Masterful Restoration Revitalizes Historic Hall

Featuring stunningly restored dioramas offering snapshots of North America’s rich natural heritage, the iconic Hall of North American Mammals reopened to the public along with the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial on October 27, 2012, as the Jill and Lewis Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals.

When the Hall of North American Mammals first opened in 1942 with 10 dioramas, it was heralded as a “vista of North America’s natural wonders and tremendous spaces.” Work halted during World War II, and 19 additional habitat groups were added in 1954. A decade later, in 1963, the hall expanded to include the Small Mammal Corridor. By the time the restoration project began in 2011, the hall encompassed 43 habitat dioramas, including two miniature dioramas depicting the continent’s prehistoric mammals, and featured more than 40 North American mammals ranging from the American bison to the wolverine. Based on field research and executed to scientific precision, the dioramas remain unique works of art, a powerful educational tool, and a force for wildlife conservation. 

For more than a year, a team of artists, conservators, taxidermists, and designers worked to restore the hall’s habitat dioramas, considered among the finest in the world, recoloring faded fur to match pristine study skins from the Museum’s collections; repairing delicate fabricated leaves or replacing real flora in the foregrounds; and conserving background paintings by preeminent  diorama artists including James Perry Wilson and Belmore Brown. In addition to restoration of the dioramas, the hall’s lighting was brought into accord with a citywide greening initiative with the installation of energy-efficient lighting, a measure that will also protect the specimens from fading.

 

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A team of conservators and artists worked to restore specimens, as well as foreground elements and background paintings, in the hall’s iconic dioramas.


New interpretation was added to offer the latest scientific information about each diorama, including about individual species as well as depicted scenes. Updated displays include range maps and call-outs for key details in the dioramas.

A suite of digital offerings launched in conjunction with the reopening of the Bernard Family Hall of North American Mammals offered additional opportunities to highlight the beauty and science behind this historic hall. A free smartphone app for iPhone or Android devices released in October 2012 offered stunning images of celebrated dioramas, behind-the-scenes videos, archival photos, recordings of animal calls, and science commentary from Curator Ross D.E. MacPhee. A 16-part web video series documenting the year-long restoration and featuring interviews with artists, conservators, and Dr. MacPhee was featured on the Museum’s AMNH.tv and YouTube channels beginning in September 2012 and recognized as a 2013 Webby Official Honoree in the Documentary: Series category in April 2013. To watch the series, click here.

 


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Special platforms were constructed to allow conservators access to specimens within the dioramas.


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Conservators from the Museum’s Objects and Natural History Conservation Labs spent months researching the right product to restore faded furs on specimens that ranged from pronghorn to ferret (shown here).


Dr. MacPhee, curator in the Museum’s Department of Mammalogy, served as supervising curator for the restoration of the Hall of North American Mammals, with Roland Kays, a professor at North Carolina State University, consulting. Artist Stephen C. Quinn, a senior project manager in the Museum’s Department of Exhibition who retired from full-time service in March 2013, directed the restoration project.