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  • The Dreams of Martha

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    Tags: extinct, extant, ivory-billed woodpecker, carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon

    Created: 1/27/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    We’ve asked watercolor artist Kristina Knowski to tell us about her inspiration for depicting the beauty of birds. Currently, our exhibit, The Dreams of Martha, features Knowski’s artwork and connects us to the Nature Museum’s year of the Passenger Pigeon, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the extinction of what was once the most abundant bird in North America. Keep reading to learn more about Knowski’s creative process and her love for nature!

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Kristina Knowski, Tenebrous Flight, 2013, Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, Extinct 1914, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 3 panels of 25.5 X 37.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, Tenebrous Flight, 2013, Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, Extinct 1914, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 3 panels of 25.5 X 37.5 in

    There was always that unsettling footnote at the bottom of the books picturing some of my favorite bird species. My most memorable was just after I had fallen in love with the Ivory-Billed and what would have been the largest woodpecker in North America. It was a beautiful image: a rich black bird contrasting with large white primaries and a thin streak of feathers trailing from its chin to its back. To top it off, a long pointed crest streamlined its head, the male of its species wearing his in a brilliant crimson. Yet the footnote was there, the disclaimer at the bottom, stating that this species was most likely extinct.

    Kristina Knowski, He prayeth well, who loveth well, 2012, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, Believed to have gone extinct in the 1950’s, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 41.5 X 31.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, He prayeth well, who loveth well, 2012, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Campephilus principalis, Believed to have gone extinct in the 1950’s, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 41.5 X 31.5 in

    Since I have discovered my passion for birds, extinct species have always been a main focus for me as an artist. Birds represent something natural, fragile, and beautiful. Extinct birds represent those same things, but also something that has been lost. I enjoy creating work that questions our ideas of reality and sense of existence, and extinct birds have become a personal element in my work in conjunction with other nonexistent beings. The paintings included in The Dreams of Martha exhibit focus on both extinct and extant birds of North America, some which can be found in your backyard, while others haunt their old habitats with empty skies. I wanted to create for the viewer a sense of compassion for these animals. While the images are mostly identifiable with some level of detail, those details become more and more, faded like an old memory. The bird seems to vanish into the background, losing its sense of physicality and wholeness. Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers, Carolina Parakeets, Passenger Pigeons, Ryukyu Kingfishers, Bush Wrens, and other extinct birds are now inhabitants of my theoretical world where nonexistence reigns supreme and “nothing” is everywhere. 

    Kristina Knowski, Lady Jane and Incas, Close again, 2012, Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, Extinct 1918, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 21.5 X 17.5 in

    Kristina Knowski, Lady Jane and Incas, Close again, 2012, Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, Extinct 1918, Watercolor on paper adhered to canvas, 21.5 X 17.5 in

    September 1, 2014 marks 100 years since the death of the last recorded living Passenger Pigeon, Martha. While this is a tragic reminder of the destruction humanity is capable of, it is also a remembrance to a vast and unique species that we will never encounter again. This day should serve as a severe warning to not repeat history and to treasure the species we are still sharing this planet with. A seemingly limitless species, such as the Passenger Pigeon, can be wiped out within less than a century. I humbly paint to aim as a reminder of this tragedy and hope for a less tragic future.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    We hope you have a chance to see her exhibit, which is located on the Museum’s second floor south gallery. You can also view more of Kristina’s work at: kristinaknowski.com

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  • Year of the Passenger Pigeon

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    Tags: project passenger pigeon, year of the passenger pigeon, joel greenberg, passenger pigeon, extinct

    Created: 1/20/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    2014 is the centenary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. It was almost three years ago that thirty or so people convened at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum from around the country to discuss this poignant milestone. They represented a range of institutions including Smithsonian Institution, Cornell University, Michigan State University, the Indiana State Museum, Wesleyan University, University of Wisconsin, University of Louisiana, National Council for Science and the Environment, and the Illinois Natural History.  We were there to formulate plans to mark the 2014 anniversary of the pigeon's extinction. What emerged was Project Passenger Pigeon (soon given the shorthand moniker “P3”)  with the 3 part mission of familiarizing people with the passenger pigeon as a species and a phenomenon, using that story as a portal into consideration as current issues related to extinction and humanity’s connections nature, and the need to create sustainable relations with other organisms.

    Project Passenger Pigeon Logo
    Project Passenger Pigeon Logo

    A lot has happened since that first meeting. Over 160 organizations have formally joined P3 with many contributing content to our website, passengerpigeon.org and planning for public activities throughout 2014. In addition to these institutional members, many individuals are planning commemorative activities. Joel Greenberg and Steve Sullivan have talked to a wide range of special interest and professional groups over the last year, ranging from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to the Illinois Science Teachers Association and many individuals in such groups have let us know that they intend to spread the message of P3 through their own activities like newsletters, art projects, and even library story time. 

    Passenger Pigeon Specimen
    Passenger Pigeon Specimen

    Other far-reaching P3 projects that are nearing completion include the documentary From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction directed by David Mrazek. This documentary will likely air on public TV stations across the US. In addition to a compelling depiction of the passenger pigeon story, it features some Academy passenger pigeon specimens. Also, Stan Temple has been working with students at the University of Wisconsin to digitize all known sightings of the passenger pigeon. This data set should be of interest both to people with a casual interest in extinct species as well as scientist looking to better understand how such a wide-ranging and numerous species could have gone extinct so quickly. School teachers will also be able to use these data in classroom lessons that use the interesting stories of biology to teach mathematical concepts.

     Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction book cover
    Joel Greenberg's new book

    At the Nature Museum we will begin the year’s activities on January 23 with a reception for the new book A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction. by renown Chicagoland author, Joel Greenberg. You can hear stories about his journey to gather information for the book and learn about his most important discovery—that of a  previously undocumented specimen of passenger pigeon. This specimen was right here in Illinois at Millikin University. We are fortunate to also have David Horn from Millikin to show this well-preserved specimen to the audience. Not only is it a beautifully preserved mount, it is now the last known wild bird. Following the brief presentation, visitors will be able to view the bird and Joel will sign his book. If you’ve never read a Greenberg book, don’t take our word for it that he’s a great writer, you can read reviews in places like The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Reader, and Maclean’s or listen to interviews ranging from local (The Mike Nowak Show) to international (the Diane Rehm Show) and international (Newstalk Ireland).

    Todd McGrain Passenger Pigeon Sculpture
    Todd McGrain Sculpture

    Later we will post details about some of our other P3 activities including a new exhibit  in March Nature’s Struggle:  Survival and Extinction, a large art installation by Todd McGrain, and a weekend symposium in May Why Prevent Extinction? that will feature exciting speakers like entomologist May Berenbaum and ecologist Joel Brown. In the meantime, stop by to see some beautiful watercolors by Kristina Knowski that depict passenger pigeons as well as ivory-billed woodpeckers and Carolina parakeets.


    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Founder's Week: Timeline Part III; 1958 - 2014

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    Tags: timeline, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, founder's week, Archives, collections

    Created: 1/17/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1958
    Chicago native and ornithologist Dr. William Beecher becomes the Academy’s Director. He holds this position for 24 years.

    Dr. William Beecher works on background for a diorama.
    Dr. William Beecher works on background for a diorama. 
    From the Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, Photography Collection.

    1960-1966
    Junior Academy of Sciences formed for middle and high school children, to provide additional learning opportunities for young people in science studies and research.

    1960s-1970s
    Beecher implements redesign of exhibit spaces, including opening of the third floor of the Laflin building to the public.

    1982
    Paul G. Heltne, PhD, zoologist and primatologist, is appointed Director of the Academy.  He holds this position until 1999.

    1983
    An Education Department is formally established at the Academy, although education has been a primary focus of the institution since the 1910s.

    1986
    Museum sponsors “Understanding Chimpanzees Symposium,” welcoming primatologists from all over the world, including well-known Jane Goodall, and providing public attendance to portions of the symposium as well.

    1988
    For the first time since 1951, the endangered Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrines, successfully produces eggs that hatch on a ledge of a downtown Chicago office building. Mary Hennen, Collections Manager/Assistant with the Academy, worked on the Peregrine Falcon Monitoring Program while at the Academy and conducted research. She took this project with her, when she left the Academy to work at the Field Museum of Natural History.

    Juvenile Peregrine falcon
    Juvenile Peregrine falcon

    1990
    Fall - Pilot programs for Science on the Go! began. This program, still active today, provides training and resources for kindergarten through eighth grade educators in teaching science through more hands-on lessons and cooperative learning. 

    1991
    Jon D. Miller, Vice President of the Academy, establishes the Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy under the auspices of the Academy.

    1994
    The Academy initiated plans for an addition at the Laflin building to expand and modify it to provide more room for exhibition, collections storage, and office space. The Chicago Park District who owns the land on which the Laflin building rests, disallowed expansion, citing the need to limit construction in park areas to ensure the continuation of park lands for future generations as dictated by their original charter. At the same time, the Lincoln Park Zoo also began looking to expand their operations. The Chicago Park District offered the Academy the opportunity to build a new museum building on the site of the Park District’s North Shops Maintenance Facilities in exchange for transferring the Academy’s Laflin building to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Today the Laflin Building is used by the Lincoln Park Zoo as administration offices.

    1995
    June 4 - Academy closed to the public to begin move out of the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building at Armitage and Clark Street in Lincoln Park, where the institution had resided for 102 years. Staff offices, the museum collections, the archives, and the scientific library, were moved to another building on Clark Street owned at that time by the museum and to additional space on Ravenswood. The second facility is now the Ravenswood Collections Facility. To maintain a public face for the Academy during construction, the museum had a temporary facility on the third floor of North Pier on Illinois Street which was open to the public.

    1997
    The Chicago Academy of Sciences breaks ground for a new building in Lincoln Park. In recognition of the donation made to the Academy by Mr. and Mrs. Notebaert, the building was named the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, a citizen science program dedicated to “collecting quantitative data on butterfly populations” moved under the auspices of the Academy through Doug Taron, Curator of Biology and Vice President of Conservation and Research.

    1999
    Summer – Museum begins partnership with El Valor, a multi-cultural and multi-purpose organization whose, “…mission is to support and challenge urban families to achieve excellence and participate fully in community life,” through a summer camp for children.  The partnership has expanded today to programs for adults with disabilities, conductive education, family field trips to the Museum, after school programs, and professional development for Head Start teachers including visits to their classrooms.

    October - The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum building opens to the public. The Academy’s collections and Collections Department staff offices remain at the Ravenswood Collections Facility, where they are still housed today.

    Education Department began onsite workshops.  To date this initiative has reached 20,000 students.

    Students working with museum educators

    2000
    Joe Schactner appointed President and CEO of the Academy.

    2001
    Butterfly Restoration Program started with funding from the BP Leaders Award. The Swamp Metalmark, Calephelis muticum, and Silver-bordered Fritillary, Bolaria selene, were the first imperiled species added to the program.

    Fall - Teacher Leadership Center opened at the Museum.

    2005
    Laureen Von Klan appointed President and CEO of the Academy.

    2006
    Education department revamps its Science Teaching Network (STN).  Started in the early 1990s the program provides training for teachers through an intensive summer institute that is followed by classroom support in the fall.  Since this year, 300 teachers have been through the program.

    2007
    Nature Museum Summer Camps began. 

    2008
    Summer – Museum opens its first self-curated exhibit, “Lawn Nation” since its move into the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Collections Department begins to inventory all of the natural history holdings within the Academy’s collection with grant support from the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences. The initiative took 5 years to complete and over 280,000 specimens and objects were verified.

    Museum began participation in Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program, a conservation effort spearheaded by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, to rear and release endangered Blanding’s Turtles, Emydoidea blandingii, into their natural environment. Sub-Adult Blanding’s Turtles put on display at the Museum. Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections, heads the museum effort.

    2009
    Butterfly Conservation Lab opened at the Museum, a permanent research lab for the Butterfly Restoration Program.

    An expanded version of Project Squirrel, a citizen-science program, moved under auspices of the Academy through Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology.  The program was created in 1997 by Joel Brown and Wendy Jackson both professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    Collections Department begins two-year project to process about 250 linear feet of materials in their Manuscript Collection in the Archive with grant support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation.

    2009-2011
    Participation in Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program expands.  Museum helps head start hatchlings for two years, release two year old head starters with radio transmitters in the fall, track them in the spring to replace radio transmitters, track females to see if they are gravid, collect females when they are, release them after they have laid, and track the head starters again in late summer to put on their winter transmitters.

    2010
    July 1 - Deborah Lahey appointed President and CEO of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. She had previously served on the Board of Trustees and then as Chief Operations Officer (Dec 2009 to June 2010).

    2011
    February – First meeting of what would become Project Passenger Pigeon (P3) occurred at Museum. Initial participants included representatives from Smithsonian Institution, Cornell University, Michigan State University, the Indiana State Museum, Wesleyan University, University of Wisconsin, University of Louisiana, National Council for Science and the Environment, and the Illinois Natural History.  Project has expanded to include over 160 organizations from all over the United States and will culminate in various events throughout 2014.

    April 11 – Self-curated exhibit “Nature’s Architects” opened.

    Museum began head starting more Blanding’s Turtles.

    Working with Chicago Film Archives, Collections Department began assessment and re-housing of their motion picture film collection, about 1370 individual reels, with grant support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation.  Collection composed of original nature studies to some commercially produced reels. Project to be completed in early 2014.

    Motion picture film canisters  Film still of chameleon

    2012

    Museum became the home for the Chicago Conservation Corps.

    Butterfly Restoration Program released lab-reared Regal Fritillary, Speyeria idalia, butterflies into natural habitat.

    Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network takes a national leadership role serving as a model for similar programs in states all over the United States. A collective database for information from networks all over the country is developed to provide easier access to information.

    2013

    February 10 – First Annual Chicago Volunteer Expo held at Museum. Over 60 local nonprofit institutions participated, providing information on volunteer opportunities in one convenient location.

    March 23 – Self-curated exhibit “Food: The Nature of Eating” opened.

    Butterfly Restoration Program released lab-reared Swamp Metalmark, Calephelis muticum, butterflies into natural habitat.

    Project Squirrel released smartphone app.

    Blanding’s Turtle Conservation Lab constructed to accommodate the 42 hatchlings entrusted to the Museum for head starting as part of the Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program.

               

    Aerial shot of Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum



    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Timeline Part II; 1895 - 1957

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    Tags: timeline, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Archives, photography, director, founder's week

    Created: 1/15/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1907
    The Academy re-emphasizes its commitment to education in the natural sciences.  Its programming is not only for young students, but also continuing education and certification for teachers that focuses on understanding and interpreting the natural sciences.  In addition the Academy starts offering regular free lectures on various scientific subjects to the public.

    CAS building circa 1915
    Laflin Memorial Building, Chicago Academy of Sciences, ca. 1915
    From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection, 8x10 Glass Plate Negatives

    1911

    Academy establishes a Children’s Library to “promote science education and engage young people in the study of the natural sciences.”

    Children reading in a library. B&W photo
    Children reading in the Children’s Library of the Chicago Academy of Sciences
    From the Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection

    May-June - Academy participates in city-wide Child-Welfare Exhibit, promoting education and highlighting institutions that already have programs established.


    1913

    Work starts on developing new exhibit displays to better represent the natural flora and fauna of the area.  Work completed by Frank C. Baker, Curator and Malacologist, and Frank Woodruff, Curator, Taxidermist, and Ornithologist, under initial guidance of Wallace Atwood, Acting Director and Secretary of the Board of Trustees. 

    June - The Atwood Celestial Sphere opens at the Academy. It is the first planetarium in the United States and was designed by Wallace W. Atwood, Acting Director of the Academy.  The Sphere is now a part of the Adler Planetarium’s collections.

    Atwood Sphere

    Wallace Atwood inside Atwood Sphere



    (left) Atwood Celestial Sphere as seen from the outside. (right) Atwood stands inside his completed Sphere. From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection


    1915
    Frank Woodruff made Director of the Academy and completed his first life-size diorama depicting the dunes ecosystem and the Calumet River.

    Photographic print of compiled image for Calumet River diorama background made up of four shots.Photographic print of compiled image for Calumet River diorama background made up of four shots. From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection, 8x10 Glass Plate Negatives.

    1927
    Alfred M. Bailey, Ornithologist, appointed Director of the Academy.

    1928-1933
    Bailey makes trips to Louisiana to conduct still and motion picture photography of birds migrating along the coast.  Bailey had worked at the Louisiana Academy of Sciences earlier in his career and had formed relationships with other ornithologists and bird enthusiasts in the area.

    Seguard and Bailey (with camera) filming birds in Louisiana.
    Seguard and Bailey (with camera) filming birds in Louisiana.
    Chicago Academy of Sciences Archive, Photography Collection.

    1928-1933
    Bailey, working with collectors in Alaska, starts collecting birds and birds eggs, culminating in the publication in the Academy’s Program of Activities, “Birds of the region of Point Barrow, Alaska” in 1933.  Bailey had worked in southeastern Alaska from 1919-1921 on a survey for the Bureau of Biological Survey, so again had contacts and interest in the area before coming to the Academy.

    1931
    Academy, with University of Chicago, sends field team to Great Smoky Mountains where a new subspecies of rock vole, Microtus chrotorrhinus carolinensis is discovered

    1932-1934
    Academy co-sponsors further field research in Great Smoky Mountains in cooperation with the U.S. National Park Service.  Specimens from this survey still reside in Academy’s collections, and trip resulted in publication, “Mammals of the Great Smoky Mountains,” part of the Bulletin series published by the Academy in 1938.

    A Northern Short-tailed Shrew, Blarina brevicauda, collected during the Faunal Survey of the Great Smoky Mountains.
    A Northern Short-tailed Shrew, Blarina brevicauda, collected during the Faunal Survey of the Great Smoky Mountains. Chicago Academy of Sciences Mammalogy Collection.

    1936
    Dr. Howard Gloyd appointed Director of the Academy.

    Howard K. Gloyd, standing in Arizona desert.
    Howard K. Gloyd, standing in Arizona desert.
    From Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, Photography Collection.

    Additional activities while Director of the Academy (1936-1957) were the expansion of the Academy’s scientific publications, the continued additions to the public lecture series historically offered by the Academy, and Gloyd’s personal research on snakes with an emphasis on rattlesnakes.

    1937-1946
    Dr. Gloyd, a rattlesnake expert, organizes expeditions to Arizona. The specimens he collected are still in the Academy’s scientific collections today. The first expedition was in 1937, the second in 1940, and the third in 1946.

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Then and Now - Re-Using Display Mounts

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    Tags: diorama, display mount, Chicago Academy of Sciences, taxidermy

    Created: 1/14/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    The display mounts on exhibit at the Nature Museum almost all come from previous exhibits and dioramas that were on display in the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building.  Good taxidermy creates specimens and display mounts that will last for years if care is taken. Mounts that have been displayed before often have evidence of that past use. The most obvious are shadows of things that were a part of another diorama or exhibit, like a fern leaf or a tree branch. The whole point of a diorama is to create a “realistic” situation and if you put a display mount in an area surrounded by greenery and trees, shadows should occur. In most cases, this is achieved using specialty lighting today, but that was not available in the 1890s, the 1910s or even the 1940s, so the Academy’s artists added them.  Here are some comparisons between display mounts in some of the dioramas exhibited in 1938 and how those mounts are displayed today.

    Then

    1938: Female cougar, Puma concolor, reclines in a rocky alcove with her two cubs.

    Female cougar mount in 1938
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf         

    Now

    Female cougar, Puma concolor, mounted to be free-standing, on display in “Hunters of the Prairie.”

    Female cougar mount in present day exhibit

    Then

    1938: Female coyote, Canis latrans, stands outside her den with her four pups.

    Female coyote and pups mounts in 1938
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf         

    Now

    Female coyote, Canis latrans, stands above her den with three pups. Part of the prairie diorama in the “Wilderness Walk.”

    Coyote and pups in present day exhibit

    Then

    1938: Bald eagle perches on rock in a sand dune with freshly caught fish in talons.

    Bald Eagle mount in 1938 exhibit
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf

    Now

    Bald eagle perches on a sand dune with freshly caught fish in talons with a crow with an eye to the catch.  Part of the dunes diorama in the “Wilderness Walk.”

    Bald Eagle mount in present day exhibit 

    Then

    1938: Pair of lynx, Lynx canadensis, standing on log with river in background.

    Lynx pair in 1938 exhibit
    From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf

    Now

    The lynx are now displayed individually, but are located near one another. The mount shown on the left is outside the savannah diorama in the “Wilderness Walk” and the mount shown on the right is in the display cabinets that surround the “Beecher Collections Laboratory”

    Lynx in present day exhibit    Lynx in present day exhibit 

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Chicago Academy of Sciences Timeline Part 1

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, timeline, hitsory, collections, founder's week, robert kennicott, william stimpson

    Created: 1/13/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1856
    Group of men interested in natural sciences begins to meet in offices of fellow member, Dr. Edmund Andrews.  Other original members were: Dr. James V.Z. Blaney, Dr. Nathan S. Davis, Sr., James W. Freer, C.A. Helmuth, Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson, Henry Parker, J. Young Scammon, Dr. Franklin Scammon, Richard K. Swift, Joseph D. Webster, Eliphalet W. Blatchford, and Henry W. Zimmerman.

    1857
    “Chicago Academy of Natural Sciences” officially founded only eleven years after the Smithsonian Institution and 36 years before the Field Museum of Natural History.

    “A definite organization was completed at a meeting held January 13, 1857…[and] officers elected”.

    1859
    Academy incorporated into Illinois state law as “The Chicago Academy of Sciences.”

    “A majority of the members of the Academy, acting in accordance with a vote of the Academy, have incorporated themselves under the title of The Chicago Academy of Sciences….”

    1864
    February 22 - Meeting held to discuss creation of natural history museum with Robert Kennicott’s specimens as the “core collection”; resolution adopted by attendees to create a museum and to appoint a committee to act as trustee of any funds raised.

    March 23 - Robert Kennicott appointed “Curator of the Museum” by the Board of Trustees.

    Robert Kennicott
    Robert Kennicott

    April 13 - Committee appointed on February 22 turned into the Board of Trustees through an amendment to the Academy’s constitution.

    1865
    January 1 - The Academy opened as a museum to the public in rooms in the Metropolitan Block located at 134 North LaSalle Street.

    February 16 - Act of Incorporation passed by the Illinois House and Senate for the Academy.

    William Stimpson became the Curator and Secretary of the Academy replacing Robert Kennicott who was leaving Chicago on an expedition to Alaska. Kennicott met Stimpson while working in Washington, D.C. as both men worked for the Smithsonian Institution.

    William Stimpson
    William Stimpson

    April 7 - Board of Trustees elects Robert Kennicott to the office of “Director of the Academy” while he is in Alaska on his exploration trip.

    May 13 - Robert Kennicott dies in Alaska on the Nulato River.

    1866
    June 7 - Fire in the Metropolitan Block where the Academy rented space for exhibits damaged the museum’s holdings, including specimens and library materials. 

    November 12 - William Stimpson elected as Director of the Academy.

    1867
    Land is purchased on the corner of Wabash and Van Buren streets for a new museum building.

    1868
    Academy opens in new rented spaces on Thirtieth Street between Indiana and Prairie Avenues.

    Chicago Microscopical Club (State Microscopical Society of Illinois) is organized as an independent organization but maintains close affiliation with Chicago Academy of Sciences through 1950s, using Academy spaces for meetings and education programs.  Many of the founders of the Club are also founders of Academy, such as Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson and Dr. Edmund Andrews..

    1870
    The Academy’s collection is estimated to be the fourth largest in the country.

    1871
    October 8-10 - The Great Chicago Fire destroys much of Chicago; the Academy’s building and holdings are decimated, including materials housed in a special “fire-proof” vault.  Apparently a keystone fell through the top of the vault during the fire, thus creating an opening and allowing the fire into the vault.

    1872
    May 26 - Director, Dr. William Stimpson, dies nine months after the Great Fire. It is thought that he died of heartbreak as he lost his life’s work in the fire, stored in the Academy’s “fire-proof” vault.

    1885
    Academy moved into the Interstate Exposition Building on the lake front. This was a temporary structure that later was demolished to build the Chicago Art Institute.

    1892
    Real estate tycoon, Matthew Laflin, donated $75,000 to construct a new museum. The building was to be named the “Matthew Laflin Memorial.” Total funds available for the new building were $100,000; the Laflin donation represented 75% of the total costs of the building. $25,000 received from the Board of Commissioners of Lincoln Park.

    1893
    October 10 - The cornerstone for the Academy’s new building is laid.

    October 30 - The World’s Columbian Exposition closes and many exhibits of plants, fossils, and animals originally displayed at the Exposition remain. Academy Board of Trustee, Edward Ayer, proposes accepting and incorporating these specimens into the Academy’s collection, but other Trustees are wary, citing the need to quickly launch the massive fund drive needed to quickly finish the building as well as transporting and finding housing for the specimens. Ayer resigns from the Board and turns to Marshall Field for the funds to build a new museum with Field’s name, ultimately becoming the Field Museum of Natural History.

    1894
    October 31 - The Academy’s new building is dedicated and opens in Lincoln Park. The institution’s name, “Chicago Academy of Sciences,” was engraved on the front arch accompanied by the dedication of the building, “Matthew Laflin Memorial.” This building was referred to internally as the “Laflin Building.” The building was originally intended to be the north wing of a larger museum building with additions to be constructed in the future.

    Chicago Academy of Sciences Matthew Laflin Memorial building circa 1894
    Chicago Academy of Sciences circa 1894

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Academy Publications

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, publications, scientific papers, Archives, Illinois

    Created: 1/10/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Sharing scientific knowledge and initiating discussions about nature and science are important facets of the work we do at the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. This happens through our educational activities, exhibits, talks given by our staff, and our citizen science programs, to name a few. Up until the mid 1990s, the Academy also published several of its own periodical series with original research.

    Selection of Chicago Academy of Sciences publications

    The Academy began its endeavor into publishing in the mid 1860s, which helped establish the Academy as a scientific institution. Our first publications were the Proceedings (1866) to and Transactions (1867 to 1870) series, which provided information to members about museum meetings, descriptions of new species, guides to regional species, and scientific papers. There are few actual hard copies of these remaining.

    The series Bulletin of the Natural History Survey (1896 to 1927) contained scientific papers on topics specifically about the Chicago area, including “The Higher Fungi of the Chicago Region” by William Moffatt and “The Paleontology of the Niagraran Limestone in the Chicago Area” by Stuart Weller. “An Annotated Flora of the Chicago Area” by Herman Silas Pepoon, published in 1927, was a major reference for local plants for decades.

    The Bulletin, started in the 1880s, was a venue for scientific papers for any location and included authors such as William Higley (botany), Frank Baker (malacology), Orlando Park (entomology), and Howard Gloyd (herpetology). This is the Academy’s longest running periodical, with its last issue released in 1995.

    The Special Publications series (1902 to 1959) reflected longer research papers and scientific papers. Howard Gloyd, a herpetologist and director of the Academy, authored “The Rattlesnakes, genera Sistrurus and Crotalus: A study in zoogeography and evolution” in 1940. “William Dreuth’s Study of Bird Migration in Lincoln Park, Chicago” was completed by Charles Clark and Margaret Nice in 1950; the Academy’s archives contain Dreuth’s original field notes of his thirty years of bird observations.

    Publications stored at Collections Facility

    The Chicago Naturalist (1938 to 1948) and the Natural History Miscellanea series (1946 to 1982) provided shorter articles on natural history topics such as scientific collecting, wave erosion, ornithology, and naturalist biographies and served as a venue for sharing the Academy’s field activities and museum programs with its membership. Science Notes (1959 to 1966) were short pamphlet-style publications; “How weather affects bird migration” and “Ancient beaches and dunes in Lincoln Park” are just a couple of the titles in this series.

    Through the Academy’s publications, readers learned about nature in Illinois – such as glacial markings found in areas throughout Illinois, amphibians and reptiles of the Chicago region, and how to identify local birds – but they were also exposed to information about ecosystems in Texas, New Jersey, and Florida, giving readers the chance to learn about other regions of the nation.

    In 2008, we began our Publications Scanning Project to preserve these documents and broaden their accessibility. Each of the Academy’s publications are scanned and the digital file cleaned and run through an optical character recognition (OCR) program to create a searchable PDF. For more information about this project or a PDF copy of a publication that has been scanned, please contact the Museum Collections & Archives. Hard copies of some publications are still available as well; contact Collections staff for more information. For a complete listing of Academy publications, click here

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • Who are the Founders?

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    Tags: founding, founder's week, Chicago Academy of Sciences, kennicott, robert kennicott, laflin building, chicago fire

    Created: 1/10/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    In 1856 a group of like-minded men enthusiastic about the natural sciences began to meet in Chicago.  The original group consisted of Dr. James V.Z. Blaney, Dr. Nathan S. Davis, Sr., James W. Freer, C.A. Helmuth, Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson, Dr. Edmund Andrews, Henry Parker, J. Young Scammon, Dr. Franklin Scammon, Richard K. Swift, Joseph D. Webster, Eliphalet W. Blatchford, and Henry W. Zimmerman. The group began adding other names immediately to their list of members and formally became “The Chicago Academy of Natural Sciences” on January 13, 1857, “The Chicago Academy of Sciences” by 1859, and in 1999, “The Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.” The dedication and labor of many people ensured that the Academy continued to serve the public throughout its 157 year history, and will continue to do so in the future. 

    The men who strived to establish the Academy in the early years faced many obstacles almost from the beginning. The financial “Panic of 1857” turned many of the promised financial subscriptions into useless bits of paper. Two fires impacted the collections, the first on June 7, 1866 in their rented spaces that decimated over half of the collection and then again during the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 that destroyed the Academy’s building and almost all of its holdings. A second financial panic effected the economy from 1873-1879, that hampered efforts to raise funds to pay off debt incurred to rebuild after the fire. When the Academy rebuilt their structure after the Great Chicago Fire, they also paid to erect an additional structure for business purposes designed to generate income for the Academy through the rents to be charged, but business expansion did not return aggressively to the area, so few were interested in the property and the Academy ultimately went into foreclosure. In spite of these early challenges, the Academy’s members and trustees never lost their dedication to establishing a permanent museum of the natural sciences and finally succeeded in 1894 with the completion of the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building which served the Academy until 1994. Here is a brief overview of just a few of the individuals who helped bring about this outcome.

    Photo of Edmund Andrew
    Edmund Andrews

    It was in the offices of the Dr. Edmund Andrews (1824-1904) that the original members began meeting in 1856. Dr. Andrews was a practicing surgeon and also a teacher of anatomy and helped to form the Chicago Medical College. He developed and maintained an avid interest in geology, particularly in glacial history, publishing some of his findings in the Transactions of the Chicago Academy of Sciences. At the formalization of the Academy in 1857, Dr. Andrews was appointed the first Curator of the Academy and held that position until Robert Kennicott took over in 1863. Later he served as President of the Board of Trustees for a number of terms, the longest from 1883-1891.

    Robert Kennicott
    Robert Kennicott

    Robert Kennicott (1835-1866) was encouraged from an early age to learn about nature from first-hand experience. He began his more formal training when his father sent him to study with Dr. Jared Kirtland, a well known and respected naturalist. Through this connection, Kennicott met Spencer Fullerton Baird, assistant secretary of the Smithsonian, and in 1853 moved to Washington, D.C. to assist and collect for that institution. Kennicott’s participation in an exploratory expedition into northwestern Canada that was funded by the Hudson Bay Company, the Smithsonian, and individual Chicago patrons, provided the final spark for the impetus to find and open the museum to the public on January 1, 1865, since the Academy would have access to a sizeable collection almost immediately.

    George Walker
    George Walker

    George C. Walker (1835-1905) was a benefactor and life-time member of the Academy. He served on the Board of Trustees as Secretary and President as well as numerous terms as Treasurer. He owned various companies but the bulk of his wealth was made in local real estate. Walker became friends with Robert Kennicott and adopted the passion for the creation of a museum heralded by the latter. Walker committed the funding necessary to ship the specimens intended for the Academy and collected by Kennicott in his 1859 expedition to the Yukon and Arctic tundra from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. He then became the chairman of a ten man committee formed in February 1864 whose sole purposes was to obtain the money necessary to make cases and obtain the space necessary to display the collection. 

    Jacob Velie
    Jacob Velie

    Dr. Jacob W. Velie (1829-1908) trained as doctor in Hammondsport, New York, worked as a dentist in Rock Hill, IL, and a druggist in Bath, NY. During this time, he was an active naturalist, developing his own collection and participating in expeditions. For example, in 1864 he worked for five months with Dr. C.C. Parry, the noted botanist, in the Rocky Mountains. He became associated with the Academy in 1870 when he became assistant curator under Dr. William Stimpson. After the Great Chicago Fire, Dr. Velie and Dr. Stimpson traveled to Florida, Cuba and the Yucatan on a collecting trip of which many specimens were donated to the Academy, helping to start the rebuilding of the collections. Velie served as curator for the Academy until 1893, constantly adding to the Academy’s collections during that time. 

    Matthew Laflin
    Matthew Laflin

    Matthew Laflin (1803-1897) was a prominent Chicago businessman.  He built the Bull’s Head Tavern (then at Madison and Ogden) which became the city’s first stockyard as it provided pens for the cattle drivers.  It was through his son George Laflin that Matthew Laflin offered $75,000 to the Academy if an agreement could be reached with the Lincoln Park Commissioners to provide the land to build the structure and an additional $25,000 toward its completion.  An agreement was reached and the work began in 1893 with the final completion in 1894.

    Laflin Building
    Laflin Building

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Scientist Q&A Roundtable with Karen Kramer Wilson

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    Tags: scientists, citizen science, roundtable, career, science, science education

    Created: 1/2/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    This blog post is part 1 of a 3 part series, divided up seperately by scientist. Part 2 with Dr. Doug Taron and part 3 with Steve Sullivan will be published at a later date.


    Before Doug Taron, Steve Sullivan and Karen Kramer Wilson were scientists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, they were like many of our young guests. They loved immersing themselves in nature, visiting museums and asking questions.

    Decades later, after studying science and nature in college, the trio have made nature their laboratory. They work at the Nature Museum and answer questions from colleagues and guests. But that love of nature and spirit of inquiry has never left. In fact, they ask just as many questions today as they did when they were children.

    We sat down with Doug, Steve and Karen for a wide-ranging conversation on why they fell in love with nature and science as children, what it’s like to work at a Museum and why it is critical for people to maintain a connection with nature. The following is the interview with Karen Kramer Wilson, Living Invertebrate Specialist.

    Karen Kramer Wilson
    Karen Kramer Wilson

    How do you describe your job to families at the Museum?
    I tell people I work with the things that people are most creeped out about, but that are also the most numerous species on the planet and among the most interesting. There are so many compelling stories and information to discover. Even the things we think we know about entomology we don’t fully understand.

    What fascinated you about nature growing up? What experiences stand out?
    We had a dense garden, and some of my earliest memories were of mucking about in the gardens. Across the street, there was a vacant lot with a stream and we spent almost all of our summers there. I vividly remember when I was in seventh grade they fenced in the lot for some kind of development and we lost the sounds of the frogs every night.

    How did your college experience prepare you for the Museum?
    As a freshman in college, I took an environmental science class, and it struck me that one of the biggest sources of pollution was agricultural chemicals. I found that interesting. Instead of strapping myself to a tree, I decided to see how the industry worked from the inside and how we could pollute less. As part of that, I ended up taking an entomology class that started at 7 a.m.. My classmates in the program were from farming families in the surrounding communities and really had a grip on their farming knowledge. But the Entomology came more naturally to me. So I ended up tutoring them in that class. I was hooked.

    Working on the Nature Museum's rooftop beehives.
    Working on the Nature Museum's rooftop beehives.

    Why is there a growing sense of disconnect from the natural world, especially among children?
    For many kids, exposure to the natural world consists of the mowed grass of a football or softball field. They don’t have the opportunities we used to enjoy of simply hanging out and exploring; many parents don’t consider that to be a good use of time and I think that’s incredibly unfortunate. Some kids are now afraid of nature. Our challenge is to turn that fear into curiosity so that curiosity can become amazement.

    What is the significance of the rising popularity of citizen science?
    It’s fantastic. We like to say the natural world needs citizens, and citizens need this natural world. This gives people a structure and a chance to realize the power of their own observations. It should be
    empowering for citizen scientists to realize how much professional scientists need and value their input.

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  • Scientist Q&A Roundtable with Dr. Doug Taron

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    Tags: scientists, citizen science, roundtable, career, science, science education

    Created: 1/2/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    This blog post is part 2 of a 3 part series, divided up seperately by scientist. Part 3 with Steve Sullivan will be published on a later date.


    Before Doug Taron, Steve Sullivan and Karen Kramer Wilson were scientists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, they were like many of our young guests. They loved immersing themselves in nature,visiting Museums and asking questions.

    Decades later, after studying science and nature in college, the trio have made nature their laboratory. They work at the Nature Museum and answer questions from colleagues and guests. But that love of nature and spirit of inquiry has never left. In fact, they ask just as many questions today as they did when they were children.

    The Nature Museum News sat down with Doug, Steve and Karen for a wide-ranging conversation on why they fell in love with nature and science as children, what it’s like to work at a Museum and why it is critical for people to maintain a connection with nature. The following is the interview with Dr. Doug Taron, curator of biology, vice president of conservation and research.

    Dr. Doug Taron
    Dr. Doug Taron

    How do you describe your job to families at the Museum?
    A lot of what I do is overseeing the live animals and plants, and helping to manage and take care of the Academy’s collection. My own research focuses on imperiled butterflies in the Midwest, particularly butterflies of the wetlands. I also lead the Museum’s work with Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, which engages citizen scientists to collect data on butterfly populations. This allows land managers to evaluate longterm trends in a changing landscape.

    What fascinated you about nature growing up? What experiences stand out?
    My siblings and I learned from a young age that when you passed a brown sign on the highway, something cool was nearby. We enjoyed feeding the birds and doing all sorts of things that kept us in touch with the natural world. I got my first butterfly net from the Easter Bunny when I was seven years old. In middle school, I started taking shoe boxes and cutting the fronts and back out and making a cage to keep butterflies. It was a mini-butterfly haven. I had no way of knowing what I was doing would presage a future career.

    Dr. Doug Taron working in our butterfly receiving room.
    Dr. Doug Taron working in our butterfly receiving room.

    How did your college experience prepare you for the Museum?
    In high school, I discovered chemistry and ended up majoring in biochemistry in college. When I was at graduate school at Northwestern and living in Evanston, I started to feel disconnected from the natural world. That’s when I discovered the prairie restoration projects in the Chicago area. Then in 1982 I began volunteering at Bluff Spring Fen. That was very important in my ultimate career trajectory.

    Why is there a growing sense of disconnect from the natural world, especially among children?
    It’s puzzling and troubling that so many people feel disconnected. So much of the news on the environment is dire. One way to get people to care and forge a bond with the natural world is to describe the wonder of the natural world and hook them on it. All we need is the opportunity to make “nature’s case.” The subject material is so wonderful that it sells itself.

    What is the significance of the rising popularity of citizen science?
    Citizen Science empowers people and gives them the opportunity to contribute directly to scientific research. The citizen scientists of the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network have not only gathered important data, but the Network is now a model for the rest of the nation.

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  • Scientist Q&A Roundtable with Steve Sullivan

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    Tags: scientists, citizen science, roundtable, career, science, science education

    Created: 1/2/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    Subscribe to the Nature Museum blog and never miss a post!

    This blog post is part 3 of a 3 part series, divided up seperately by scientist.


    Before Doug Taron, Steve Sullivan and Karen Kramer Wilson were scientists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, they were like many of our young guests. They loved immersing themselves in nature, visiting Museums and asking questions.

    Decades later, after studying science and nature in college, the trio have made nature their laboratory. They work at the Nature Museum and answer questions from colleagues and guests. But that love of nature and spirit of inquiry has never left. In fact, they ask just as many questions today as they did when they were children.

    The Nature Museum News sat down with Doug, Steve and Karen for a wide-ranging conversation on why they fell in love with nature and science as children, what it’s like to work at a Museum and why it is critical for people to maintain a connection with nature. The following is the interview with Steve Sullivan, senior curator of urban ecology.

    Steve Sullivan with taxidermied squirrel
    Steve Sullivan and friend.

    How do you describe your job to families at the Museum?
    I work at a bigger version of the room I built when I was in junior high called Steve’s Museum. It was my systematic collection of natural history specimens and regionally-themed vivaria. Now, I spend a good part of my day learning about animals and teaching people about why nature and science are so interesting and have direct application to their own lives - things I would do for fun anyway.

    What fascinated you about nature growing up? What experiences stand out?
    One story I always remember is that my grandpa told me he saw snakes in his garden. I had never seen one and I challenged him to bring me one. In the end, he brought me a male and a female garder snake. He put them in a paper bag by the door and all of a sudden I had to figure out how to care for them. When you start to look at the details of a species, there are so many questions to answer. You can learn so much just from watching them; you never get bored.

    How did your college experience prepare you for the Museum?
    Pets were not allowed in the dorm rooms but we would keep praying mantises anyway. We loved to feed them katydids because these insects are large enough for us to easily see muscles and organs as the mantid dissected it. We invited people to watch the feedings, which had ancillary benefits because people we might enjoy hanging out with would watch with real interest; boring people would stay home.

    Steve preparing a bird specimen in the Beecher Lab.
    Steve preparing a bird specimen in the Beecher Lab.

    Why is there a growing sense of disconnect from the natural world, especially among children?
    We have isolated ourselves from nature in a way that our perception of what “nature” is has changed and been simplified. In fact, nature is a complex and amazing system of plants and animals, and many
    other kingdoms of life that we are just beginning to figure out. It also includes interactions between living and non-living things like water and air. Nature includes us and is around us, on us, and in us constantly. As we remind people about how fascinating nature really is, they get excited about it and make more sustainable decisions. At the Nature Museum, we are always describing to people how they are connected to nature and trying to interest them in the natural world.

    What is the significance of the rising popularity of citizen science?
    When people have the opportunity to contribute to a citizen science project such as Project Squirrel, it connects them to an issue in a way they weren’t before. Project Squirrel has had more than 6,000
    observations and counting. The data we have access to would literally be impossible to have accumulated without the work of citizen scientists of all ages and from all across the country.

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