Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Modern Diorama?

Now that the 51st Art and the Animal exhibition is now open at the Milwaukee Public Museum, or tour director Dr. David J. Wagner wrote an interesting article on the Birth of the Modern Diorama, something that we mostly take for granted while enjoying a walk through one of our many museums.


The Milwaukee Public Museum
and The Birth of the Modern Diorama
from unedited research notes
of Dr. David J. Wagner
for American Wildlife Art
Carl Akeley

Carl Akeley (1864–1926), along with William Hornaday (1854–1937), were first-generation American taxidermists who received on-the-job training from European taxidermists recruited by Henry A. Ward (1834–1906).  Carl Akeley completed the first complete museum habitat diorama in the world, depicting a muskrat colony, at the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1890.
In 1895, Frederick J. Skiff enticed Akeley to leave the Milwaukee Public Museum to become chief taxidermist at the new Field Museum of Natural History, where he would oversee the production of dioramas with painted backgrounds by painters like Charles Knight. While this was the beginning of the “golden age of dioramas,” it would reach its zenith fourteen years later when Akeley would leave Chicago for New York to work at the American Museum of Natural History.  In 1893, Marshall Field agreed to contribute $1 million to acquire the collection of Ward’s Natural Science Establishment, which was on display at the Columbian Exposition, to establish a public museum of natural history for Chicago.  The Field Museum opened on January 16, 1894.  By contrast, The Milwaukee Public Museum which was chartered in 1882 has already opened to the public ten years earlier in 1884.  Its existence however can be traced back to 1851 and the founding of the German-English Academy in Milwaukee.

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