Today we worked with a collection of records from the Department of Invertebrate Zoology, primarily consisting of correspondence about specimens between AMNH scientists and their colleagues at other institutions. Though the bulk of the collection was from the 1960s – 1980s, we did come across a set of original drawings from 1939 done by George H. Childs, who was a scientific artist for the Museum at the time. According to his biographical file in the AMNH Research Library, Childs created many diagrammatic displays for Museum exhibitions, including those found in the Hall of North American Forests. The drawings in this collection, which are sketches for a proposed exhibition, came with a long letter that Childs wrote from his trip to Santa Catalina, where he was doing research for a possible exhibition on kelp gardens in the water near the island. His letter extensively details the types of species he found on his research trip. It also makes note of the then recent news that World War II has begun, with Childs stating that he feels concerned and distracted by the news.

The drawings appear to have been done using colored pencil and are in very good condition. Below, you can see Childs’ idea of how a diorama of the Santa Catalina Kelp Gardens at the AMNH would appear from the exhibition hall.

View from outside exhibition

Looking at the below drawing, you can see that his vision for the exhibition involved a walk-through, immersive, experience – much like being underwater.

View from inside exhibition

In the below drawing you can see the idea for what would have been the floor plan.

Floor plan of exhibition. You can see the path visitors would walk through.

From what we can tell, this exhibition never came to fruition, but it was fascinating to learn about how the research and conceptualizing process works.

3 Responses to Interesting finds in Invertebrate archives

  1. Peter Duveen says:

    I came across your brief illustrated entry about George H. Henshaw with some interest.

    George Henshaw Childs was indeed an artist, and apart from his work at the American Museum of Natural History, he crafted some dioramas of his own that featured birds and flora under glass domes. I believe the birds are hand-crafted. These items show up now and then in auctions. I would say they are exceedingly rare.

    Childs also helped illustrate, and may have even contributed to the writing of, a spoof on advice columns that appeared in Brooklyn Life magazine around 1923 or 1924. The column was humorous, and occasionally satirized the museum, and even included in its cast of characters some of the principals of the museum. The main character was Dr. Padapopper, who fancied himself a genius of sorts, and commented on a host of problems, all in a satirical vein.

    As I have some archives on the Henshaw family, I do have a few photos of Dr. Childs as a youth.

    Childs lived in the home of the Henshaw family in Brooklyn Heights on State Street. His uncle, G. Herbert Henshaw, who also lived there, was editor of Brooklyn Life from 1910 until it closed in 1931. Two of his aunts, both contributors to Brooklyn Life, and his cousin Nancy, who would later marry the son of “ashcan” artist William Glackens, also lived there. So it was quite a culturally astute and lively home, with all of these accomplished people living together under one roof.

  2. Krystelle says:

    I just purchased a Glass domed birds with trees signed by George H. Childs. Where might I find more information on this piece? Thank you.

    • Iris Lee says:

      Thank you for your inquiry to the American Museum of Natural History Library. Unfortunately, we do not provide the service you are requesting. You may wish to contact the Appraisers Association (http://www.appraisersassoc.org/) to find an appraiser in your area. A local auction house may also be able to help or offer advice.

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