Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Steve Quinn wins award to update historic museum diorama

Every spring for the past fifteen or so years I've signed up for a series of early morning birdwalks in Central Park led by Steve Quinn. A great birder as well as a notable artist, Quinn is one of the great eminences at the American Museum of Natural History. On this morning's walk I learned that Steve is soon to embark on an exciting new project. It was described in the latest newsletter of an organization of artists known as AFC--Artists for Conservation -- see below:

Expedition to Virunga Mountains to Retrace Steps of Iconic Explorer in Support of Mountain Gorillas

[This is to] announce to AFC members that our eleventh Flag Expedition fellowship under the AFC Flag Expeditions Program, has been awarded to AFC Signature Member Stephen C. Quinn. For this expedition, Steve will travel to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to spend approximately three weeks observing, sketching, painting and photographing endangered mountain gorillas and their rugged jungle environment in the eastern Congo basin of Central Africa.

The expedition is receiving additional support from the Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation Program, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Project , and the "Mountain Gorilla One Health" program based at University of California Davis Wildlife Health Center.

Steve is also a world authority on museum dioramas and Senior Exhibits Manager at the American Museum of Natural History . The Expedition will retrace the footsteps of Carl Akeley, iconic artist, inventor, explorer and father of modern taxidermy, to understand his contributions to saving the endangered mountain gorilla. The expedition will also clearly illustrate the role and power of art (a diorama) as a catalyst for the creation of Africa's first national park and as such, give testament to the mission of the Artists for Conservation Foundation: "the support of wildlife and habitat conservation, biodiversity, sustainability and environmental education through art that celebrates our natural heritage".

An ecological comparison, using the museum diorama (a highly accurate work of art) as the litmus test to compare the past environment with the present, will be unique and propel the AFC, and the expedition sponsors into the conservation frontline.

Steve's goals are to visit the exact site of the diorama and document it thoroughly. He intends to do numerous field sketches of the animals and their surroundings, making a special point of creating a panoramic plein air painting from the very site where the original expedition artist (William R. Leigh) made his historic panoramic color field sketches during the 1926 expedition. Those sketches were used in the creation of the original diorama background painting. Steve's sketches will visually capture the changes that have taken place in the scene over the years since.

He will also visit and thoroughly document Akeley's gravesite. Akeley died on location in 1926, due to exhaustion, malaria, and dysentery, while collecting final references for the diorama; he is buried at the site depicted in the diorama.

With journal, photographs, video, field sketches and paintings, Steve hopes to compare Akeley's original notes and journal with his observations and the conditions today.

The expedition is planned for late November 2010.

Note: The photo above shows the Mountain Gorilla diorama in the Hall of African Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History.