Polar Bear Educational Diorama

Polar Bear Educational Diorama (opened)
Polar Bear Educational Diorama with card
Polar Bear Educational Diorama (closed)
Polar Bear Educational Diorama with lid and card

Polar Bear 3 Educational Diorama
Circa 1967
11”H x 20.5 L x 11.75”D
Unknown artist
Masonite, glass, plaster, wax, glitter, ink on paper

A black and white photograph of a group of young children gathered around a diorama of a polar bear.
This diorama, seen in 1927 in the former Allen Hall of North American Mammals, was the Museum’s first polar bear diorama and showed specimens collected by Robert Peary.

In the middle of the 20th century, the AMNH began producing miniature traveling dioramas that were loaned out to schools in the region. This effort was part of a long tradition of the Museum’s Education Department to lend instructional material, specimens, and artifacts for classroom use, along with educational literature and lesson plans teachers could use as a basis for instruction/discussion.

The circulation of collections to schools was a robust effort at the Museum for most of the 20th century. At one time this lending included sets of lantern slides and scripts for projection in educational settings and simple glass fronted boxed with mounted, taxidermied specimens inside. Earlier distribution efforts featured dedicated delivery vehicles that brought loans of specimens and artifacts directly to schools.

Miniature dioramas and specimen display cases ranged in size and included models of dioramas such at this diorama of polar bears. Produced by the Education Department, this sturdy model diorama was of a novel design. The heavy wood outer box protected the contents and glass panels. The front slid up and out for viewing and the top panel slid off to allow light to illuminate the diorama landscape. An essay on polar bears—replete with bibliography—was mounted on the inside of the front cover. The text includes a reference to the Museum’s Polar Bear Diorama in the Hall of Ocean Life, which opened in 1967. Though the composition of the actual diorama and miniature dioramas were similar but not identical.

This was not the first time the Museum displayed a diorama of polar bears.

Museum Educator Carlton Beil inspecting loading of school service truck

Museum Educator Carlton Beil inspecting the loading of a school service truck, November, 1950. Photo by Alex J. Rota.

Museum automobile for delivery of School Collections

Museum automobile for delivery of School Collections, June 2, 1908. Photo by Thomas Lunt.

A black and white photograph of a polar bear diorama.The Polar Bear diorama in the AMNH Hall of Ocean Life, as it looked when it opened in 1967 as part of the renovations for the 1969 Museum Centennial. The new renovations focused on biodiversity and conservation, a change from the previous incarnations of the hall that focused on exploration and the economic benefits from the ocean.

Polar bear diorama with a newly painted background. The snow and cloudy sky are both a mix of yellows and blues.In 1997 the diorama was reconfigured again due to building code changes that required changes to the space adjacent to the diorama. It was reduced in size and Museum artist Sean Murtha (1968–) painted a new background painting to replace the Matthew Kalmenoff (1905–1986) version.

Written by Thomas Baione and Joel Sweimler

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