by Patrick McShea
Amid the life sized, realistic diorama’s in Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Hall of African Wildlife, there is a low table with adjacent seating that is reserved for play on a smaller scale.
Sturdy scale models of Africa’s emblematic species provide all that’s necessary for visitors to make associations, create scenes, simulate and imagine action, and engage in conversation.
The plastic menagerie is housed in a zebra-striped toolbox, which also contains brief information sheets about featured creatures. Based upon the arrangements I’ve found while checking the table’s animal inventory, a popular pastime involves matching models with respective information sheets.
Novel uses include using the toolbox as a prop. Below the box stands-in for Noah’s Ark with the paired animal models in an orderly boarding line.
The creator of another scene appeared to imagine toolbox as a mesa with a line of grazers and browsers looking out to scout for predators or perhaps greener feeding grounds.
If the replicas’ proximity to dioramas containing life-sized taxidermy mounts invites discussion of scale, the plastic menagerie’s mix of carnivores and herbivores certainly leads to talk of predator and prey relationships. Below a dramatic visitor-constructed scene features a circle of full grown plant-eaters protecting their young from approaching meat-eaters.
Patrick McShea works in the Education and Visitor Experience department of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.