Museum Explorer creates experiences to delight visitors. We put the visitor front and center in our museum planning, program development and exhibit design. We work hard to prepare thoughtful environments in which people enjoy learning in non-traditional ways—and find themselves motivated to learn more.
What do you think of when you see the word museum?
A stuffy, stale place where you can walk but not run, with old stuff
behind the glass that you can look at but not touch? Well, obviously… we hope not. Clearly we are working to prove you wrong,
and should have your mind changed very soon.
If you do still happen to share this unfortunate conception of museums,
get thee to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and prepare to be surprised!
Museum has always
had a positive connotation for me, I’ve frequent many of them in my day, and
the Nature Museum was still able to surprise me. First off, it looks different than the other
major museums in Chicago, which are of the Neoclassical style of
architecture. The Nature Museum is that
modern looking, angular and inviting white building you see peeking from the
trees of Lincoln Park. It’s a total
sanctuary located in the middle of the park, offering beautiful views of the
city, of the trees and plants around it, and even the lagoon! I cannot speak highly enough of the Butterfly
Haven there, which is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever
Hangin' around the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven
What surprised me more beyond the sheer visual delights the
building has to offer, though, was the museum’s distinct style of
presentation. The exhibits are clearly
fashioned to engage the visitor—at any age—with touch, understanding, and the
ability to take that experience home with you.
The “Extreme Green House” exhibit, for instance, offers people a closer
look at their own homes by touring a very familiar-looking house of the Green
family. Panels explain where the water
in your kitchen sink comes from and where it goes, how much energy is used by
your washing machine, even what kind of insects are typically found in a house
and what they do! To this point, the
Nature Museum even has panels inside the stalls in their public restrooms,
offering tips on how to conserve water in your toilet at home. Although offered
in a beautiful setting, the Nature Museum does not soften their message:
conservation. While they make it purely
accessible to the visitor by offering insight and tips, they also provide some
not-so-nice images of what can happen when efforts to conserve and protect
nature are not met.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the
extinction of the Passenger Pigeon—a species that at one point was abundant
enough to reach the billions. Human
fault, specifically overhunting and deforestation, led to this demise—a point
the Nature Museum does not make light of.
Passing through the “Birds of Chicago” and “Wilderness Walk” exhibits,
you see many taxidermied animals in recreations of their natural habitats-be it
forest, savannah, or desert. This is
fairly standard practice, to have taxidermists pose animals to look as they
would as they were living, and then place them in real-looking natural settings
to even further liven things up. But the
Passenger Pigeon is given no such display at the museum; no florid background
surrounding it, no accompanying animals to distract you from it. As you can see pictured here, the
Passenger Pigeon is not gussied up whatsoever.
It was jarring to see in person, as a museum-goer is accustomed to the
still life displays of taxidermy. The
Passenger Pigeon was not that experience. The specimen is displayed in the most stark and sterile way possible: laid down on
its back with its belly to the air, eyes white, tag on its toe. And it is here that the Nature Museum makes
the best use of reaching out to people from behind the glass. This, the accompanying panel offers, is what
“can happen when we don’t take care of our planet…share it with your
friends”! This creature is behind the
glass because we put it here, it’s long gone and this is all we have left to
A Call to Action
As a visitor, you do not have a flat line experience
here. From the highs of beauty and the
liveliness amid the butterflies and birds in the Butterfly Haven, to the useful
tips for preservation and prevention at home, to the dangers of being trapped
behind the glass, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has a distinct mission for
the conservation of nature in all forms. Point taken. What a powerful message