Friday, March 25, 2011

Click: Natural History Museum, Kyiv

This week I wandered into the Natural History Museum in Kyiv--it's a place I'd been by many times, but had never gotten around to entering.  And inside,  I found both a time capsule of natural history presentation, but also the most lively museum-goers I've seen in Ukraine.   What was in the time capsule?
Cases, lots of cases.
Dioramas,  lots of dioramas,  including my favorite,  of this scene of trolley buses crossing the Dnieper River here in Kyiv.
Specimens and taxidermied animals, lots of specimens and taxidermied animals.  But what I was most struck by were the beautiful illustrations and graphics, showing a hand-done style that is almost gone from museums now that we use computers for illustration.  In the dioramas and in graphics throughout the cases,  there were many illustrations, all hand-done,  in numerous different styles, from these black and white stylized graphics to more formal botanical illustrations.
And it wouldn't be an old-school museum here in Ukraine without at least one really long label and portraits of distinguished scientists.
And of course, the natural habitat of the museum guard.
But, and this is the part that fascinated me,  people were really engaged in this museum.  Kids shared things with other kids;  parents and grandparents talked with children--more than anywhere I've seen here.  So--why?  Is it that the natural world is inherently more interesting than art or history for children?   Is it the contextual material--ie,  do dioramas really help us imagine worlds we don't know?  Or is there another reason entirely?   Your thoughts, readers?  For any reason, it was a pleasure to spend an hour or two watching museum-goers enjoy themselves.
 These two boys were my favorites--they looked at and talked about everything!


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Susie Wilkening said...

I think it is because dioramas are mini-stories. That is, a vignette is created (and this can be of the natural world or a historical scene), and it captures a moment in time that has a story to tell. Mother with young. Majestic ape. Great launch pads for stories.

And then there is the scale. Typically, they are fairly substantial OR they are exquisite miniatures (more common with history dioramas). People love small things. Kids love big things.

Scale also applies to huge collections of butterflies or rocks.

All together, dioramas are way more interactive than a casual glance suggests. Just the interactive nature is internal. And that makes them memorable.

LOVE dioramas!

MuseumChick said...

So--why? Is it that the natural world is inherently more interesting than art or history for children?

My thought is that it is what most parents understand and find more valuable- compared to art, especially modern or contemporary art. I hear a lot of adults with and without kids "not get" art so I would image finding the value to explain to your kids is harder.

I think Natural history is also easier to talk about to kids in comparison to other history museums, which can be also hard to explain to children especially when dealing with violent history, ie war, settlements and slavery.

To sum it up- butterflies and dinosaurs are easier for parents to understand and explain to kids then war and Rothko.

Rye History said...

This is so inspiring. Maybe the visitors were so engaged because they're not as constantly besieged by other forms of popular entertainment as US audiences are? Perhaps they're not as jaded as so many US kids seem to be and more respectful of their parents and grandparents (or am I being too hard on US culture?)

Linda Norris said...

Thanks everyone for comments--Susie, I like the idea of mini-stories--and am intrigued by the large and small elements as well. Museumchick--on a art museum project I did recently we found that what parents wanted most were materials that allowed them to talk about art with their children--so you're probably right, which raises some big questions about the role of teaching art in schools. We become comfortable talking about nature, but not about art (or history). And Rye History--plenty, plenty of pop culture here; so don't think that's quite it. Great thoughts everyone--thanks!

Teresa said...

I am the mother of two and work in a general museum with dioramas. My kids have grown up here at the museum and their favorite exhibits are the natural habitat dioramas.

Yes, they are easier to explain, but I also think that it is something kids can wrap their heads around. My 8-year-old is just now starting to understand the concept of time and is becoming more interested in recent history. I was an adult before I really began understand history. When you don't understand, it is hard (and embarrassing)to talk about even with children.