Albert Eide Parr (b. 1900; d. 1991) — marine biologist, museum director and museum exhibition innovator — was born in Bergen, Norway. After receiving his education at the University of Oslo, he served in the Norwegian Merchant Marine, held a research position at the Museum of Bergen, and worked in fisheries research. In 1926 he moved to the New York Aquarium, from which Harry Payne Bingham, in search of a curator for his fish collection, soon recruited him. When Bingham gave his collection to Yale, Parr went along, too. During the 1930s, as director of Yale’s Bingham Oceanographic Laboratory, Parr oversaw a growing and thriving institution dedicated to marine research; he also rose through Yale’s academic ranks, becoming Professor of Oceanography in 1938.
Parr was made director of the Yale Peabody Museum in 1938, and immediately began an extensive program to renovate its exhibits with new techniques. His greatest legacy is what is arguably the Museum’s best known treasure: the 110-foot-long The Age of Reptiles mural that he hired Rudolph F. Zallinger to paint as “decoration” for the drab wall of the Great Hall, built to display O.C. Marsh’s dinosaurs. In 1942 Parr was offered the directorship of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and his plans for the Peabody Museum were left unfinished.
As director of the American Museum from 1942 to 1959, Parr continued to stress new museum philosophies and techniques, expressed in new exhibit halls based on environmental and ecological principles, as well as in many influential publications. Always concerned with the modern museum’s interpretation to the public of its specimens, he recalled visiting Bergen museums on his own as a very young child, contrasting his experiences of personal discovery with those of students led through museums on school tours and told what to see.
Photograph courtesy of Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University Library.