Sally Goodman was an art major at Hunter College in New York City when she visited the American Museum of Natural History as part of a class in graphic arts.
"We came to see the exhibit on endangered species, and afterward, I was just roaming around the Museum. I ended up in the Native American section, and it was there that I came across some very beautifully drawn small pictures of fish. I was overwhelmed. They were the best thing I had seen in the whole Museum," she recalled.
"It started me thinking: Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could do that kind of stuff when I graduated? I knew I'd need a job when I was finished with school, and I was concerned about whether I'd be able to find work that would be interesting and still pay enough for me to live on. When I saw that drawing, a light went on in my head. I thought: Somebody's got to be doing that; maybe it could be me.
"I had been visiting the Museum since I was a child, but it had never before occurred to me that there were any illustrators working there. I thought it was just scientists. But here were illustrations--not photographs--and I suddenly saw the possibilities, a way that I could contribute something even though I did not have a science background."
Sally decided to find out more about what the Museum had to offer. "I spoke to the head of the volunteer office, and she spoke to Dr. David Grimaldi, Chairman of the Entomology Department, who was looking for someone with pen-and-ink experience to do some scientific illustrations."
She started out as a volunteer but soon had a paying job working for various scientists in the department. Her official title is curatorial assistant. The work she does ranges from pinning and labeling specimens to making precise drawings using a microscope and an ingenious device called a camera lucida. "It's basically a mirror attached to the microscope that projects the image I'm seeing onto a sheet of paper. That allows me to trace the outline of the specimen just as it appears under the microscope," Sally explained.
She has done preparator work for a scientist who specializes in wasps. "He collects not only the wasps but also their nests. The nests are really beautiful, and in many ways the work I'm doing with them reminds me of installation art," she observed.
"I see lots of relationships between art and science. When I deal with insects--mounting, doing preparator work--it reminds me of things I do when I make art--composition, organization, the kind of details I have to pay attention to. There really are many similarities," she said.