Natural History Museum’s storage spaces take center stage in new exhibition
“Unshelved: Cool Stuff from Storage” opens Nov. 18 at the San Diego Natural History Museum and features gorgeous natural history specimens never before on display.
The building looks bigger from the outside than inside because it holds 8 million speci- mens in storage areas underground and behind gallery walls. The museum is giving visitors a rare peek behind the scenes when they open the exhibit, which is included with paid admis- sion and will remain on view for two years.
As visitors enter Unshelved, they will feel as though they have been given an all-access pass to the museum. The entry is dominated by a giant sperm whale jaw that demonstrates the sheer size of this remarkable mammal. Visitors will also see an impressive display of specimens from all over the world: brilliant gems and minerals, an emperor penguin, massive bats, a 20- foot long anaconda skin, pinned bugs and insects, a wall of skulls, and a variety of vintage taxidermied birds. The specimens chosen for this exhibition demonstrate the museum’s long history of collecting and the magnificent diver- sity of life on Planet Earth.
“Most visitors don’t get to see our treasure trove — rows upon rows of shelves, drawers, and crates holding millions of plant and animal specimens collected over the past 143 years,” said Judy Gradwohl, president and CEO of the San Diego Natural History Museum. “A look behind the scenes in our storage areas is like a cross-section of the diversity of nature itself. It is beautiful, strange, and fascinating, and we’re giving visitors a glimpse into that world.”
The Nat was established by a small group of citizen scientists in 1874, and since then has amassed a collection of more than 8 million specimens. Although the institution focuses its research efforts primarily on Southern California and Baja California, through its history, it has acquired specimens from all over the world.
The specimens in the museum’s holdings, which are meticulously preserved and catalogued, are curated by several departments that comprise the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias (BRCC). Research departments and collections include Birds and Mammals, Botany, Entomology, Herpetology, Marine Invertebrates, Mineralogy, Paleontology, and the Research Library.
“The Nat has been building a collection of natural history specimens for more than 140 years,” said Dr. Michael Wall, vice president of science and conservation at the Natural History Museum.“It’s high time we create an exhibition that is solely dedicated to telling that story. Unshelved brings the back of house to the front. Its quirkiness is sure to dazzle our visitors and prompt them to ask questions, which is at the root of scientific discovery Museum col- lections help inform present and future scientists, students, and museum visitors about evolution, implications of climate change, and how to protect the unique biodiversity and natural resources in the region. In addition to their tremendous scientific value, specimens are also displayed in exhibitions, such as Unshelved, and are used by the Education Department to more clearly and definitively illustrate lessons being taught at the Museum Unshelved is located on Level 2 of the museum and is included with general admission.
To help celebrate the grand opening of Unshelved, The Nat has planned the following public programs:
Unshelved Family Day Saturday, Nov. 18, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (included with paid admission)
NATtalk: What’s In Our Drawers Tuesday, Nov. 21, 7 p.m. (extra ticket required).