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!