Andros Coral Reef Diorama main content.

Andros Coral Reef Diorama

Part of Hall of Ocean Life.

Detail view of the Andros Coral Reef Diorama shows the meticulously painted corals. M. Shanley/© AMNH
Two stories tall. Beneath the arch, a flamingo-filled sky. Below, a coral reef seen from the bottom of the sea.

Like the other habitat dioramas in the Museum, the Andros Coral Reef in the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life depicts a real place at a specific point in time: a Bahamian coral reef on a June day in the 1920s.

And like the other dioramas, it features specimens gathered in the field mixed with models created from detailed artists’ sketches, re-creating a three-dimensional scene from nature to transport Museum visitors to glimpse natural wonders around the world. But the Andros Coral Reef diorama is unique in that it is the only two-level diorama in the Museum.

The upper level of the Andros Coral Reef diorama depicts the sky and water, and the lower level depicts the corals beneath the water.
D. Finnin/© AMNH

The project that led to this diorama's unveiling in 1935 took 12 years, beginning with a 1923 field expedition, the first of five that would bring scientists, artists, and model-makers to Andros and other Bahamian islands. Roy Waldo Miner, who oversaw the exhibit as the Museum’s curator of living invertebrates, described it as “probably the most extensive and difficult group yet attempted in this Museum, in view of the multiplicity of life presented and the character of the problems involved.”

“The ideal museum group is not merely a work of art. It is a record of living beings in their natural state and environment, depicted in their proper relations to their surroundings, and emphasizing the truth that the real unit in nature is the association rather than the individual.”

One major challenge: how to accurately observe and record nature on the ocean floor—at a time that predated self-contained underwater diving gear. The team—which included painter and modeler Chris Olsen, assistant modeler Bruce C. Brunner, colorist W. H. Southwick, scientist artist George H. Childs, glassblower Herman Mueller, and background artist Francis Lee Jaques, who painted the brilliant skyscape above the islands of Andros and Goat Cay for the diorama’s second story—relied in part on an ingenious “submarine tube” stretched down accordion-like from beneath the boat to a glass-fronted chamber.