Monday, April 11, 2011

Museum of Comparative Zoology

The Museum of Comparative Zoology is part of Harvard University’s Museum of Natural History  in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The collection was formed in 1859, beginning with the work of naturalist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873). It is one of the oldest and most extensive natural history collection on display in the western hemisphere.

It’s an animal sketcher’s paradise because there’s a huge collection of skeletons and taxidermy animals on display in glass cases with simple backgrounds.

In the back room (which is less traveled), the skeleton and mounts are displayed side by side. If you’re lucky, you can find a folding stool or a chair or bring your own, which is allowed as long as you don’t block the corridors.

There’s everything ranging from a whale skeleton to a case of hummingbirds. Because the mounts are old, some of them are a little weird looking or cracking, which adds an odd vibe to the experience.

There’s an exhibit right now on color in the animal kingdom, and another on animal headgear--meaning mostly antlers and horns of wild deer and sheep. Part of the $9.00 museum admission is the Peabody anthropology museum and the world renowned Blaschka Glass Flowers collection.

My sketch of bison is done in watercolor and water-soluble colored pencils in a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook.
Museum of Comparative Zoology website
Wikipedia's entry on the museum


Roca said...

This post made me think of something I'd seen recently while visiting an art museum. There were signs posted throughout the Greenville (SC) Museum of Art that said "No Sketching." I wasn't sketching at the time but I thought to myself, how sad for local art students that might want to come with a sketchbook. Have you seen other museums that do this and is it common? In the few cases I've seen folks sketching in museums they always seem to be small in number and are not intrusive.

As a side note, this museum had a lovely (and surprising) collection of Andrew Wyeth originals.

James Gurney said...

Meredith, this is a great subject. Most museums allow sketching, usually limited to drawing media. I usually get away with the super compact watercolor set. Some allow you to do painted copies in oil if you get a permit in advance. Some allow or provide folding chairs, some don't.

The Metropolitan museum in NY lets you sketch, but does not allow sketching in special exhibitions, something I have written letters of complaint about (they allow you to take written notes, but not make a small thumbnail sketch--go figure).

In the 19th century, most museums set aside a special day of the week just for artists to sketch and copy, because then they understood the value of sketching to continue the tradition.

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David Glenn said...

There's a museum close by that features a lot of animals to look at. I always enjoy taking a trip to a museum.

The Art of Kim Kincaid said...

I too was surprised that sketches are not allowed when I recently visited the James Tissot and Carl Bloch exhibitions at BYU's MOA. Why provide the visual access to these wonderful paintings and then discourage a student's opportunity to sketch them?

Blue said...

I too love visiting the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The Museum of Comparative Zoology, with more than 21 million specimens in its research collections is the 'parent museum' to the public museum, which displays only some 6,000 specimens of the MCZ's vast collections. The MCZ is open only to researchers, but the Harvard Museum of Natural History is open 9-5 daily, and welcomes more than 180,000 visitors each year.

P.T. Waugh said...

I like the collections at the NY Natural History Museum and the Smithsonian. I sat and sketch skeletons at the Smithsonian once, it was fun. A woman came up and asked to take a picture of me drawing. I've got to say, looking at those lifeless, glass eyed animals can sometimes be creepy.

Matthew Gauvin said...

I LOVE that museum! I went a few times when I lived in Boston and went last summer. That visit was perfect timing as I was getting ready to design a monster character for my new book. It was so much fun looking at all of the skeletons and stuffed animals imagining which parts would make for a good monster.
I also love looking through their awesome rock collection. A few of them remind me of the images from "the World Beneath" with the underground caverns.

My Pen Name said...

sketching is often not allowed because of insurance reasons. Some places even ban notetaking (the brooklyn museum on several exhibits). Few places allow wet media, and believe it or not, some curators consider watercolor more potentially damaging that oil - most museums that allow oil copying often do not allow water color.
As for copying with oil that too is fast fading because of the expense and security involved.

Ironically enough, many of the same museums will have corporate parties where sloshed guests spill alcohol on paintings, and they rely on their overworked and demoralized conservators to clean it off.

Amber said...

If it hasn't been done already, I'm interested in finding (or making if one doesn't exist) a list of national museums that don't allow sketching. I hope that those who do not are far outnumbered by those who allow it.

I'm on a personal mission to visit such places for sketching alone, but until this post it didn't occur to me to check if any forbid it...what a possible waste of a flight if that were the case!