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Finding the Site of an Iconic Museum Diorama

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Each of the Museum’s treasured habitat dioramas depicts a scene from a real place, cast in the light of a particular time of day. These re-creations are based on meticulous observations of scientists in the field and the on-site sketches of the artists who accompanied them. Last fall, Stephen C. Quinn of the Museum’s Exhibition Department took a remarkable trip to locate the exact site of the Museum’s mountain gorilla diorama and record the changes that have taken place in the 80-plus years since Carl Akeley’s final visit. Below is Quinn’s article about his journey, which originally appeared  in the Summer issue of Rotunda, the Members’ magazine.

When Carl Akeley—explorer, naturalist, artist, and taxidermist who created the Museum’s Akeley Hall of African Mammals—first encountered the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) in 1921, it was a creature steeped in myth and folklore. Akeley, who was researching and collecting specimens to create the now-famous mountain gorilla diorama, was among the first to accurately document mountain gorillas as intelligent and social animals that, even then, were under grave threat from overhunting. His research inspired him to dedicate the last few years of his life to the conservation and protection of the mountain gorilla. Akeley convinced King Albert of Belgium to set aside 200 square miles that would be their sanctuary, creating Africa’s first national park, which today lies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the border with Uganda and Rwanda, and which has been classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO since 1979.

Tags: Art Classes for Adults