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Natural History Museum Dioramas Are Disappearing

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Life-sized dioramas were once a staple of many natural history museums. Taxidermy-treated deer, wolves, and lions roamed carefully constructed habitats designed to replicate actual places in the wild where artists and scientists had done field work. But soon, this low-tech method of making museum visitors feel like they’re really face-to-face with a lion may be disappearing, replaced with more flashy interactive exhibits. 

Newsweek traces the history of these works of taxidermy-filled art:

Dioramas arose in the late 1800s, largely out of a desire to return to nature following the Industrial Revolution. 'These are what you might call the earliest version of virtual reality,' says Stephen Quinn, who recently retired as senior project manager and longtime diorama artist at the [American Museum of Natural History]. The displays consist of taxidermied animals, foreground props and artfully painted panoramic backgrounds. More than just works of art, dioramas are true to science; for decades, artists and scientists went into the field to collect specimens and their surroundings and replicate them exactly as they appeared. 'This sense of place and this sense of reality and a personal encounter is so strong that they are a real powerful medium for teaching science,' Quinn says.

But diorama art in museums has been on a slow decline since the 1920s, and today, museums (and museum goers) are more interested in interactive displays and multimedia than 100-year-old, meticulously recreated nature scenes. In recent years, several major museums have opted not to recreate their dioramas when they moved to new facilities, including the California Academy of Sciences (which relocated between 2003 and 2008) and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Yet there may still be hope for lovers of those classic museum scenes. Taxidermy is making a comeback, and the Field Museum in Chicago recently received more than $155,000 in crowdfunded pledges to build their first new diorama in a quarter century. However, true to the times, the museum didn't reach its $170,000 goal. They're building the hyena exhibit anyway, thankfully.  

Read more about the great diorama dilemma in Newsweek. 

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Martin Wittfooth
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Art
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig
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Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]

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