THE DIORAMAS of THE BERNARD FAMILY HALL OF NORTH AMERICAN MAMMALS @ The American Museum of Natural History
The classic dioramas (especially those created before the 1960's) at the American Museum of Natural History, the Field Museum, and other pretigious natural history institutions are usually comprised of three interwoven components:
1. Background: A team of artists, photographers, and scientists study and record the environment of the animal/animals to be displayed. At the museum a chief artist reproduces that environment in the background painting. Prominent artists at the AMNH include James Perry Wilson (1889-1976), Sean Murtha (1968--), William Leigh (1866-1955), Francis Lee Jaques (1887-1969), Chris Olsen (1880-1965).
2. Foreground: Scientists study and record the immediate environment of the animal/animals on display. Artists at the museum reconstruct the actual environment—the ground, rocks, plants, etc. George Petersen (1905-1991) and Raymond DeLucia (1916-1997) are two well-known foreground artists at the AMNH.
3. Taxidermy: Scientists collect animal specimens that are shipped back to the museum where the “Akeley Method” is used to create the animal for the diorama. The skeleton of the animal is placed in the desired position for the diorama on a metal armature. The skeleton is then covered with clay so that a sculpture of the animal can be created. A plaster mold is made of the sculpture. That mold is removed and the interior is lined with materials such as fiberglass and papier mache. That material is removed from the mold and what remains is an exact lightweight mannequin copy of the original sculpture. The hide/skin of the animal is stretched over the mannequin; what you see is the animal in an actual pose in an actual environment. Prominent taxidermists at the AMNH include Carl Akeley (1864-1926) and Robert Rockwell (1886-1973). Today, no animal is harmed in the making of dioramas; often times, models and replicas are now used.
Creating the Bison-Pronhorn diorama at the AMNH
THE AKELEY METHOD STEP BY STEP [click on pictures for larger images]
The following sequence of photos illustrate the Akeley Method as it was used to create a diorama lion for the AMNH in 1930.
1. James L. Clark sculpts the clay mannequin form based on detailed notes and drawings made in the field. There is a scale model nearby for reference.
2. A plaster mold is formed over the original clay mannequin. It is in this plaster mold that the hollow [lightweight] papier-mache mannequin will be cast.
3. The papier-mache mannequin is removed from the plaster mold.
4. The papier-mache mannequin is assembled by John Hope.
5. The finished papier-mache mannequin is a perfect hollow, lightweight replica of the clay original.
6. The tanned lion skin is glued, pinned, and stitched over the papier-mache mannequin.
7. James Clark grooms the finished lion mount.
WHEN YOU LOOK AT A DIORAMA...
1. You are looking at an elaborate piece of multimedia art.
2. You are looking at a scientific display that explores many aspects of animal and plant life in a specific environment.
3. You are travelling back in time and witnessing flora and fuana captured in a moment of time and place; this is what this place and these animals looked like at the time the diorama was conceived.
DISCLAIMER: I do not represent the Museums mentioned on this website. My photos, links, and comments are personal points of view that do not necessarily reflect any official position by the administration of those Museums or their curators.