on style if not depth.

    Museums in Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Boston each have pretty nice displays of local wildlife in natural settings. In my memory I believe the Museums in San Antonio and Dallas to be a bit better than those in Austin or Boston.

    I have never been to the Natural History Museums in Philadelphia, Denver, or Los Angeles...but from pictures they each look pretty nice. It is a hope of mine to visit the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh someday as well.

    Until it was renovated in the late 1970’s (along with the adjacent Roger Williams Park Zoo), the natural history museum in Providence Rhode Island had two dioramas, which if I remember correctly depicted a Jaguar diorama on one side and a Leopard diorama on the other. I believe that the museum had a very nice seashore diorama as well.

    For the last few weeks I’ve been visiting Natural History Displays in Anchorage and other towns here in south-central Alaska (I have posted a few examples in the United States - Other and the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature galleries) and documenting the species observed...I literally see them as little worlds waiting to be discovered.

    ;):);)

    Outside of the United States, I’ve visited Natural History Museums in the U.K., Japan, Belgium, Ireland, France, Netherlands, and Germany. Frankfurt and Munich each had nicely rendered Dioramas of European Wildlife and stand out in my memory.
     
    Last edited: 5 Oct 2020
  13. Yoshistar888

    Yoshistar888 Well-Known Member

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    The Peabody is also awesome I mean I’ve only been to 3 museums, AMNH, Melbourne and the Peabody.

    I really love the poison dart frog exhibit there and of course the baby horseshoe crabs. So cute.
     
    Last edited: 5 Oct 2020
  14. Tim May

    Tim May Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I agree with this: the dioramas in the Hall of African Mammals, in the American Museum of Natural History, New York, are definitely the most impressive I've ever seen. The North American and Asian exhibits are also excellent.

    I also agree with you about the Natural History Museum in Paris: the Grande galerie de l'évolution is a favourite of mine too. And the Galerie de paléontologie et d'anatomie comparée is also fascinating.
     
  15. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Some of those taxidermy specimens are really eccentric in a loveably weird way, I especially like the manic depressive giant otter :p :D

    Yes, those are incredible centre pieces. I remember seeing them and thinking that the way they are portrayed with so much tension makes them they look as if they could just spring back to life and stampede through the gallery and cause carnage and mayhem.

    Was there any particular diorama in those three museums that grabbed your attention ?

    I know what you mean about the poison dart frogs as I really love it when natural history museums include live displays of animals in their exhibits / exhibitions. I think that it really does enhance the displays to have an area with live creatures and I wish that more museums would have this.

    I went to a couple of exhibitions at the Natural History Museum in London "Venom" and "After dark" that included live animals alongside all of the fascinating taxidermy and wet specimens. These were a goliath bird eating spider and blind cave fish to highlight venomous species and adaptions to nocturnal life (or adaption by living organisms to total darkness) respectively.
     
    Last edited: 5 Oct 2020
    German Zoo World and twilighter like this.
  16. Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Onychorhynchus coronatus Well-Known Member

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    Unfortunately I haven't yet been to the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum but I just googled the waterhole diorama you mentioned and it is very impressive.

    I think the key difference between this and a lot of other dioramas seems to be the amount of space conveyed in this scene (all I can say is the galleries must be huge!) as they have literally fitted not only a couple of elephants but also giraffe and buffalo in there.

    It really makes the setup look more naturalistic whereas in many dioramas like for example those of the Powell Cotton Museum in the UK (which are interesting, beautiful and of historical value in their own special way) there is a limited amount of space in which a huge number of species are crammed in an image which would be very unlikely to see in nature.

    Yes, I totally agree with you about the North American Hall at the AMNH. It is most definitely another firm favourite of mine in terms of dioramas and natural history art.

    I saw these way back in 2010 and I do think that they very effectively convey the natural history of North America (especially to visitors from outside the region) giving the viewer this impression of the grandeur and richness of the mammalian wildlife of the continent.

    If I remember correctly I think these were also created by Akeley weren't they ?

    Some personal favourites of mine from that hall are the jaguar diorama that you posted a picture of (beautiful painting to capture those multihued pastel colours of the dawn sky and the drama of an apex predator patrolling his territory) and I also love the timber wolves pursuing prey through the snow under the night sky lit by the aurora borealis.

    They are amazing aren't they ?! These two look so much more placid than the herd of African elephants in the African Hall of Mammals but as you've said they still very much command the respect of the viewer with their imposing bulk and deadly looking tusks.

    The attention to details such as wrinkles and poise by the taxidermist is truly astounding and you really get the impression that these guys who were working at the beginning of the 20th century were true artists and the absolute top of their game.

    Time has stood still for these animals but imagine how many generations of visitors over the century have marveled at this pair ?
     
    Last edited: 5 Oct 2020
  17. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    I haven't been to too many museums but my favorite animals dioramas I have seen are at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Their dioramas look very similar to the AMNH ones, and MPM actually invented the diorama (these types of dioramas with a curved mural back wall and taxidermy in the front are called Milwaukee Dioramas).
     
  18. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    For a long time, dioramas were the only way how people could experience wildlife of distant countries. They were constructed by experienced naturalists with genuine love of nature. It was the time where wildlife films, color photography, overseas tourism, naturalistic zoo exhibits did not yet exist or were too expensive.

    I think dioramas are still of value, and don't especially like the modern abstract museum displays.

    Also, dioramas had big influence on naturalistic displays in zoos. When you look at some of exhibits in Mouse House or World of Birds in the Bronx zoo, their style is based on dioramas in AMNH.

    In mainland Europe, there are dioramas in the Museum of Natural History in Geneva.It sort of replaces the lack of zoo in Geneva. There is also a large diorama of Dutch coastal dunes in the natural history museum in Artis zoo. However, it seems to be closed most of the time.
     
  19. nczoofan

    nczoofan Well-Known Member

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    The book is Windows on Nature: The Great Habitat Dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History.
     
  20. nczoofan

    nczoofan Well-Known Member

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    @Onychorhynchus coronatus

    Akeley actually died during an expedition of Central Africa close to the national park he had advocated for to protect the mountain gorilla. So he was not even around to see the African hall open to the public. The North American hall was definitely inspired by him though. What sets it apart from the other halls is that it focuses on creatures large and small. Unlike earlier halls it put a focus on smaller mammal species like the groundhog and spotted skunk. The wolf one is also a personal favorite, yet the photos do it no justice online.