In 1936 Ed Migdalski began his affiliation with the Peabody Museum of Natural History, initially as an Exhibitions Preparator working with the Peabody staff that was designing and building the Museum’s dioramas. Over the next thirty years Migdalski participated in more than 20 scientific expeditions for the Peabody and Bingham Oceanographic Laboratory and traveled around the world to collect specimens for the museum’s exhibits and research collections. Migdalski’s field work and excursions have included many collection sites in North America, from the the arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada to the Sonoran desert in Arizona, and the Himalayas in India, Nepal and Pakistan to numerous islands in the South Pacific to name a few. His collaborators in the field have included Yale alumni, staff and museum scientists such as the ornithologist S. Dillon Ripley, former Peabody Curator and Yale Biology professor (1946 to 1964) and former Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1964 to 1984). Many of the specimens Migdalski collected in his career can be seen on display and are part of the vertebrate zoology research collections of the Museum.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, on a series of expeditions for the Museum and Bingham Oceanographic Laboratory, Migdalski collected various species of fish which he cast into plaster molds. These molds were to be used later to make museum display models for an exhibit hall on Fishes of the World, but it was never developed. Yet, the plaster molds that Migdalski made remained in the museum’s collections, and over time they began to deteriorate and crumble.
To counteract this, the Museum mounted a project to produce fiberglass-resin casts (mold inserts) from the deteriorating plaster molds. Autumn Von Plinsky, a recent Yale graduate (’13) who volunteered at the Peabody and developed a strong interest in organismal biology and visual arts, worked with Peabody’s current Exhibit Preparator Michael Anderson in the spring of 2014 to build a set of newly cast fish from these deteriorating molds. These new casts are stronger and more resilient than the plaster molds, preserving the detailed morphological information initially gathered by Ed Migdalski for future generations.
During the project Migdalski’s memoir, Lure of the Wild: The Global Adventures of a Museum Naturalist was frequently referenced to verify the species on some of the original molds or to gather geographic information on the collection site. Using a set of Migdalski’s 35mm slides, his preparation methods for making these molds could be better documented and the chronological order and provenience of these expeditions, including a trip through the Panama Canal at the beginning of the expedition, could be established.
To learn more about the casting project check out Autumn Von Plinsky, ’13 blog that describes her techniques and the history of the project. For more information about The Migdalski Fish Project, two images galleries are available below. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Migdalski’s memoir Lure of the Wild, click here.