Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    • Schenley Park Entrance 1922
    • Schenley Park and Forbes Field 1936
    • Maria Sibylla Merian, Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumennahrung
    • Andrey Avinoff at Carnegie Museum of Art
    Schenley Park Entrance 1922

    Schenley Park Entrance, 1922, Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, courtesy of the Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

     

    Picturing Nature in Early 20th Century Oakland

    In the context of the Consuming Nature workshop, sparked especially by our plans to visit the Hunt Botanical Institute, I was thinking a lot about how to situate CMNH’s Botany Hall and its dioramas in the social and cultural context of Oakland. I had learned from research conducted by Kate Madison and Emily Enterline, collaborators on our project, about the involvement of Rachel Hunt with Andrey Avinoff in the creation of the botanical dioramas. Hunt (wife of Roy Hunt of Alcoa) was president of the Garden Club of Allegheny County, which contributed the funds for the first diorama of wildflowers of Pennsylvania, completed in 1928. Press from the time noted that the Garden Club of Allegheny County had also contributed to the improvement of the entrance to Schenley Park, which was visible from the windows that used to be in Botany Hall.

    I also had learned from the work of Peter Clericuzio (Currently Visiting Lecturer in Architectural Studies at Pitt) on the architecture of Forbes Field about how in the early twentieth-century Oakland was positioned as a cultural center and soothing escape from the grime of the city. I therefore came into the workshop with the notion that the dioramas might belong in this context, in which picturesque views of nature, leisure, and cultural enrichment worked together, while at the same time, the funding behind the institutional framework for this came from the very industry that was destroying the environment, via philanthropic activities.

    At Hunt Botanical Institute, we were able to see Elizabeth Shoumatoff’s portrait of Rachel Hunt (with background painted by Avinoff), as well as examples of the kind of botanical illustrations that were Rachel Hunt’s passion: large, richly detailed portraits of individual plants that almost seem to pose for the viewer. Chuck Tancin also mentioned to us that at the insistence of Roy Hunt, the shelves in the library reading room are aluminum (but painted bronze so as to fit with the overall aesthetic), which is a poignant anecdote for thinking about the intersecting agencies at work behind Pittsburgh’s institutional investment in a culturally sophisticated appreciation of nature.

    At CMOA, Lulu Lippincott shared with us some of her expertise on Avinoff, and we viewed some of his artworks, which as Lulu explained, can be understood as depictions of his philosophy about the linkage of art, science, the natural world, and spirituality. Even though Avinoff was known as an entomologist, it is clear to me now that Botany Hall was of special interest to him. In the context of Avinoff’s interests and Hunt’s patronage, the representational strategies of the botanical dioramas, which must be described as picturesque, theatrical, and somewhat political, as much as scientifically accurate, come into clearer focus. It is important to imagine the museum, and the philanthropic culture that shaped the space of Oakland, as driven by a dream of a unified sphere of progress and idealism of all kinds, rather than the division between art and science that came to structure the institutions in the later twentieth century. This cultural space allowed the appreciation of nature to remain congruous with the glorification of industry.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    • Hayley in her office
    • Gems in Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems
    • Scribe in Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt
    • Butterfly on a plant in Botany Hall
    Hayley in her office

    In my office in the Marketing Department.

     

    Seeing the Museum Through a Lens

    Ever since I was a child, I remember visiting the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and leaving in awe for many obvious reasons. The infamous dinosaurs stretching across their entire hall, the Egyptian mummies with their colorful designs, and even the underrated bliss of being able to run down the cool, marble steps of the Grand Staircase, all left me with feelings of curiosity. It wasn’t until I became a marketing intern, that I began to see things a little differently. I still tried to keep the raw innocence of stepping into a museum and expecting things larger than life, but now I see the importance of each piece archived in all of its detail.

     

    Before starting my internship in the Marketing Department, I admittedly knew little of Natural History and the modern issues that arose with such non-profit management. But it is inherent to learn more about a subject the more you read and write about it and that’s what I was assigned to do in my first few weeks. I stumbled upon pronouncing dinosaur names such as ‘Pterosaur’ but soon became confident in my ability to write about them after some research. I learned which scientists faces went with the names I was emailing and I read articles about the museum’s ideas for innovation.

     

    My position included editing and writing content, producing photographs for social media, organizing archives, content analysis, answering visitor emails, and even the occasional daily office work, often stereotyped as the intern’s only position. I was truly lucky enough to be treated as another member of the marketing team, regardless of my age or the limits of my experience.

     

    One of the most significant projects I was chosen to work on was organizing and archiving all of the Marketing Department’s photos. It was my assignment to research sites that would allow an online space with easy access for all of our department’s employees to use. After much consideration, we chose a program that would eventually take me a couple months to complete the uploading. It was a long tedious assignment, but it allowed me to see every photo taken for the museum, past, present, and even my own; that was a surreal moment for me.

     

    It is common in the office to hear the word, ‘interactive’ suggested for different marketing campaigns and exhibition descriptions, and eventually this word would make its way into the way we used images. It was an amazing upgrade from the normal Windows filing system, and I quickly learned that progression was a huge factor in the museum community and something prominent in every department. Many people may associate Natural History as stagnant and unchangeable, but I have learned that we can use the informative, unique history to explain and educate individuals on a way to enhance the future. Whether it be through the use of photographs, blog posts, or educational programs offered to visitors, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has provided a positive perspective on the way that I now view museum management. In the future, I hope to explore more learning opportunities with museums and other non-profit organizations. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has continued to leave me with curiosity in all of its endeavors.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here