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Sketching at the American Museum of Natural History

July 25, 2012

I’ve moved to New York City for the foreseeable future (though that time period just extends to the end of December–I’m pretty sure that 2013 is just a rumor). One of my favorite things to do in this huge glorious city is go to the American Museum of Natural History. I’ve only been four times in the month since I’ve arrived: twice as a pay-what-I-will, once for a tweetup and once with a friend who is a member. I will make it my home.

I took my sketchbook and tried to find a small space to stand still and draw. People flowed around me in spurts, like ketchup glopping out of the bottle. Some stopped and looked at my two or three lines and proclaimed them beautiful. It was chaotic and unlike any other drawing experience I’ve had. I had to work to focus on what I was seeing. The constant curiosity made me feel like I should produce, but people’s expectations are low and I basked in small words of praise. I need to hear “attagirl” I guess.

Impala from the Hall of African Mammals:

Various ancient beasts from the Milstein Hall of Advanced Mammals: The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) skeleton stands on its hind legs, giving me just enough of an idea of the whole creature that I imagine it terrorizing small bands of humans. Paleoparadoxia tabati, an ancestral sea cow, seemed to have supremely snaggly teeth. Hayaenodon horridus was an early carnivore and an artist’s rendering gave it a kind of lizard-like ferocity. The early proboscid, Gomphotherium productum, might have looked like a giant tapir.

The peregrine falcon from the Hall of North American Birds, carrying a pigeon to its chicks which prompted questions from every other kid passing by: “Why did it kill the pigeon?” and very unsatisfactory answers from parents: “Because that’s what they do.” I would say: Yeah, and we do too! Let’s go get some chicken! The panorama in the back of the exhibit is of the Palisades, the cliffs across the Hudson, before they were developed. My sketch doesn’t even attempt to capture the background, but I love that many of the animals and birds are displayed against murals of real places.

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