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  • Motion Film Collection Highlight: Leon F. Urbain (1887-ca. 1980)

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, collections, motion film, Leon F. Urbain, microscopy, photography, moth, minerals, Microscopal Society of Illinois

    Created: 4/11/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    This blog post continues our Motion Film Project series. Post #1 titled: The Motion Picture Cataloguing Project can be viewed here. Stay tuned for a third blog post coming soon.

    Leon F. Urbain, through his association with the Microscopal Society of Illinois, gave free classes for students in the 1960s at the Chicago Academy of Sciences' museum (the old Laflin Memorial Building). An architect by trade, he had a passion for photography, especially photomicrography, whereby he could bring the smallest worlds to life. His motion films include studies of minerals, plants, insects, aquatic life, and ecology. The Academy's collections include personal papers, photographs, motion film, and microscope slides from Urbain. Here is a sample of those tiny worlds Urbain captured and shared with others.

    From Urbain's film, “The Regal: Rarest of Local Moths,” created in 1972:

    Film still of Regal Caterpillars
    Regal Caterpillars

    Film still of Regal Moth
    Regal Moth Face

    Film still Regal Moth
    Regal Moth

    Here are images from a  time-lapse film of crystals growing under a microscope, titled "Crystals Growing," created in 1967:

    Film still of crystals growing

    Film still of crystals growing

    Film still of crystals growing

    Film still of crystals growing



    Images from two films on moths, ca. 1958, "Cecropia" and "Luna Moth:"

    Cecropia moths mating
    Cecropia moths mating

    Luna moth
    Luna moth

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • Motion Film Collection Highlight: William J. Beecher (1914-2002)

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, collection, motion film, William Beecher, Illinois, ecology, natural history

    Created: 4/11/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    This is the third blog post from a series titled: Motion Film Collection Highlight. Two earlier posts can viewed here and here.

    William J. Beecher served as the Director of the Chicago Academy of Sciences from 1958 to 1982. An ornithologist by trade -- someone who studies birds -- he was an avid birder, whether in the field or in his back yard. He also had an interest in photography and film.

    During his tenure with the Academy, Beecher created educational motion films about local environments and animals that were shared with local groups and museum visitors. Beecher documented many local areas around Illinois, including the Indiana Dunes and Goose Lake Prairie, and was among the first to scientifically document many animal behaviors such as lekking in Prairie Chickens, now an endangered species in Illinois. Here are some still images and a film clip from the motion films created by Beecher in the CAS/PNNM collection.

    Film still with text reading "Chicago Academy of Sciences Presents"

    Film still with text reading "Filmed by Dr. W.J. Beecher"

    Film still of self portrait of Dr. Beecher holding motion picture camera
    William Beecher, 1960

    Film still of beetles
    Beetles, 1958

    Film still of staff working in the field
    Working in the field, 1960

    Film still of exotic birds
    Birds seen during travel to Mweya, Uganda in 1966

    Film still of people holding up a board with fossils attached
    People holding up a board with fossils attached. [Fossils appear to be concretions, possibly from the Mazon Creek area in Illinois.] ca.1959-ca.1962

    Film still of a fox
    Fox sighting, 1966

    Film still of field trip to local prairie
    Field trip to local prairie, 1968

    Film still Great Horned Owl
    Great Horned Owl, 1966

    Film still field trip to Goose Lake
    Field trip to Goose Lake, 1968

    Film still of Barred Owl
    Barred Owl, California,1966

    Film clip from "Feb 9/60 Zoogeogr regions mammals skulls upside down", 1960


    Film still of Dr. Beecher
    William Beecher, 1967

    Film still with text reading "The End" superimposed over a shot of a desert

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • Volunteer Appreciation Week

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    Tags: volunteer, volunteering, volunteer appreciation week, service

    Created: 4/11/2014      Updated: 5/27/2015

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    On your last visit to the Nature Museum, did you notice anyone in a green apron? I bet you saw several of these folks, actually. Maybe they brought out a live snake for you to pet, or maybe you glimpsed them through the glass pinning chrysalides outside the Butterfly Haven. Those are volunteers, and to tell you the truth, this place wouldn’t keep running without them.

    Well over 300 people contribute about 13,000 volunteer hours to the Nature Museum every year –all because they love this institution and they want to help further our mission. We try to find small ways to thank them throughout the year, but every April we pull out all the stops and throw a recognition dinner to express our deep appreciation for all they do for us.

    We give service pins to those who have stuck with us through the years. Several volunteers are celebrating their 15th anniversary with us this year. That means they’ve been volunteering since before we even opened our doors to the public back in 1999!

    But it’s not just about numbers. We also honor those who go above and beyond their volunteer duties and provide truly exceptional service to the Nature Museum and our visitors, animals, and collections. This set of awards was inspired by creatures that live here at the museum.

    For example, the monarch butterfly is perhaps the most recognized butterfly in the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, not to mention the Midwest region. This striking butterfly is renowned not only for its beauty but also for its determination and tenacity as it travels over a thousand miles to find its wintering grounds in Mexico. This iconic butterfly is the perfect symbol for our Volunteer of the Year.

    The box turtle will entertain and educate the largest crowds of visitors whilst reassuring the most nervous amongst them that nature does not have to be big and scary. The volunteer selected for this award finds a special individual way to reach out to all our visitors, making them feel welcome. 

    So without further ado, please join me in congratulating the recipients of this year’s excellence awards and service milestones.

    The Rainbow Darter Award for enthusiasm: Tom Mattingly

    The Corn Snake Award for dedication: Jim Nitti  

    The Button Quail Award for behind-the-scenes work: Alan Barney

    The Metamorphosis Award for growth: Lenny Cicero

    The Fox Snake Award for visitor service: Julianna Cristanti

    The Box Turtle Award for visitor education: Jon Meisenbach

    The Tiger Salamander Award for mission focus: Luis Melendez

    The Green Tree Frog Award for eco friendliness: Valerie Sands

    The Leaf Cutter Ant Award for teamwork: Dee Kenney and Doris Devine

    The Monarch Award for Volunteer of the Year: Nicole Johnson

    Celebrating 15 years of service:
    Dee Kenney
    Doris Devine
    Joan Rathbone
    Judith Brenner
    Kristine Dombeck
    Ross Capaccio
    Ruthmarie Eisin
    Vickie Lau
    Jacki Casler

    10 years of service:
    Mary O'Shea
    Pat Hanneline
    Pat Moran

    5 years of service:
    Joan Bledig
    Paula Calzolari
    Yvi Russell
    Dana Crawford

    Celebrating 3,000 hours of service:
    Judith Brenner

    2,000 hours of service:
    Sheri Thomas

    1,500 hours of service:
    Ross Capaccio

    1,000 hours of service:
    Joan Rathbone
    Cindy Gray

    500 hours of service:
    Linda Montanero
    Aaron Goldberg
    Walt Mellens
    Lorraine Kells

    Jill Doub
    Manager of Volunteers and Interns

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  • A Unique View: The Motion Film Cataloguing Project

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, collections, Collections Inventory Project, motion film, preservation, Chicago Film Archives, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust, digitzation, environment, Midwest

    Created: 4/4/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    Background

    As part of the Collections Inventory Project, Collections staff with the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (CAS/PNNM) conducted an inventory and preliminary condition survey of the museum’s motion film collection in 2011. The majority of the over 1,300 films were original films created by Academy staff, Board members, and local naturalists, created between the mid 1920s and the 1980s. These films documented Academy field studies, local natural areas, and different species, as well as travel by Academy staff and Board members to conduct research for exhibits. Historically, these films were used regularly by the Academy in public programs and presentations. Now, the films were becoming increasingly fragile, and the information contained within their frames was found nowhere else.

    Preservation Issues

    The films were still in their original metal and cardboard containers and needed to be rehoused with archival quality materials. The original containers -- acidic papers, cardboard, adhesives -- were causing the film to deteriorate. 

    Original Leather Film Case

    Original metal and cardboard container

    The old metal reels caused breakage to the film and were susceptible to rust, which caused chemical deterioration of the film. Acid migration from papers and cardboard affected the film’s stability. Original paper labels glued onto the reels became detached over time, creating the potential for information to become disassociated.

    Original film cardboard boxes

    Film on original metal reels

    The Project

    Due to the fragility of the films, CAS/PNNM sought funding support to work with a contractor who had the equipment and expertise to work with historic motion films. In 2012, CAS/PNNM was awarded a $35,000 grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation for the project. Matching funds were generously provided through a $25,000 grant from the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust and $10,000 in individual donations from our paddle raise at the Butterfly Ball. In November of that year, CAS/PNNM began working with the Chicago Film Archives (CFA) on its motion film cataloguing project.

    View from the Chicago Film Archives studio in Chicago.

    View from the Chicago Film Archives studio in Chicago.

    At the CFA’s studio, each film was individually assessed. Information about the film was catalogued, and included: subject matter, creator and publisher, date created, film stock, date code, footage, film gauge, and other physical attributes of the film. The CFA evaluated the condition of each film, noting shrinkage and warpage, physical damage, and color fading. A few were found with damage from mold of vinegar syndrome. 

    A film with tentite mold.

    A film with tentite mold. 

    Mold growth on emulsion of a film.

    Mold growth on emulsion of a film. 

    Vinegar syndrome is the process of the cellulose acetate film base degrading -- it is caused by humidity, and the film starts to warp, buckle, shrink, and give off a vinegary smell.

    Removed head of film with advanced vinegar syndrome.

    Removed head of film with advanced vinegar syndrome.

    The acetate base of the film is cracking due to vinegar syndrome.

    The acetate base of the film is cracking due to vinegar syndrome.

    The films were cleaned and minor repairs, such as repairing splices, were made to stabilize the films. The films were then outfitted with new archival cores, leaders, and containers to provide an inert micro-environment to help stabilize the films and protect them from further deterioration.

    Films being outfitted with a new archival core, leader, and container. Films being outfitted with a new archival core, leader, and container.

    Films being outfitted with a new archival core, leader, and container.

    Single frames from some of the films were also captured during CFA's assessment, providing visual references for several of the films in the collection. These digital images will be utilized to provide examples of the films’ contents for research requests, social media relating to the collection, grant proposals, among other uses.

    The project with the CFA was completed in February 2014, and the collection organized at the CAS/PNNM collections facility. A total of 1,356 films were verified and catalogued in the collection. The information resulting from the cataloguing and condition assessments gives our Collections staff a baseline with which to monitor the preservation of the films and additional data about the films to manage the collection.

    Updated film collection housed at the Ravenswood Collections Facility

    Future Plans

    The historic value of the films for conservation studies is immeasurable. Through this project, the Academy is developing a much clearer understanding of its motion film collection and how we might apply the unique field information contained within these frames. However, the films are fragile and projecting them with standard equipment would damage them. Digitally duplicating the films – the process of scanning the frames to produce a digital copy – would make the collection fully accessible. In 2007, the Academy had a small amount of its footage digitally transferred by the Film Video and New Media Department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This footage is shown in the Heritage exhibit at the Nature Museum and enjoyed by our visitors today. CAS/PNNM will use the information from the motion film cataloguing project to set priorities for digital duplication of the collection and will be seeking funding for this next project to provide broad access to these films.

    Dawn Roberts

    Collections Manager

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