Beauty of the Beasts

Dave Willard just got back from birding in northern Minnesota.  It was great to hear about all the birds he saw on his trip, and he’s already entered them into E-bird.  As he got caught up on e-mail, he sent along a link to a blog post that Meera Sethi wrote from Sweden, where she is volunteering at a bird observatory.  Meera has been a volunteer in the Bird Division, preparing specimens and that is what got her inspired to go to Sweden this summer.  If you want to learn more, you should read Meera's postsThe post Dave sent me focuses on hands and Meera’s thoughts on what her's are learning to do.  In particular, she refers to the extremely capable hands of Tom Gnoske, our Assistant Collection Manager, who has through the years, shown hundreds of people how to skin a bird (and how hard it is, especially to do it well).  Meera is a writer who has been inspired in our collections, but she's not alone.

Peggy painting in the Bird Division.

While we are an academic and scientific institution, I hope we never lose sight of the beauty of the nature documented in our collections.  Through the years we have had many writers and artists use the collections and we have even developed what in scientific terminology is called a synergistic relationship with colleagues from the Art Institute of Chicago.  Both Peggy MacNamara and Olivia Petrides bring their Art Institute classes to the museum to paint and even paint from specimens in the collection.  The return for us is that this opportunity has led to a number of these talented students coming back to work in the collections as interns and volunteers. 

Also, Peggy has been the museum’s Artist in Residence for more than 20 years.  It is an unpaid position, but we did finally get her an office in the Bird Division on the 3rd Floor, and she is busy working on a variety of projects including finishing up her third book based on art work inspired by the Zoology collections. Peggy has given thousands of people the opportunity to see the beauty of biodiversity and the museum through the eyes of an artist.

Antonia Webb and Kade Franzon, students from the Art Institute painting in the Bird Division (photo O. Petrides).