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Steve Quinn

OLogy Series
ologist
card
273

Steve Quinn

OLogy Series
ologist

For Steve Quinn, art and science have always gone hand-in-hand. As a kid, he liked to draw and make clay models of dinosaurs. In high school, he volunteered in the exhibits department at a natural science museum, and realized he could combine both interests in a museum exhibit career. He went to art school and became an artist at the American Museum of Natural History in 1974. Today, he oversees the creation of dioramas at the Museum.

Vanishing Habitats
To Steve Quinn, dioramas are inspiring windows into distant times and faraway places. They also serve to conserve the beautiful, fragile habitats they portray. Some of the first habitat dioramas were built at the Museum in the late 1800s when people were worried about vanishing wilderness and wildlife. Movies and television didn't exist back then, so Museum artists and scientists began using dioramas to bring awareness and appreciation for nature in order to protect wildlife.

In 1903, a pelican diorama at the Museum helped inspire President Teddy Roosevelt to dedicate that area in Florida as the first of 50 federal bird preserves. Steve's favorite diorama of Mountain Gorillas in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals helped bring about the first national park in Africa to save the gorillas. Yet Steve still wonders, "Will we treasure the planet as we do the dioramas, or will the dioramas one day become a record of a lost world, as it was before we destroy it?" Steve hopes the dioramas will help people understand the important role they play in protecting the environment.

Constructing Life-Like Models
When visitors enter the Akeley Hall of African Mammals, they are greeted by a herd of eight majestic African elephants. Did you know that they are all hollow inside?

Like all the models in the hall, the elephants were prepared using a method developed by the African explorer, taxidermist, and sculptor
Carl Akeley.

This process begins by constructing a life-sized frame made of wire, wood, and often the bones of the actual animal. Then a clay sculpture is carefully crafted over the frame to show the muscular details of the animal in a life-like pose. Next, a plaster mold is made from the sculpture. From this mold, a hollow, lightweight paper mache cast is made. Finally, the hollow cast sculpture is covered with the animal’s skin, which is glued to the manikin. Then details such as eyes, lips and nostrils are added.

With Akeley's method, the final models are extraordinarily life-like.

Each diorama depicts a specific habitat and the plants and animals that live there. To create these dioramas, Steve works with a team of:

scientists

artists

both

Are you right?

Correct!

Before creating a diorama, a team of scientists and artists travel to an exact location to collect data, photograph, sketches, and specimens. Then they try to recreate that habitat and its plants and animals back at the Museum.

Steve Quinn, project manager of exhibitions

I see dioramas as an unique blend of art and science. Even as a child, I could never separate my interests--art was always a part of my interpretation of science or a tool I used to observe nature.

Steve Quinn, project manager of exhibitions

The Museum's dioramas reconnect us to nature and remind us that we still belong to nature. They reflect the awe and wonder we feel before nature and the creatures with which we share the Earth.

The background of a diorama is typically flat and plain, so as not to detract from the three-dimensional models.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

The background is curved, and painted with careful detail to depict a realistic landscape. This painting merges into the foreground terrain, another essential part of a diorama.

Hometown: Ridgefield Park, NJ
Education: Ridgewood School of Art and Design
Job: Senior Project Manager, Exhibitions Department
Favorite subject in school: biology and art (sculpture and painting)
Known for: a field naturalist and artist; natural historian; passionate about art as a tool for wildlife conservation

Image credits: courtesy of AMNH; Steve Quinn: courtesy of AMNH; Steve Quinn: courtesy of AMNH.