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A Plea to the American Museum of Natural History
  
  Index -> Other Museums in USA
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jakslagle




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PostPosted: Feb 03, 2016 21:52    Post subject: A Plea to the American Museum of Natural History  

Were the images larger, or had we photoshopped them a bit, you could read the labels. Clockwise from far left, they read as follows: Boleite, Cottenite, Cumengite, Laurionite, Diaboleite; and Matlockite. They are are some of the more aesthetic systematically classified halides on exhibit in the Amercan Museum of Natural History's Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals. While not included on the labels, their localities and chemical composition formulas are shown nearby. With sufficient lighting, that information and the specimens themselves would surely attract a higher level of interest from viewers .

A forum on Mindat entitled "Does anyone else think the AMNH displays are lacking?" spans several pages of opinions, most from well-known and highly respected mineral aficionados. The descriptions include "Dowdy;" Disgraceful;" "A bummer to look at;" "Tragic." Poor lighting is by far the most frequently mentioned deficiency.

The lighting is so bad it renders many minerals unrecognizable to the point that they offer little in the way of education or entertainment. Particularly notable in this regard are some of the rarer species present in relatively minor proportion on much larger rocks. Where, for instance, is the whitlockite in the specimen pictured at right? Blown up and brightened with appropriate digital photography software, a milky colorless tabular crystal of about a centimeter in width is visible at top right. It's an inordinately large crystal for this rare phosphate species. However, insufficient lighting renders the whitlockite invisible. And even with decent lighting, a written description regarding its presence would be necessary for the vast majority of viewers to notice it.

Comments on the Mindat forum offer plenty of opinions as to why the AMNH exhibit is so inadequate. They range from funding issues to bureaucratic red tape. One comment surmised that the AMNH directors disparaged minerals "because they were never alive."

Another recalled the world class mineral collection that was neglectfully stored away at the Philadelphia Academy and all but forgotten. After many years, the directors of that institution decided to sell what was left of the collection to dealers who at least were able to bring the specimens into circulation for people to appreciate.

It is unfortunate that the world class "Spectacular Stibnite" specimen in a well-lit area outside the the Hall of Minerals beckons those who see it to enter. Upon doing so, they soon observe a large display of mind-blowing native gold specimens from California. The lighting for them is substantial, but fails to present as realistic a visual perspective of these treasures as would a different lighting scheme. And from here, it all goes downhill.

The AMNH's Financial Statements are available on line along with the names of those on its Board of Trustees. Does anyone on this board appreciate or understand that minerals should be viewed in a manner where it's possible to better appreciate them? If they are to remain in a dark room they might consider for perspective a visit to the the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, or the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals at the Houston Museum of Natural History. And should it make sense to light the entire room, they might check out the wonderful Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Something major needs to be done to remedy the situation.



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James Catmur
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PostPosted: Feb 04, 2016 02:30    Post subject: Re: A Plea to the American Museum of Natural History  

All I can really recall from my last visit was the dust collection! Has that been archived?
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Bob Harman




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PostPosted: Feb 04, 2016 02:41    Post subject: Re: A Plea to the American Museum of Natural History  

An interesting posting, especially as I can remember working one summer at the AMNH in the early 1960's, either during a high school year or summer early in my college days. I worked in the tropical fish labs on the 5th or 6th floor. They had a researcher who inbred platyfish for genetically induced skin cancer on the fish's scales.
I digress, but while I worked there I routinely wandered thru the galleries during my breaks and I can vividly remember the poorly lit mineral galleries, even way back then. I guess they haven't changed much thru all these years!
Look at the 2 pix you have provided; they have little pizzaz and little interest to museum goers. Your 2 pix are as dull as rock pictures can be even with the best of lighting. They look no different than the rocks along the side of the road as you drive thru the mountains. Museum goers are families, usually with kids, who all have curiosity and a general interest in the subjects, but little in depth knowledge of much of the subject. This includes rocks and minerals. The routine museum public are not the researchers of these minerals and would prefer to see well lit cases of outstanding and colorful crystalized specimens rather than drab rocks with unpronounceable names all lined up in some abstruse mineralogical order.
Yes these cases like you show need to be present at the museum, but off in a side area, taking second place to the main gallery of modern well lit cases of large museum size examples of colorful, interesting and spectacular crystals engendering awe and wonderment at nature's creations by the public, especially the youngsters.

Just my thoughts. CHEERS.......BOB
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Jordi Fabre
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PostPosted: Feb 04, 2016 07:29    Post subject: Re: A Plea to the American Museum of Natural History  

George Harlow or Jamie Newman can tell you better than me, but as far as I can remember, they can't touch neither a bulb nor the panels because they are considered a kind of "historical treasures" and many artifacts from this Museum are inventoried, so can't be changed by law.

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Susan Robinson




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PostPosted: Feb 04, 2016 08:22    Post subject: Re: A Plea to the American Museum of Natural History  

Museum displays are changed about every 10-12 years, since, after that amount of time, they begin to look weary, and are usually out-of-date. Some museums may have a bureaucracy that impedes the staff from making changes easily, since the new exhibits might have to be made by the exhibits dept., lights changed by the people under union rules, etc.

A good way to find out what the public wants at a museum is to do a survey of a few (very few, so as not to frustrate the visitors) of what they think of when asked "what is a mineral?" My husband did this many years ago at the CMN and the survey's results were that minerals are "something you eat" (vitamins and minerals), "how do they form and get their shapes?", and "how much are they worth?" The last answer I feel is unnecessary to provide info to the public, due to theft concerns, but "value" can be translated into uses of minerals that sustain our lives and life styles.

Bringing displays up-to-speed is not an overnight transformation. It involves planning exhibit themes, layouts, lighting, graphics, etc. In the meantime, part, or all, of a mineral gallery space has to be blocked off in order to do this, and if some exhibits there are the "favorites" of the public, you might get a backlash from them when they are unable to view their "favorite rocks".
These are just a few facts and ideas to ponder.

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Jamison Brizendine




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PostPosted: Feb 04, 2016 08:57    Post subject: Re: A Plea to the American Museum of Natural History  

The American Museum of Natural History is well aware of the situation…

Since you cited the Mindat thread, a response was made by George Harlow, curator of the Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences last year.

"We are very much aware of the deficiencies that have been raised in this forum about the Guggenheim Hall of Minerals and Morgan Hall of Gems at the AMNH. As scientific staff, we have very limited influence over exhibition issues, even if related to display of specimens in our collection in the 38 year old halls. Keeping all the halogen lamps on in all the exhibition cases in these Halls, which have more lamps than anywhere else in the institution, is a never ending challenge. We have begun replacing the MR16 halogen bulbs with LEDs, but it is slow going as there is no budget to do this. As for the diseased realgar in the systematic mineralogy area, I can report that yesterday (16DEC14) we completed removal of the realgar and its pararealgar offspring and installation of an un-diseased specimen after having replaced the lighting with UV-free LEDs. Other significant problems probably await a renovation or replacement of the Halls, which actually is a topic under consideration." (Harlow 2014)

The mineral displays aren’t the only exhibits that have suffered. AMNH, on their website published an article online about the effects of light on other exhibits as well. Many of their taxidermied animals faded significantly over the years.

It is rather sad that the purpose of a museum is to preserve and conserve a collection of objects because of national importance, but ironically, at least here in the United States, those same objects become ruined because all the red tape actually prevents those objects from being conserved properly.

References Cited:

Cooper, J., Unknown date, Light, Preventative Conservation: Light, Ultraviolet, and Infrared: American Museum of Natural History

Harlow, G., 2014, Does anyone else think the AMNH displays are lacking?: Mindat discussion board
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alfredo
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PostPosted: Feb 04, 2016 12:32    Post subject: Re: A Plea to the American Museum of Natural History  

Given that light damages minerals, stuffed animals and works of art, every museum ought to have its lights operated by motion sensors, so they don't come on unless there are actually people in the room. But bean counters on boards of directors may well refuse to provide funds for that.
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