My article “The History and Future of the Once-Revolutionary Taxidermy Diorama” appears in Smithsonian magazine.
Here’s a selection:
These exhibits had a loftier purpose as well: to foster an emotional, intimate and even “theatrical” encounter with nature, says Eric Dorfman, director of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Dorfman compares taxidermy displays to the German composer Richard Wagner’s vision for the first modern opera houses. Wagner wanted the opera houses to be so dark that audience members couldn’t see those sitting in front of them, leaving individuals to grapple alone with the music.
“The same exact kind of theater is used in European gothic cathedrals, with the vaulted ceilings and the story of Christ coming through the lit, stained glass. That’s a very powerful image even to someone who is from a different religion, or an atheist,” Dorfman says. “If you imagine a hall of dioramas, frequently they’re very dark. They’re lit from inside. They create a powerful relationship between you and that image.”