In Praise of Comprehensive Collections of Dead Things

prehistoric pig skull | acrylic & pencil on paper

I updated the page for the classroom reader, Joe’s Big Surprise. I’ve added a few of the spot illustrations that are scattered throughout the book. I really enjoyed painting these; animalish kinds of things are really up my alley.

Some of the spot illustrations in the book, like the butterfly, as well as some of the objects in the illustrations of Joe’s lab and college dorm room came from my own collection of fossils, rocks, bones and organic matter that I’ve gathered over the years. I was also able to shoot a good chunk of the photo reference myself when I came across a display of fossils from the Beaty Biodiversity Museum and the Pacific Museum of the Earth collection while attending a lecture on biodiversity by David Suzuki. The prehistoric pig skull, above, came from that display.

I had no idea there was a biodiversity museum at UBC before I fortuitously stumbled upon the display that evening. The website indicates that the museum is currently under construction but that it will be open to the public in 2009. When it comes to projects like this book, I become keenly aware how much Vancouver is lacking in the museum department. However, I have heard that somewhere in the dusty storage vaults of a quiet Vancouver institution a collection of ‘a million’ seashells resides. So there are bits and pieces out there, just not all in one place and not on display. There are also a few collections at UBC of vertebrates and plants etc; some are by appointment only and a few are open to the public.

I prefer to work from real objects as much as possible but since that isn’t always possible, I take lots of photos whenever I happen to come across great collections of stuff that I think might come in handy some day. I have hundreds thousands of photos from various museums I’ve visited over the years of all sorts of object ranging from ancient Egyptian artifacts to dinosaur bones. My photos from the Royal Tyrrell Museum a few years back came in handy with this particular book.

I would be amazing to live near a resource like the American Museum of Natural History in New York (where I took hundreds and hundreds of photos of the dioramas). I could see spending quite a bit of time there slowly drawing my way through the specimens.

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2 thoughts on “In Praise of Comprehensive Collections of Dead Things

  1. Kirsti, it’s a shame you couldn’t get back into the Ornithology Dept. at AMNH. There’s a huge hall/storage room with lots of F.L. Jaques and Chapin and I don’t know what all other amazing artists’ work.

    I worked in the library there, and if you think the galleries are amazing, you should see behind the scenes.

    If you get back to NYC, try contacting Mary LeCroy in the Ornithology Dept. She has a soft spot for illustrators and will get you past the locked doors.

    :paula

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