Several days after visiting with Ralph’s great nephew, Bill, he called me to say he had found a small watercolor study for one of the old museum dioramas and a few charcoal studies that Ralph had done as a student and others that were originals submitted as accompanying illustrations for short stories.
I was finally able to go back with my camera and take better photos of the paintings as well as look at these new finds. Those “few” sketched turned out to be an enormous century-old portfolio filled with over 100 pieces of art that Ralph had done either for story illustrations, studies, or magazine cover layouts. I was in awe.
The magazine covers were layout for The Specialty Salesman: The National Inspirational Monthly for Men and Women who Sell. The earliest cover layout was the January 1924 issue. I have no idea if these are the same ones that include the illustrations, but I have three years worth (12 months collectively bound) requested through interlibrary loan to find out.
Other covers included a music journal and an advertising flyer for the ad service that Ralph was working for in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The nudes and studies are not dated but could be from his time as a student at the University of Oklahoma. The earliest dated piece is from 1916 which was Ralph’s senior year at OU. The architectural details (Cherokee Gothic) reveal that it is somewhere on campus.
Most of the illustrations, when dated, are 1925 and 1926. These make up the bulk of the portfolio, which, incidentally survived the house burning down in 1937. Flipping through these huge (18×24 inches) original illustrations was something that doesn’t happen every day, and all could have easily been lost 80 years ago. In addition to just being great artwork, the instructions for the engraver and printer were included on many including the finished sizes for printing, the largest being a mere 8.25 inches.
There a a few pastels and watercolors among the monotones as well.
One of the watercolors ties back into Shead’s museum work. It is a watercolor sketch for one of the many dioramas he painted for the Stovall Museum at the University of Oklahoma starting around 1933. Shead created these Leptomeryx plaster models for reference.
Finally, in the back of the giant portfolio was a “regular” sized sketchbook. The remaining sketch pages were all landscape studies from the 1940s complete with the color descriptions for painting– things like “pinkish bluff” and “light purplish bluff.” Many of these are recognizable areas for anyone who frequents the Southwest. Most specifically the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico.
The Sandia Mountain sketch is dated September 1948 which means this enormous portfolio spans at least 32 years of work including Shead’s time as an OU art student, his work as a professional advertising and illustration artist, his return back to Norman and his unfathomable amount of artwork at the museum, and, likely, the personal landscapes that adorn the walls of his home. Such a corpus of work, in addition to the fact that nearly anything at the Stovall Museum with paint on it was his, proves that R.B. Shead is fantastically more than the few sentences dedicated to him in the “official” university histories.
For me, History is filled with people and things. I have never really indulged in the movements and theories and isms that seem to infect the past presently. For a historian this is a professional character defect, for me it is what brings history alive and allows us to find our connections to it. It is likely why I spent so much time learning archaeology and paleontology. I believe it is ultimately what lead me to the history of science so I could talk about all of that at once.
When I first came to OU and was getting settled across campus with the few people I had some connection with I was shown around the Sam Noble Natural History Museum. On the second floor back in the hallway to the VP lab and collections there are these two enormous paintings (13.5 feet long by 3.5 feet high). After taking in the scale and content of these behemoths I immediately looked for the signature. “Ralph B. Shead ’42” and “Ralph B. Shead ’34 (or 39 it is obscured by the frame I believe it is 34).
Who was this artist? What else had he done, and why was he doing these things at this scale? This was years before I started the digitization and scanning project and information was slow in coming. I wouldn’t even find a photo of him for 2 years. When I started scanning and updating an internal manuscript on the history of the museum I gleaned a little more information.
You can see how hard it is to piece this stuff together. Langston missed Shead’s retirement by a few years which is understandable because Langston was working at the National Museum of Canada from 1954-62. Shead stayed at the Museum until 1960 or 61 and he wan’t simply the museum artist. In addition to his museum technician and painting work he served as the Oklahoma sate superintendent for the WPA during the 30s (when the bulk of his work was completed). The WPA records and receipts over in our Western History Collection indicate that some paint and supplies were purchased as part of the “Fossil Bones” project making at least the two paintings upstairs technically WPA art. Through some interesting turn of events another giant (13-footer) painting now resides down at the Texas A&M Biodiversity Heritage prep lab. The irony behind this is that its subject matter is Norman’s native (Permian) son–the Cotylorhynchus.
The Cotylorhynchus painting falls under the WPA years as well and was complete with the aid of a plaster or clay model he created.
Shead also created other plaster models for reference, and I believe he was the one who fashioned/oversaw the plaster for the Procamelus (now Aepyicamelus) skeletal reconstruction that accompanied the skull until it disintegrated.
The bulk of Shead’s work predates the formation of the WPA by a year. They were the “missing” and then “rehomed” paints from the previous two posts. They are also impressive in scale and scope as well, and add three more paleontology paintings to Shead’s portfolio. Ralph’s great-nephew told me that the marine reptiles mural wasn’t one of Ralph’s. Conrad said he was certain that it was a signed just as the Mammoth was, of course the place where his signature would have been was unfortunately damaged when it was removed from the wall. It doesn’t look quite like other works by Shea, and was painted on sheetrock and not canvass like Shed’s other works, but he did paint most everything that was in the museum. If anyone out there has a photo of this with the signature intact please send it along.
The moving of these paintings led to some renewed interest in some old emails and leads that were passed to me for follow up. Chasing down contacts I was able to locate the final “missing” mural that I was aware of living peacefully over in the Geology Graduate offices in Sarkey’s. It is another of Shead’s giants too, this one of a Carboniferous landscape painted in 1938 (during the WPA funded period)
There were also some Shead paintings reportedly hanging out in the microbiology department so I went in search for them. There were three, two in an classroom/lab and one in the herbarium office. These were as surprising as the marine reptile mural because I had never seen mention or reference of them. I photographed them to add to my ever-growin Shead dossier. When I was processing the images later that evening I noticed that there were no signatures on the microscope or fungi ones, but I assumed they had been covered by the frame (looking back now I don’t think that is the case, I just need to look harder).
The other one was even more surprising because while it is a Shead painting, it wan’t painted by Ralph.
I had no idea there *was* a Robert Shead and that added a whole new layer to the simple project of documenting Ralph B. Shead’s work. I found even less on Robert Shead (1908-1999) than his older brother Ralph. Robert had a son who ended up working at an internationally acclaimed interior design firm in Dallas. That son’s, (David LaForge Shead) obituary outlined his work followed in his parents’ footsteps studying art and design at OU. I haven’t been able to track down Robert’s years at OU yet. William Shead confirmed all this and added that Robert had a lucrative interior design company in Oklahoma City. He even served as a designer during his war service years, boasting that he has designed the interior of MacArthur’s private plane. He also confirmed that the fungi and the microscope were Robert Shead paintings and not Ralph’s.
Ralph however received his certificate of art in 1916, 14 years before Stovall arrived at the university, and became *the* name associated with all things museum and paleontology related. David Levy’s The University of Oklahoma: A History, Volume II 1917-1950 only mentions Shead in a single sentence: “Ralph Shead, a professional artist who became a long time employee of the museum, designed displays and created historic murals.” (214). At least two of which include a Jurassic scene and the background for the oreodon exhibit. Not only did Shead paint the background but he did the figure sculpting for the diorama as well.
Pretty short-shrift for someone who produced four 13+ foot paintings, three slightly smaller ones, and served as acting director of the museum between 1952 and 54 (Stovall died in 1953) after the “new” Museum was opened in 1951.
The paleontology paintings aren’t even the largest scale that Shead worked with while painting at OU. There is an enormous geological map of Oklahoma painted with various labor scenes around it that I will be spending some time with next week photographing more completely and attempting to do some digital repairs on it.
Shead wasn’t bound to the art studio during his tenure at the museum. As WPA superintendent part of his work included accompanying the visitors and press to sites worked under WPA funding. Here here is during the “This Project Pays your Community” public tour week in the Cimarron County Dinosaur Quarry.
Similarly, Shead’s fieldwork was not simply administrative. There were times when Shead as a “museum technician” was involved in the dirt of the excavation, and like his paintings he worked with dinosaurs and extinct mammals.
Later in 1941 Shead published a 7 page informational booklet on the Bear Zuni Fetishes from the Spiro Mounds archaeological excavations. Spiro was another scientific University WPA project. OU Anthropology students Shawn Lambert and Lucius Martin presented a poster highlighting the OU WPA artists and their illustrations for the Spiro project and publications. Interestingly this poster hangs in the same paleontology hall as the first two Shead paintings that I saw.
While I was working on this collection of Shead work, I contacted his great nephew William who not only lives in Norman, but lives at the original Shead address. The original house burned in the 1930s and the current house is a gorgeous faux adobe Mexican colonial partially designed by Ralph with the interior designed by Robert. It is definitely my favorite house in Norman.
I spent the afternoon surrounded by even more of Ralph’s art in his old house catching up on the Shead family history which is as fascinating as I had figured and in a surreal way similar to threads of my mother’s side of my family. Just to add all the smaller pieces of Shead’s work here to what is part of the University it is obvious that Shead painted all the time. Some of these landscapes are from the areas in the panhandle area which William said Shead really liked. I am going to make it a habit of visiting more often and next time I will have my big camera, but for now, having all of Ralph’s extant work together, even if it is just digitally. is a pretty fulfilling feat. There is at least one more that was given to a family psychologist friend. Either set of these would be an impressive portfolio, when lumped together is simply staggering.
Most are normal “house-art” sized (16×20 or so) except the Mexican scene, it is at least 48×60. I want to try and get some better photos of at least that one for a print.
I don’t know much more about the artist that was born in New Madrid, Missouri in 1892; What was he up to between 1916 and 1933 when he started painting for Stovall and the museum? Shead’s WWI draft card lists him as a school teacher in Jenks in June of 1917. William said he thought Shead was pursuing a master’s degree in art in Indiana before the family called him home to help during the depression. A few newspapers have him exhibiting art at the Herron Art Museum and the Indiana State Fair. He is mentioned as living in Indianapolis with his brother Walter (newspaper reporter) in the reports of Laurance’s death in 1933. An article in the Inianapolis Star (January 8, 1935) lists Shead as having attended Washington University in St. Louis, MO, the Grand Central School of art, and the School of Design in New York. It mentions his OU museum murals and a potrait of Bishop Francis Kelly of the Catholic diocese of Tulsa and Oklahoma City which all seem to have been completed in 1934.
His plans to return to Indianapolis in 1935 changed when he became the WPA Oklahoma state superintendent that same year. When the WPA folded, Shead became the assistant director of the University Museum, serving as “acting director” from 1952 to 1954 when the Hungarian-born archaeologist Stephan Francis Borhegyi took over the museum directorship.
According to William Eugene Hollon’s A History of the Stovall Museum of Science and History (1956), during the late 1940s through the early years of the 1950s Shead was the only full-time museum employee. He serve as assistant director and head of exhibit preparation at the renamed Stovall Museum until he retired in 1960. He continued to paint the rest of his life finally laying down his brush in 1969.
Shead is buried next to his parents and brother (not Robert) in the the St. Joseph’s Catholic section of the Norman IOOF cemetery on Porter St. in Norman, less than 50 yards from J. Willis Stovall and his wife. There is an American Legion medallion next to his headstone. There were even a story tied to the headstone.
The large Shead stone was created by Shead’s father James. He was skilled with concrete and decorative planters and birdbaths are part of the front garden at the house.
The family stories are not without tragedy either. The brother Laurance that is buried here was a fairly successful theatre manager at the Garden Theatre in Paterson, New Jersey who was known to help anyone down on there luck. One such patron, a prospective singer from Georgia named Louis Kenneth Neu took advantage of his kindness, accompanied Laurance to his apartment for a party, and eventually hit him from behind with an iron and stole his wallet. Laurance died of his injuries and Ney was later apprehended and executed in New Orleans for the murder of Laurence Shead and a wealthy Tennessee businessman.
Their mother Mary is, so far, the longest-lived Shead, and her story ties the family to one of the most significant geological stories in North America. Her Father’s Grandfather, a LaForge survived the New Madrid Earthquake only to catch pneumonia from wading through the slush that was once his farmland when the Mississippi River flooded. He later succumbed to his illness ultimately making him another victim of the quake.
His surviving work is impressive by any standard, and that isn’t taking into account all the already (really) lost “displays” and “historic murals” that served as backdrops for all the dioramas throughout the museum. His work isn’t simply art or background, paleontology or archaeology. His work crisscrossed all aspects of the museum, its collections, and ever expanding subject areas (which I think is why I have been drawn to finding out more about him). They also remain some of the strongest physical links to the history of the university museum outside of the collection artifacts themselves.
Continuing with the Scooby Doo theme here I get to update one of the most exciting stories that has happened since my time here. You remember my last lament of the missing murals? Well guess what isn’t “missing” anymore!
This is far more than a “ta-da” story and I need to explain about the use of “” above missing. Through the years and many renovations and relocations things get shuffled and repurposed. Such was the case of the old museum storage facility. When the University Landscape Management HQ and shop moved into the old building there were four large paintings standing in the corner stacked against each other.
Luckily, Conrad Zindel, a 17-year-old temp worker in 1997 liked them enough to hang them in their break room (which I am convinced is the only reason they’ve survived intact/ this long/at all). This is why I used the “” earlier, because for me they were missing, but for Conrad, after going full-time, they are something that he has seen every day for the last 20 years!
Recent renovations for their building meant they had to come down and they would not be re-installed. It was this news that drove his wife Brandy and her sister Kimberley Cloud to hit the internet where, as luck, would have it, she hit on my most recent blog post here. I can’t describe the excitement when her comment hit “I know where these paintings are.” I dropped everything and directed her to contact me through my Paleo Porch facebook page and we started figuring out how to orchestrate the rehoming of these nearly 85-year-old paintings. It culminated with me meeting Conrad at his shop not long after I came into work.
They were coming to install sheetrock in the area where they were temporarily stored so we had to act quickly (in fact they started installing it while we were moving the last one!). Thankfully everyone who could do anything about it was on campus that morning, and through the course of the day the two largest ones were taken down the the museum. The two smaller (relatively speaking) paintings were taken to Conrad and his wife Brandy’s house lest they be stepped on or damaged in some other way and they–including the mammoth one that started this whole adventure–will be re-homed this coming week and I will update this post some higher quality images than the ones that Brandy sent me online as soon as I get them.
This wasn’t just a case of missing/found, only 2 of the four were on the list of the ones I knew existed. The other two, one large and one smaller, were both new to me and terribly exciting. At the time of writing I only have images of the one that was indeed a mural–painted on Sheetrock–and the other large canvas. But look at this classic marine reptile scene! Now I need to try and backtrack the historical side of things and see what I can find out about it. Since this piece was done directly on sheetrock it took a little damage when it was removed, losing Shead’s signature and the date (another 1934!) But it is absolutely stunning.
The other one was even more extraordinary as it wasn’t a painting by Shead, but one by J. Willis Stovall himself! I have only seen a corner of it featuring Polar Bears from an photo Brandy sent me through facebook.
It was a red letter day, and will be even more exciting this week when the other two are able to join their old roommates down at the museum.
I love everything about this story, how they were not really lost, how the timing hit to get them moved quickly, but mostly how it was my silly little blog post that helped orchestrate it. It just goes to show you what can happen when the doors of communication are opened as far as humanly possible. I am confident that there would be no other way that this would have played out so positively had it not been for my silly blogging that Brandy and her sister Kimberley found on my website in an internet search. As an archaeologist and historian I am beyond thrilled that they’ve been “found,” as a paleontologist and historian of science, I am excited about the historic representations of these scenes, and as someone who likes good stories I am beyond elated that this one played out like it did.
The conversations that this has started have also proved fruitful. Since then I have been able to ascertain that another of Shead’s paintings currently lives in the Texas A&M Biodiversity Heritage prep lab and that he was commissioned for another 5 murals related to biology and they are on campus in two different buildings which I fully intend to find in the next episode, which I think will give me enough for a full post on the artist Ralph B. Shead. Until then, I can shift pop culture references and say that this part of the case is solve-ed!
Some time back (2 years!) I began a project at our natural history museum to scan, digitize, archive, collect all of the images and negatives that were in our Vertebrate Paleontology collection. Thousands of images later a couple things really stand out: The importance of the WPA in the growth of out collections (see WPAleontology) and a couple of large paintings had disappeared since the late 30s and early 40s.
Ralph Shead was the painter and more than one link in the WPA paperwork trail throughout his tenure at the museum. There are two of his enormous murals hanging upstairs on the Paleo floor (off public display). You may recognize the layout of the one, he copied the styles of some of the more famous Peabody productions. I particularly like the IguanoFonz.
Working through all of the old photographs of the old museum on campus I began to see bits other artwork captured in the background such as the bottom of this mammoth mural just above the Procamelus reconstruction. This was the bottom of the painting, I had seen the corner of in the photo at the top.
A quick aside: everything but the skull here was plaster and disintegrated during a move, the skull is currently on display in the museum and it is now Aepyicamelus)
Back to the murals. Armed with bits of the scene like the one above I started trying to track down where it could be. From the available scale clues, this one is about 4×6 feet, but that is just a guess. One of the photos appears to show it as a canvas, and no where is is shown frames like the others, so it could have been rolled up and forgotten I suppose. I have had no luck tracking it down, but I did manage to find better photos of the entire thing.
While I was trying to track down the mammoth mural I found copies of two more murals that are also MIA. They appear to be the same size as the two extant murals in the Paleo hallway and if that is the case they are somewhere in the vicinity of 4×12 feet. They also show the same wooden frames on them.
Our vert paleo curator said that he thought the Carboniferous Forest one had been sent to one of the Texas Panhandle colleges years ago (before he got there). I contacted the collections managers at Texas Tech and the Panhandle Plains museum, but neither knew anything about them.
The final one is my favorite and the one I am most sad we don’t have. I would love to see it in the real in full color glory. There isn’t even a full good quality photo of the entire thing. Just the bad xerox copy, and some details. I don’t know the date on the mammoths or the carboniferous forest but in the detail of the Pliocene horses you can see a 3, so it was done in the 30s. The two extant ones were completed in 34 and 41 (the frame obscures the final digit in the dates, but this is what they appear to be), so it is likely they were all produced around the same time. The WPA receipts in the Western History Collection show paints and supplies so these are in fact WPA murals.
This is one of those times I really wish my readership was large enough to get hundreds of eyes looking for these. There may not be a living soul that knows anything about them, but there may be someone who has seen them and doesn’t know how they got there. They both appear to have been hanging somewhere above a wainscot, possibly in what was the first or second iteration of the museum. I hold out hope that they are still somewhere, and I suppose summer is the best time to go Scooby Doo-ing around the old buildings to try and find them.
Turns out Hugh Hudson has a new film out that focuses on the discovery of the prehistoric cave paintings in Altamira. If you aren’t familiar with the discovery, the Cliff Notes version is an 8 year old girl named Maria led her father Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola to a cave which held amazing paleolithic paintings of bison among other wonders; scientific debates ensue.
The end of the 19th century was rife with debates on man’s place in nature as well as the entire story of mankind in general. The established French view was that prehistoric humans were incapable of such higher forms of thought required to create such things. Arguments about the past and the professional nature of the scientists and divided disciples were heated, marked, and many times personal. Paleoanthropology and other disciplines as we know them were in their infancies fetal stages and battle for the authority to pontificate on humanity’s past was as much the prize as finding answers to the questions they were asking.
Having done a fair amount of research on the Piltdown Affair and its context within the debates that came to a head because of find like Altamira, I am especially intrigued. Adding to that is the fact that like so many other important discoveries in this period it was made by an amateur. That is to say it was reported by an amateur since it was originally discovered by a child.
The movie itself looks wonderful since it will have the debates and forces of will involved (including the Church). It also included the wonder that fills Maria as the bison from the cave come alive in her dreams and become a part of her.
As with most things in life I didn’t get to this from any direct route. I actually first heard of this film through a trailer for its soundtrack. As bizarre as soundtrack trailers sound the bits and pieces around it are where I can glean more of the story.
Mark Knopfler and Evelyn Glennie worked together to create the score for the film and it sounds incredible. It was on Mark’s official Facebook page that I first say the trailer to the soundtrack. Complete with the reimagined stylized version of the famous bison on the front.
The bison form Altamira are iconic and you may recognize them from the plethora of Bisonte cigarette ads/packs that are everywhere. (I say everywhere, that may only be the case if you are as interested in Spain as I am). If not everywhere then at least on cigarettespedia.com which is a more useful website than you may think, especially for someone who studies visual culture.
Getting to the heart of the film is difficult since all the available trailers are in Spanish since it was released there at the first of this month (April 2016). This isn’t because the film is in Spanish, but because of locality (I guess). So the trailers are dubbed into Spanish which just strikes me as odd, even if I am appreciative of the fact that was produced in English.
There are a few English clips that are part of the making of the soundtrack video below where I grabbed some of the above photos. As far as the cave itself goes, it remains closed to visitors since the damage it sustained from visitor’s breathing in the 1960s. The museum close by has a full replica included some sculptures of human faces that you couldn’t get to in the cave itself. There are also reproductions in Madrid, Germany, and most recently Japan. The Caves were up for reopening to the public a few years ago, but in an effort to preserve the site the decision was made to keep them closed. looking at a fake trope was still contentious in 2014.
The Cave was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985 and they have a short video on it as well. Until it gets wider release this will have to suffice to piece together what is going on.
Update: Aug. 3, 2016 Full length English trailer finally hits youtube.
What a way to end a season’s foray into the world of historic networks, correspondence, and collecting. After finishing Fan’s book, I did not image that there could be one with even more methodological examples of what I want to do. Samuel Alberti’s Nature an Culture is that book. It is exactly what I want to do in my own research only aimed at museums in the United States.
This book should be on every modern natural historians shelf, and the paperback is cheap enough on Amazon that it is an easy addition. This book is an institutional history of the Manchester museum, but is it also a biography of the objects inside the museum. Further still, it is a cultural history of the nature of collecting for museums. It is not hyperbole to say that this short book has something for nearly everyone.
The very first connection (and reaffirmation that I am traveling in the right circles for my project) came on page three where Alberti quotes Simon Knell: “Natural scientists, archaeologists, and art historians, in some respects, share a similar engagement with objects: they build whole subjects from material things” (3). If you have noticed there are many art related posts here, and it wasn’t until I came to the University of Oklahoma that I became more active in art history research. Having trained as a paleontologist and archaeologist prior to coming to Norman I was 2/3 whole so to speak. The work I have done in Art History here has seemed a natural extension of the work that I had done previously, and Alberti citing Knell may serve as an official (and independent) seal on my decision to have my outside dissertation committee member (and 1/3 of my graded comprehensive exams) filled by a prominent historian of Art and the American West.
Alberti is able to trace out nearly a century of change within one institution. Nothing related to the museum escapes his analysis–from the famous artifacts like the mummies down to the collections that never went on display. He also does not ignore the individuals who worked in and with the museum from the director down to the charwomen. This is the holistic approach that must be made in order to fully understand the world of museum histories and their place within the politics of a university, city, or nation.
The book is more a collection of essays than a standard narrative. The thread that weaves the entire collection together is the museum itself. The best way to describe it is to use the movie time-lapse example. In many movies, usually near the end, there is a dramatic time-lapse that brings the historical point of reference up to the modern. Usually this is a landscape shot which shows the varying skylines of a city. In the case of Nature and Culture it is almost the opposite. If we could create this effect we would see a hundred years of change within the building itself with its architecture maintaining our frame of reference.
The second instance of immediate endearment of this work came on page 5. “This way of studying the history of museums firmly links them to other spaces for collecting an display including zoos and menageries, even when curators were seeking to distinguish museums from such tawdry places” (5–emphasis mine). My first masters thesis, The People’s Zoo: William M. Mann, The National Zoo, and the Birth of American Wildlife Conservation, 1889-1960(linked to proquest PDF), covered William Mann’s collecting for the National Zoo. I cannot describe the feeling you get when your past work comes back around to provide solid foundation for things that you have yet done. An added bonus was the records of the National Zoo. Since the zoo comes under the Smithsonian umbrella, much of the zoo’s official accounts and reports were recorded in yearly federal reports. The years of work within the federal records has also set me up nicely to work with the WPA records that will form the end of my dissertation on collecting.
The analysis of objects in this text pulls in my work on my second thesis The Gilded Skull in England’s Closet: Displaying Human Evolution at the American Museum of Natural History (which has yet to even make it to proquest or the library despite being deposited almost a year ago–it really is amazing that Lamar University has a more streamlined thesis process and binding options than the University of Oklahoma, but that is another issue) which covered the Piltdown Skull as an object with its own history and own biography. In this handy little book I have an incredible connection between my work done at Lamar University in Texas and the more recent years I have spent here. That fact alone serves to raise this book on my favorites list.
Alberti’s brief nod at the hunters as collectors rounds out the trilogy of points I would like to make. Those that were doing the collecting are generally left out of the equation that begins with the preparation of specimens. While Manchester had less active patron-hunters than either the American Museum of Natural History or the Smithsonian, that Alberti mentions their importance reveals much. To be fair, one of the most famous/infamous of the hunters for the American Museum and Smithsonian was none other than Theodore Roosevelt. There are examples of the friction between hunters and scientists in Britain however, most notably in the recent book Between Man and Beast (Doubleday, 2013). Monte Reel follows the story of Paul Du Chaillu, his gorilla hunting, and Richard Owen needing the specimen to make his point.
Museum history is one of those topics that require a more diverse “toolkit” to adequately understand. Alberti’s work should be part of any course that looks at museums, collecting, or objects. I would say that includes the early speaking tours that had specimens in tow. It should also be required text for almost any Museum Studies course. That it is a single museum that Alberti covers, is not as much of a weakness as one would think. It serves as an almost perfect case study to replicate with any other similar institution–and most of them are much more similar than they are different. Even with its peculiarity of being a British establishment, it will serve as a model for the museums here in the states. What makes it more difficult is, like baseball, the big museums in the US are separated by league–the American Museum of Natural History and the (National League) Smithsonian. There are many-many-more that will follow an almost identical curve of existence (adjusted only slightly for chronology) as the Manchester Museum, and Alberti has provided us all with the most efficient way to understand them in their entirety, as much as that is possible.
In the year since I posted last, I have not only outfitted an more than modest sized traveling museum and finished a second MA, but was able to squeeze in a few shows for students as well. The greatest highlight to share is that in a couple weeks I will be presenting Paleo Porch at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Conference in Berlin, Germany. My abstract was accepted in the “Education and Outreach” session which is all poster format, but I will be going to discuss not only the outreach with traveling artifacts (in this case casts) but also how successful using the humanities to teach science outreach can be.
Below is a sampling of the talks I did in the Spring and Summer with the Paleo Porch Mini Mobile Museum. The Paleo Porch Facebook page is still running strong, and is updated frequently with paleo news, good fun, and bad puns. There is still a lot going on as I make my way towards comprehensive exams. Currently I am living in the Art History department absorbing everything I can on the Art of the American West, and the Myth and Memory of that same west. Understanding what artists were representing about the west, helps us to understand the expectations of that west (and what came out of it) that those living wast of the Mississippi were using to make sense of their world and relationship with it. With that in mind it also influences how museums were designed and filled and what artifacts were used to establish authenticity and authority including giant fossil bones, whether they were from dinosaurs or giant mammals. You can read about one such method of communication here.
Until there is more to report from Berlin, and I have time to put together posts on Natural History Museums (which is my next plan for here) enjoy these candid shots of kids learning about paleontology and the history of science through the Paleo Porch Mini Mobile Museum. Total reach for the year is about 1100 and that is only with a handful of exhibitions. More to come!
First “Paleo in the Park”
University talk layout and Q&A
Pre-Collegiate Class at University
Pre-Collegiate Class at University
Pre-Collegiate Class at University
I will get some photos of the conference and my poster up when I return. The conference runs Nov. 5-8, 2014.
If you ever make it to Oklahoma City make it a point to visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Formerly the Cowboy Hall of Fame don’t let its name and location fool you, there is something for everyone inside the gates.
The Cowboy Museum, as it is known by its shortened name, has more than just cowboys and rodeos. Some of the finest western art–both historic and contemporary–is collected here either in their permanent collections or in the yearly contemporary exhibits which contain pieces that you can purchase if you are on the high end of art collecting.
The historic pieces are exhibited in galleries that do not allow photography, but through there website you can get a few teasing examples such as Bierstadt’s Emigrants Crossing the Plains, and Alfred Jacob Miller’s Cavalcade is there as well, in addition to Audubon’s eagle and catfish.
Emigrants Crossing the Plains, Albert Bierstadt
Cavalcade, Alfred Jacob Miller
There are enormous collections for Frederic Remington and Charles Russell works, including a single casting Remington made for a patron, and a rifle that belonged to a friend of Russell’s. After complaining about a bad day of hunting Russell took the rifle and etched bear, elk, and bison onto the receiver and told him “Now, you’ll always have fresh meat in sight.” Remington’s arch-nemesis Charles Schreyvogel has an gallery as well. At one point Remington came out in the newspaper criticizing Schreyvogel’s painting Custer’s Demand about numerous points of fact. One of the men depicted in the meeting and Custer’s widow spoke out for Schreyvogal’s authenticity and the Remington dropped the matter. In the collection/archives at the Cowboy Museum there is a letter that President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Elizabeth Custer claiming that Remington “Had been a perfect Jack” about the whole thing.
If you are more into sculpture the museum has you covered. There are scores of bronzes from those mentioned above, but their larger than life pieces are worth going to see. You are greeted by Hollis Williford’s Welcome Sundown.
Once inside James Earle Fraser’s iconic End of the Trail is your first experience. This is the original plaster cast that Fraser created in 1915. It was meant to be cast into bronze but the First World War brought a metal shortage so it remained in this form. It was moved to the Cowboy Museum in the 1960s and to its present location during the update and renovation of the museum in the 1980s. Fraser is also famous as the artist that designed the American “Buffalo” or “Indian Head” nickel.
Fraser’s Abraham Lincoln is also housed in the Cowboy Museum, along with a reminder that Lincoln was more than just a Civil War and Emancipation president. With his signature on the Homestead Act in 1862, he opened the floodgates to the West. A million families of settlers flowed in the “empty” west before 1910.
There are also several monumental sculptures around the grounds that are also quite stunning. Below are a few, but you can see the rest here.
There is plenty of room inside for sculptures of this size indoors as well. Canyon Princess by Gerald Balciar is a beautiful animal piece made of the same marble as the Lincoln Memorial no less.
If you are looking for a more authentic and actual cowboy experience not provided by art or art history there are numerous galleries filled with all kinds of cowboy gear from bits and bridles to chaps and brands. If you want to know anything about the 4,283,836 (completely made up number, but there are A. LOT.) of barbed wire (pronounced “bobwar” in many counties) then this is the place for you.
There are by far more than two saddles, but you will need to go yourself to see what it is you are looking for.
If the TV and film west was more a part of your childhood than actual cowboy work, you won’t be disappointed in that collection either. Their memorabilia runs from the earliest western films up through the fairly recent. Including a short little film narrated by Sam Elliot (who else?) describing the history of “The Western.”
James Arness’ Marshall Dillon wardrobe
Marshall Dillon’s hat.
Chess Knight of Silver on Paladin’s traveling gun.
One of a few, they said the one that was actually wired with lights came with burn holes in it.
Tom Selleck’s saddle and outback hat from Quigley Down Under
Sam Elliot, Conagher, Louis L’amour book/movie
Daniel Day-Lewis There Will be Blood
As I mentioned above one of the neatest things the museum does if the continuation of the western art tradition by hosting new large galleries filled with modern american west artwork. Even the artwork in the gift shop is stunning.
Photography is not allowed in this exhibit, but thanks to the winnings being posted online I can share a couple of my favorites and a page on the artist that made them. I have always liked the anachronistic, mismatched, or false grouped images. Anything where it shouldn’t be and imagined meetings of several famous people playing horseshoes or something have been the images that I have gravitated towards in modern context. My two favorites in this past exhibit do both. Martin Grelle’s In Two Worlds is one of those iconic native in white clothing images that we are all familiar with. Most of the top hats I saw before studying the Gilded Age were worn by Native Americans.
In Two Worlds, Marin Grelle, see it and more here.
One that got a full HA! as I saw it was Bruce Greene’s Wall Street From the Saddle Seat. I love it not only because it used that same trope, but because it turns the myth into the native. Civilization has come to the cowboy. Even the romantic ideal has started to vanish.
Wall Street from the Saddle Seat, Bruce Greene, see it and more here
The Cowboy Museum houses more than you think, more than I thought for sure. We’ve lived a half hour a way for two and a half years and only went this week as part of my Art History class. It was worth the wait not only to see what was there, but to go through it with my professor who was the director there from around 1986 to 1996. He said that moving Fraser’s End of the Trail to its present position was “The longest day of my life.” They moved it all in one piece by crane over trees and through a giant window. Moving it was the quickest part, it took two hours to get it off the original pedestal and balanced properly in the crane straps and four hours to get it installed on its new pedestal. When it was shipped to the museum in 1968 it was cut in to 5 or 6 pieces and rebuilt.
There is much more to do in OKC than really meets the eye. Many people miss things like this because it is flyover state. If you happen to be in the area add this museum to your itinerary. If you are looking for something new to see or a new place to visit, make it a stop on your cross country drive. It’s worth it. Only this historical galleries are static, and there is always something going on there with artists’ talks and new exhibits.
A final thought is I can never go into any kind of museum that features galleries of art of any kind and not think about the Dire Straits song In the Gallery. I hear it even more loudly in a space that highlights western art because the first line is “Harry made a bareback rider, proud and free, upon a horse…”It is definitely something to think about especially in a place that contains paintings of the American West from the 1830s and paintings and sculpture still being created about the same subject.
The Indiegogo campaign has come to an end. The perks and goodies have been mailed, and the money transfer has been “initiated.” The Paypal donations have already cleared and that is what I purchased the perks, the cases, and paid for the shipping with. There was enough to put in a quick order for a few pieces before they disappeared. The Carnotaurus was discontinued with only 3 left in stock, so I wanted to act quickly. They also offer damaged skulls for a fraction (about 1/3) of the regular price. So, I ordered one of each that they offered. At most it would just be a little gluing. I will highlight the first shipment for the Paleo Porch Mini Mobile Museum:
The package as it was delivered. Well packed, I might add.
Three boxes=3 skulls
Opening the Carnotaurus first
These are really high quality replicas.
Scaled down for super-easy transport
They even come with very nice little stands with their names and scale size on it:
Here is where the fun begins: How badly would these be damaged? They didn’t say:
The deinonychus was missing a few (4) teeth, as you can see, and was now a two piece.
I learned about Duco cement at University taking my Archaeology course. This stuff is fantastic for nearly any type of medium you need to reattach and it works brilliantly on resin.
The jaws, being good little levers were heavier on the end so I had to employ a bit of spacering and rubberbanding.
The Brachiosaurus was another story. The jaw was separated from the skull, just as the deinonychus was, only it was missing many, many more teeth. Both from the lower jaw:
and the upper:
This actually let me realize just how good these casts are. Brachiosaur teeth are notably described as “peg-like” or “pencil-like” and these are. All of them. But, they each have the flattened wedge shape on the inside. That made it only a little easier.
Also, the don’t simply get smaller from the front back. They vary in size all along the tooth row.
There was a lot of checking and double checking.
Upper was a bit easier, or that is to say went quicker.
I am still not 100% certain they are all in the correct “sockets” but they look pretty good
Required the same advanced techniques for holding things together . It was here I realized there is a great opportunity to market DragonSkull shoes. They would still look better than crocs
Once all the teeth were in and the jaws were rigged into place
it was just a matter of the Duco setting up. Total time to get
to this point about 2 and a half hours.
With the jaws being so heavy on the ends and needing pressure in all the right places, I was worried that the Duco might not make it. Shouldn’t have worried though, once the bands and spacers were in the right places it was just a matter of time. Now that the Duco has completely cured, the glued joints are stronger than the regular resin pieces.
They may have come out of the boxes completely different, a few hours of work and dry time, there isn’t that much difference in the finished products. And now you have the first three skulls in the Paleo Porch collections. These three and a few teeth and claws will be at the Pioneer library meeting this Thursday and Friday to potentially negotiate workshops at all 10 libraries in their system during summer vacation. I think it is a fitting sample of what the Paleo Porch Mini Mobile Museum will have to offer
More to come as I work with retailers to get more bang for buck. I will update as new orders arrive and new workshops get planned, check back here for more updates!
Keeping with the tradition of telling everyone what it going on today I received my shipment of perks to send out to the donors for the project and my business cards and magnets.
First, the perks for those that helped me pass my indiegogo goal: Stickers, magnets, and T-shirts (oh, my).
The business card-sized magnets
The simple yet elegant T-shirt
A few other things that I will share are the things that local folks should be on the look out for in the near future:
Business Cards Front and Back
Large Magnets to go on the car. –The Mobile part of the mobile museum
Here they are, blurry, but on the refrigerator for scale.
Thanks, yet again, to all those who have shared the project, donated to the project, and/or offered encouraging words to the project’s director. Soon these posts will be about the pieces in the museum, the places I give talks, and the people I meet!
Here is a last closeup of the shirt:
Southern fried paleontology and life stories from the world’s front porch