An Awkward Situation

Art

February 27, 2019

Yesterday I found myself traveling down memory lane while in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City …

It was the summer of 1990. Alexis and Nicole were five and Mike was four. I decided to introduce the kids to the Museum of Natural History, remembering the amazing dioramas, the dinosaur skeletons and the collection of minerals, gem and geodes. The marble steps, wooden paneling, high ceilings and darkened rooms cast their spell upon us and we found ourselves traveling around the world visiting the habitats of animals they had only seen in books.

There they were; antelope, gorillas, buffalo, moose and elephants, to name only a few. We paused at each diorama allowing ourselves to be transported into the terrain. We could almost hear the animals breathe. The children loved seeing families of animals grazing together; mother, father and offspring.

Half an hour later I detected unease in all three children. Delight changed to concern. “How did these animals get here, Mum? How did they all die together?”

To no avail, We spent an hour trying to find someone in the museum who could answer that question. Just how were these animals acquired? The children’s father was a hunter. I salted the hides of deer to be tanned. We saved feathers of turkeys and pheasants to be transformed into art of one kind or another. The head of a deer hung above our television. They were familiar with the term taxidermy.

After a long conversation on a hallway bench, I thought that visiting the marine life dioramas might be a bit of a relief. It was. The spectacular whale hanging from the ceiling and the giant walrus and sea lions helped to ease their anguish.

The kids were mesmerized by the size of the walrus and its huge tusks. They appeared to have recovered from the trauma of realizing the mass killing of families in order to create the spectacle of natural history we’d come to observe. Being on alert for sensitivity alarms I glanced ahead at the dioramas we were approaching.

Five minutes later the four of us stood in front of the pearl divers, a look of horror on all three of their young faces. In unison they turned to me. I knelt down on the floor and wrapped my arms around them.

“Don’t worry … they aren’t stuffed. Those two men are plastic like the mannequins we see in clothing stores.”

I felt their relief as it poured out of their small bodies and into my arms. It was time to move on, time for a change of pace. We headed to the collection of sparkling geodes, minerals and gemstones. We’d experienced our quota of anxiety for the day.

It seems like only yesterday. How lucky I’ve been to be the mother of these three amazing children who have grown to be equally amazing adults.

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