Dioramas at The Field Museum
Since the Museum’s opening in 1893, dioramas have been at the heart of The Field Museum, bringing visitors closer to nature by presenting animals in highly realistic natural environments. They are collaborations of academia and art, creating a sensory experience as much as an intellectual one. Through the vivid reconstructions it’s easy to travel from the jungles of Africa to the highlands of Asia and everywhere in-between. The dioramas offer the private pleasure of imagining a dangerous, wild encounter within the walls of the Museum.
Nowhere is this sense of danger better captured than in the Lions of Tsavo display in the Hall of Mammals. This diorama features the world’s best known man-eating lions, which inspired the 1996 movie The Ghost and the Darkness. Together they killed an estimated 35 people, literally stopping the British Empire in its tracks by feasting on railroad construction workers. The two killers are posed on a rocky ledge, looking toward the visitors as potential prey. This rare window into the lives of the aggressive lions allows visitors to see everything from tooth to tail, and gain an appreciation for how dangerous they really were.
More than just snapshots of nature, the dioramas also tell stories from the wilderness. In a series of four dioramas in the Nature Walk exhibition, visitors follow a group of white-tailed deer through each of the seasons, and can clearly see just how strongly the seasons affect the animals’ appearance and behavior. This set of dioramas established a standard in taxidermy and naturalistic habitats for natural history museums throughout the country. Master taxidermist Carl Akeley created the diorama and was so determined to convey a convincing setting that he molded over 17,000 wax leaves for the display.
The dioramas at The Field Museum represent some of the most extensive collections of animals in the world in their natural settings. They capture nature at a moment and convey a microcosm of the world.