Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sneak preview

Steve Quinn, yesterday's blog subject, thought readers might like an advance look at the new AMNH show opening Saturday. He send a photo [above] of the new diorama he designed for the show. Here's a description from the press release:

New York, January 26, 2010—The American Museum of Natural History today announced a major new exhibition, Race to the End of the Earth, which will open May 29 and remain on view through January 2, 2011.

Race to the End of the Earth will recount one of the most stirring tales of Antarctic exploration: the contest to reach the South Pole in 1911-1912. The exhibition will focus on the challenges that the two competing explorers—Norwegian Roald Amundsen and British Royal Navy Captain Robert Falcon Scott—had to face as they undertook their 1,800-mile journeys from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf to the Pole and back. Nutrition, human endurance, equipment, logistics, and Antarctica's extreme weather conditions were among the many challenges that each team had to face, with outcomes that included both triumph and tragedy. The exhibition also reveals the legacy of these early expeditions by linking it with modern science in the Antarctic and the latest research on this unique continent's distant past and its potential future.

PS from Marie: Steve also sent the following note with some fascinating details about the making of the diorama The stars and constellations, however, can't really be seen on the photo. You'll want to head for the museum to see the real thing.

Stebe writes: FYI. All stars are charted for where they should be for the direction viewed for the date, July 20th, 1911. You can see Orion (upside down, of course, on the left at the horizon) and the Southern Cross (in the upper left sky). As it is the deep dark of the Antarctic winter, Aurora australis is bright in the South East sky over the pole. The moon would be located back over your right shoulder (out of view behind you) so it’s light is raking in from the right side into the picture. All 3D Penguins are models cast from a dead specimen we got from SeaworldSanDiego or are flat 2 dimensional silhouettes. The birds (males) are all standing on frozen sea ice incubating their eggs waiting for the females to return from feeding in the open sea. They will wait for two months in the dark. I think they should call this picture “True Love Waits”. The ice barrier (edge of the Ross Ice Shelf) is on the Right and recedes off into the center distance.

My assignment was to recreate the scene that Edward Wilson would have seen when he visited this site to make the first observations of incubating Emperor Penguins and collect some eggs. He was the physician/biologist on Robert Falcon Scott’s 1911 Expedition to reach the South Pole. The poor guy froze to death with Scott!

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.