29 Jul 2011

Flocks of fun: The Roger Tory Peterson Institute

Text and photos by Marie Powell

For those who love museums and galleries with a special interest, I can highly recommend spending some time at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, New York State.

The Peterson Field Guide to Birds has been a useful and recommended resource since its first publication in 1934.

The Institute is filled with Peterson’s sketches and paintings, as well as other works of art and exhibits.

I recently had a chance to join a tour of the archives given by Mark Baldwin, director of education since 1998, during the Highlights Chautauqua conference in July.

It's a fascinating place, full of displays and information.

I learned that Peterson trained as an artist and painter, but he also became known as a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and lecturer. Born in Jamestown in 1908, he loved to escape into the “natural world.” He bought his first camera with his paper route money as a child.

He used a variety of tools to help him create his well-known field guides, and the beautiful paintings of birds in their natural habitat that adorn the walls of the Institute.

Some examples include field notes and sketches, 35-mm transparencies, and “study skins” like this passenger pigeon (left).

There are about 200,000 transparencies in the archives, Baldwin said, as well as “study skins” of various birds that date back as far as 1892.

We also had a tour of the building and an introduction to its architecture from retired architect Marlin Casker.

The facility was built using the rural "Adirondack" style that's well known in the western part of NY State, Casker told us. In other words, it looks a little like the large log-cabin-style buildings that wealthy families built as their summer homes after the civil war.

The architects and builders used stone, natural and finished wood, as well as lodge-pole and white pine. It's very striking inside and out, with high ceilings, arches, and display areas.

I love birds, so I found lots to interest me at the institute, including some very cute displays like this Emperor Penguin (right).

Find out more about the Institute and about Roger Tory Peterson on the website: http: www.rtpi.org/

Marie Powell is the author of Dragonflies are Amazing! (Scholastic Canada).


Anonymous said...

Great photos and excellent commentary on a fascinating museum. Thanks! Kathy May

Linda Zajac said...

Great blog post! I really enjoyed the tour of the archives too, but didn't get the opportunity to hear about the architecture. You took a lot of photos.

Marie Powell said...

Thanks for the comments. We had a great tour. I took many more photos too - maybe I'll use them on my own blog later.