January 13, 2007

A Visit to the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History has been in the public eye a lot recently thanks to the popular movie "A Night at the Museum" which has been at the top of the box office charts throughout the holiday season. This enormous edifice founded by Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., in 1869 takes up the equivalent of several city blocks on Central Park West and is most famous for its dinosaurs, the "Star of India" sapphire in the Hall of Gems, the model of a blue whale suspended in the Hall of Ocean Life and the Rose Center for Earth and Space that opened in 2000.

We were delighted to receive two "super saver vouchers" for Christmas and wanted to take advantage of them before the usual inundation of school groups was in full swing. So last week we choose an afternoon and headed up to the Museum.

The prospect of a tropical environment was very appealing on a wintry afternoon, so we began our visit at the Butterfly Conservatory. The "vivarium" is basically a long greenhouse filled with lush vegetation and over 500 live butterflies, from 3 families of the species, all fluttering and feeding on flowers and bits of cut up fruit. These beautiful insects come in all sizes and colors and the visitor is entranced with their deceptive delicacy. Butterflies can migrate for thousands of miles yet they appear as fragile as, well, a butterfly! Particularly fascinating was the section on metamorphosis with racks of caterpillars "morphing" into moths and butterflies.

Next stop, "Gold", an exhibition that traces the social and scientific history of this shiny element. From the beginning of time, man has been obsessed with gold, a passion that has launched explorations, built empires and inspired artists of all kinds. Gold has served as a standard of trade, a symbol of wealth and passage to the afterlife. It is found on all continents and every culture from ancient to modern times has used this metal to create objects of beauty, power and adoration. On display are huge natural nuggets like the "Boot of Cortez", the largest find in the Western Hemisphere at 12 kg, a room wallpapered in gold leaf - all done from a single ounce of gold, ancient and modern coins and bars, and a fascinating group of jewelry and artifacts from around the world. One gains a new appreciation for the value throughout the ages of this most alluring of metals.

The last stop was a trip through time and space in the Hayden Planetarium with Robert Redford as narrator of "Cosmic Collisions". I fondly remember the old planetarium and have to say that this new-fangled version has lost a little of the charm. However, the film, depicting how collisions millions of years in the past and into the future have and will change our universe, has taken advantage of modern technology to present a stunning show.

The American Museum of Natural History is at the same time both a petrified rock and a window on the future. The dioramas we remember from years ago are the same, just a little dustier, and state-of-the-art exhibitions seem to give the new generation the same thrill that these old fashioned displays did when they were new. One wanders through the original exhibition halls, like the superb collection of North West Coast artifacts, and can almost hear the voices of the Surrealist artists who frequented the same rooms many years ago. A true confirmation of the old adage "the more things change, the more they stay the same." I think that's a very good thing!

1 comment:

Heidy said...

We would have loved this trip. Katie would have been crazy over the butterflies. Miles would have been very interested in the gold exibit. And I would have loved the cosmic collisions exhibit.