Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The "Eyes" Have It

From the desk of Kim Gough, Program Developer at the Royal BC Museum

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the most popular areas for photographs and conversations in our feature gallery Behind The Scenes: Part 1 Natural History, seems to be the mammal area. Whether it is a photograph, painting or taxidermy mount, people like faces and eyes.

I mention eyes because we have had a lot of feedback from our visitors about our ornithology area of the exhibition. We have over 39,000 birds in the form of study skins in the collection and roughly 200 birds in the display, but the majority of these birds don’t have eyes and they are lying on their backs. Here are just a few of our visitor’s reactions:

- “Please put the birds standing up. My daughter was sad. It was ugly and disgusting.”

- “I feel that the large glass case displaying dozens of birds was inappropriate. They should be properly displayed not lying on their backs in rows, but standing up majestically.”

- “The lying of dead birds is not fun to see, stand them up with eyes open!”

One of the objectives of the Behind the Scenes exhibition was to show people our collections, as they are in the museum. Birds in our collection are stored on their back because they take up less space than taxidermic mounts posed in lifelike positions. Storing the skins on their backs puts the least amount of stress on the specimen and allows for their identifying characteristics to be seen without having to handle them. As a result, some of our specimens have been in the collection for over 100 years.

No one has complained specifically about the “dead spiders” or the “dead sea stars” or the “dead fish” but bird watching is a very popular hobby and people love the colourful and charismatic creatures.

I wonder if the reaction to the birds would be less severe if the study skins had eyes. What do you think?

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