African spectacle, the dioramas of New York’s American Museum of Natural Hist.

Tableau & Diorama iv (and the last in the current series on that theme)

I love many types of art, architecture, many types of spaces and places.  But for sheer drama and spectacle, for an extraordinary mix of art (the much underrated art of tableau-making) and of science,  this may be the most powerful room I’ve ever seen.

For example,  if you turn left upon entering the room,  (as many visitors seem instinctively to do)  then this is the very first thing you see…

Gorilla at AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

It makes us think of jungles and of adventure stories, of Tarzan and Ryder Haggard.  If this doesn’t awaken your inner child, I don’t know what will.

There are literally dozen of these tableau at New York’s American Museum of Natural History.  Huge slabs of glass, set into the all of a darken hall (a double-Decker darkened hall, I shall later reveal)  All of them containing large African animals.   Yes, it is educational,  but yes it is dramatic and crowd-pleasing also.  This is pure spectacle.

Antelope at AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

Wide shot 1 at AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

History of  Dioramas ii arranqhenderson.com Americn Mus of Natural History

Forrst tableau at AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

From the plains of East Africa, to the steamy heat of equatorial forest,  all is here.  Fr some reason, the dioramas set in the forests are especially exciting.  They must awaken some atavistic excitement, or simply ancient fear perhaps.

Deer at AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

There are even moments of occasional bathos too perhaps.   I found the gaze of these deer below, somewhat disconcerting.

Deer detail AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

Obviously there is something sad about all these dead animals.  But they were all shot a very long time ago, long before modern ideas of conservation.    And they have helped educate untold thousands of children, some of whom, one hopes, have been inspired to think more carefully about protecting other species and our environment.

As I say the animals were all shot a very long time ago anyway.,   I’d like to think our sensibility towards wild animals has changed since then.  (Unless you are a dentist of course)

Wide 2 at AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

But either way, i don’t want to pontificate further.   The simple fact is that this room is just an extraordinary work of theatre and spectacle.   An an extraordinary work of Science, and of Art.    I salute it.

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The whole thing is wonderfully stage managed.  Knowing full well that most visitors are dying to see a lion or two,  the museum has cleverly kept the best til last.

History of  Dioramas iii arranqhenderson.com Americn Mus of Natural History

The Hall of African animals was a sensation when it first opened.   The curators took note,  and for many years have used diorama in other parts of the museum collection also.   These birds are rather brilliant.

Birds AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

Not to mention this golden eagle.

Birds 2 AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

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Elsewhere in the museum there are huge skeletons and huge models of vast dinosaur,  all extraordianry, but which I don’t really have space to even discuss here properly.

But despite all the other amazing attractions  (and there are many, including a world-famous planetarium)  the African hall is still the show-stopper it has always been.

For one thing, it is a double height room with two whole layers of animal tableau…    The second level,  as you see runs around with a balcony.

2-story wide shot at AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

Up on the second level, among many other dioramas,  you find these huge rhinos…

Rhino at AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

and this other, wonderful tree-top canopy scene…

Moneys at AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

And then, as if all that wasn’t enough…  in the middle of the room is an entire herd of  elephants.    A herd of elephants.   What can you say?    (This is America baby, perhaps)

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Elephant wide AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

Elephant Big at AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

I leave the last word to these elephants.   It makes sense.  They left me fairly speechless at the time too.

Please feel free to share and/or comment of you enjoyed,  or even if you didn’t.   Either way,  thanks as always for reading.

-Arran.

Wide shot 1 at AmMusNatHistory NYC Arran Henderson

5 thoughts on “African spectacle, the dioramas of New York’s American Museum of Natural Hist.

  1. Lovely, Arran — glorious photos and informative commentary. I used to enjoy the dioramas in Bristol Museum as a kid, though it’s a while since I viewed them and much has been re-arranged in the interim.

    1. Thank you very much got the kind words. That’s very interesting they have (or at least had) dioramas in the Bristol museum. I wonder if they’re still there. Have never been to Bristol but would love to see it one day. When I finally do I’ll be making a bee-line for that museum! Intriguing..

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