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Author's Profile

I come to this biography having enjoyed work as an artist at the American Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum of Natural History for a total of 35 years.  I have been able to see firsthand the extraordinary workmanship and creativity of diorama artists of the past generation and I have been able to work with several of them and learn many of their techniques.  I started at the AMNH by working on bird mounts from the Biology of Birds Hall with Dave Schwendeman, the taxidermist. I learned how to clean and paint the legs, beaks, and soft tissue naturalistically.  I mounted my first birds under the guidance of Schwendeman.

Employment at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University encompassed caring for the dioramas painted by James Perry Wilson.   On arriving in New Haven, I met Ralph Morrill who had built all of the foregrounds in the Peabody dioramas.  Peabody gave me one day a week to visit Ralph at his home to hone my skills in taxidermy and learn various diorama fabrication processes. A special mentorship developed and continued for eight years until his death in 1996. Ray deLucia, a museum preparator who worked with Wilson at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, joined me to restore each of the Peabody’s eleven dioramas.  I learned even more about subtleties of diorama illusion-making from deLucia.  With an educational background in medical illustration, I was doubly interested in how dioramas merge art and science.  Wilson, probably more than any other diorama artist, relied on scientific knowledge and mathematical methods to bring a level of accuracy to his painted backgrounds.  I produced two small habitat groups for Peabody’s permanent hall of Biodiversity.   Recently, I negotiated the transfer of a painted diorama shell by James Perry Wilson to the Peabody Museum from the Canadian Museum of Nature. The original foreground and taxidermy was lost so I fabricated a new foreground to go with the diorama painting.  The “new” diorama is now on permanent display in the Connecticut Bird Hall.

In 1994, I organized a painting exhibit at the Peabody Museum by James Perry Wilson. I interviewed some of Wilson’s friends and colleagues for the exhibit and the book grew out of those early contacts. In my spare time I continued to (slowly) research his biography, collect more interviews, and haunt museum archives pursuing a passion for a man who I believe was the best diorama background painter ever. 

All said, I think of myself more as a museum artist than as a writer. I approach my subject from that vantage. I think of the dioramas as a unique form of art as well as an extraordinary collaboration of a number of talented artists. My career has been to discover the fabricating techniques used in dioramas and therefore, I am most interested in how the dioramas were constructed. Some of the descriptions might be too technical for the ordinary reader, but I hope that everyone who reads this will come away with how to discern a good diorama from a mediocre one.

Michael Anderson

November 2014