Changing Roles of the Botany Hall Dioramas Video - Final Blog Post


Changing Roles of the Botany Hall Dioramas Video - Final Blog Post

Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016

It has been enlightening and eyeopening semester while working on the Botany Hall internship. Not only have I gain a great deal of knowledge about Botany and the hall and the workings of the museum, but it has allowed my to realize the amount of work and drive that is required for an internship that is largely independent work. My project is a short documentary about the changing context of dioramas, specifically those of Botany Hall, in museum context. Here is an exerpt from the intro to my script:

"First constructed in the late 1920’s with its last exhibit being installed in 1973, Botany Hall depicts the astonishing diversity of plant life. The hall emphasizes four different biomes found in the continental United States: a Florida everglade, a Mt. Rainier alpine meadow, an Arizona desert, and Pennsylvania landscapes that include Presque Isle during the summer, a Warren County bog in the fall, and the Allegheny Natural Forest in the spring. Additional exhibitions in Botany Hall feature plants that have been used for food, as medicine, or in industry. Among these are a diorama depicting a western Pennsylvania herb garden and exhibitions of plant fibers, edible fruits and nuts and poisonous plants. Each diorama contains hundreds of specific species based on fieldwork research.

Dioramas differ from art and other historical objects in museums due to their blend of unique scientific and artistic input. The early dioramas of Botany hall are the production of a specific impression that the artists, Ottmar Von Feuhrer, and Hanna Von Feuhrer wanted to create. Ottmar was primarily responsible for the backgrounds and overall design while Hanna and a large group of primarily women, made the individual specimens. Their work was based on scientific field expeditions that gathered specimens. From these collections, reproductions were made of wax and paper. Everything from the time of day, season, to exact plants is specifically and deliberately chosen to recreate a snapshot of a location in time and nature that is normally in constant fluctuation. The dioramas come together to form one entity that surrounds viewers in carefully recreated nature.

But now museums all over the world are facing a new challenge. These dioramas seem very far removed from modern methods of display that use digital technology. Museums are a timeless entity, protectors of the past and history for future generations, but now that technology has become such a staple in people’s lives, how do dioramas compete with it? Prior to the 21st century, the dioramas were an engaging museum attraction. However in recent years the dioramas have received less attention and since the 70s no major changes have been made to the hall. Should Botany Hall’s representation of nature be adapted to fit the current context of the world? We turn to current Carnegie Museum employees to learn their thoughts"

Getting permission and the chance to film the museum and its employees was a great opportunity that allowed me to work on my filmmaking skills and I gained a valuable insight into the world of diorama making and their current context in the Carnegie Museum. It was at times difficult to figure out what to do about the technical logistic issues such as permission to film the museum and its employees but luckily I had a great internship mentor in Colleen and she was always so helpful when it came to dealing with issues that neither of us new about. From flipping through old archives in the museum annex to constantly rewriting a script to finally filming the museum, it was a wonderful opportunity that allowed me to learn by my own mistakes as well as giving me insight into the professional realm of the museum world and the documentary filmmaking world.