June 1, 2012

Natural History Museum Event to Focus on the World’s Fairs

Displayed at the world’s fair almost 120 years ago in Chicago, the exhibit that eventually became the KU Natural History Museum’s Panorama was a testament to the taxidermy skills of its creator, Lewis Lindsay Dyche.

But the exhibit was also exemplary of the creativity demonstrated at world’s fairs across many decades. 

Using the 1893 Columbian Exposition as the centerpiece, Catherine Futter, curator of decorative arts at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, will examine innovation and the golden age of world’s fairs from 1851 to 1939 at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 7 at the KU Natural History Museum. The lecture is free and open to the public.

The event will be followed by a private reception with Futter held for museum members. Dessert, coffee and wine will be served. Attendees are asked to RSVP for the reception by sending a message to biodiversity@ku.edu or by calling 785.864.2344.

Futtter orchestrated the exhibition Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World's Fairs, 1851-1939, now on view at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

“The fairs of the 19th and 20th centuries were the most important vehicles for debuting advances in modern living and brought scientific discoveries, agricultural products, machinery, manufactured products, paintings, sculpture and architecture to the masses,” Futter said. “Fairs encouraged international competition as well as industrial and technical innovation.”

Dyche’s taxidermy display exemplified such innovation. The 121 mammals were arranged in life-like poses interacting with each other. On the advice of his mentor, William T. Hornaday, Dyche also added painted backgrounds to the exhibition and details such as leaves on the ground and trees in fall color. At the height of Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition, as many as 20,000 people per day visited the Kansas Pavilion, home to Dyche’s display.

Many of these animals are still displayed at the KU Natural History Museum, 119 years after the fair.