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.: Exhibitions

Whales: From Bone to Book
Basilosaurus skeleton illustrationThe Smithsonian Libraries opened its new exhibition “Whales: From Bone to Book” in the National Museum of Natural History on May 25, 2013. This exhibition is a joint production of the Libraries and the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History. “Bone to Book” will be on display on the ground floor through April 2014.
Studying natural history is about discovering objects in the natural world and translating their meaning into scientific knowledge. “Whales: From Bone to Book” traces the fascinating journey of how Smithsonian scientists study the largest and most intelligent mammals on the planet: whales. This story describes how the bones and fossils of these amazing animals make their way from discovery on a beach or in rock strata, to the museum’s doors and into its vast collections, and finally to sharing new knowledge about the natural history of whales, past, present and future.
Whales are among the unlikeliest of mammals. They are mammals with ancestors who lived on land, but they now spend 99 percent of their lives underwater. Scientists still have much to learn about their natural history, even as humans have hunted many whale species to the brink of extinction.
The Smithsonian has been studying whales since the 1850s, and its collections of modern and fossil whale specimens in the National Museum of Natural History are unmatched in the world. Teams of Smithsonian scientists, researchers, and illustrators continue this legacy of investigation, collecting whale bones, placing them in the museum for study, and publishing their findings.
The Smithsonian Libraries is part of this process, housing the world’s best collection of resources about marine mammals — from centuries-old books to electronic journals that publish the latest discoveries by Smithsonian researchers.


Fascinating – Endangered RHINO

Thousands of species – plant and animal – are disappearing every year; Rhino Imageone of the most endangered is the rhinoceros. The Smithsonian Libraries participates in a global effort dedicated to the survival of endangered species and their habitats. On display in this case are examples of books from the Libraries, most from the Russell E. Train Africana Collection, Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History, that support and enhance research in conservation biology. This exhibition is located in Evans Gallery of the National Museum of Natural History, Ground Floor.


“Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop and Turn”

This exhibition features the art of paper engineering in the production of books with moving parts, such as peep shows, volvelles, accordion books and pop-up books,

Image: One Red Dot: A Pop-Up Book for Children of All Ages, by David A. Carter. New York: Little Simon, 2004.
Picture of pop-up book
published from the 15th century to modern times. Viewers will receive an in-depth look at the structure and design of pop-up and movable books, with over 50 works demonstrating the diverse methods designers and paper engineers use to magically transform flat, static images in basic paper constructions into dynamic, multi-dimensional forms.

Throughout history, books with moving parts were tools used to educate and document complex concepts in science and medicine, as well as to supply teachers with innovative ways of presenting basic arithmetic and reading skills. Several layers of engraved images of body parts and organs as seen in René Descartes’ “Renatus Des Cartes de homine” (1662), or the inner workings of the mechanisms of a steam locomotive as seen in Hans Blücher’s “Moderne Technik” (1912), were at one time the most effective ways to visually explain complex concepts of the structure of the body and the machine. Other movables called wheels, or volvelles, as seen in Peter Apian’s “Calendarium and Apianus” (Astronomicum Caesareum; 1540) were developed to calculate such things as astronomical movement or the change of seasons on a calendar. Viewers can also relate to movable and pop-up books as toys whose primary purpose is to entertain children and adults, which were introduced in the 18th century. The show includes flap books with pull tabs and dissolving images that reveal answers to riddles or show cartoon-like characters, such as Dean and Sons’ “Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper” (1850) and Stacey Grimaldi’s “A Suit of Armour for Youth” (1824).

This exhibition also features two interactive videos, a series of lectures by paper engineers and collectors and an online blog: http://smithsonianlibraries.si.edu/foldpullpopturn/


Darwin's Legacy

The exhibition features the first edition of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” (1859), a revolutionary book that changed the course of modern science. November 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of the book’s publication. This exhibition will be on display through Sept. 12, 2010.
Portrait of Charles Darwin “On the Origin of Species” is widely heralded as the foundation for evolutionary biology. After graduating from Cambridge University in 1831, Darwin signed up as an unpaid naturalist for a fiveyear scientific voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle. As he sailed around South America and the Galápagos Islands (183136), Darwin made notes and observations, collected animal fossils and plant specimens and studied the geology of islands and coral reefs. His work led him to think deeply about the distribution of animals and plants over place and time.
Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection grew out of his work aboard the Beagle; he said, “The voyage of the Beagle has been by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career.” In 1857, he outlined his theory of evolution in a letter to American botanist Asa Gray, his greatest U.S. advocate. “On the Origin of Species” was published in 1859 and soon found supporters at the Smithsonian Institution. Joseph Henry, a famed scientist and the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, held the book in high regard. Darwin’s theory continues to guide research at the National Museum of Natural History to this day.
The exhibition also showcases Darwin’s silk neckerchief, Joseph Henry’s desk diary, beautifully illustrated volumes from the “Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle” (edited by Charles Darwin and published from 183843),a background map of the track of the H.M.S. Beagle and Galápagos land iguana and mockingbird specimens from the collections of the National Museum of Natural History.


Picturing Words: The Power of Book Illustration

National Museum of American History curators Helena Wright and Joan Boudreau created this panel exhibit for the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, on display Spring 2009 in the National Museum of American History. It showcases some of the world's greatest pieces of illustration from the Libraries' collection of rare books and documents. Through historic illustrations, viewers of the exhibit are able to see what inspires and drives graphic art.
Andreas Vesalius, an early physician and progressive scientist, wrote the book "De Humani Corporis Fabrica" (1543) with illustrations of the human body showing muscles pulled back to see what was underneath. The illustrations of Vesalius changed the way people looked at the human form and helped develop modern medicine. Letters have been shown to be inspiration for some writers, as seen through the graphic images from children's alphabet books; and pictures drawn with a calligraphic style add a degree of artistry to poems about birds in Armand Monjo's "Tu l'as vu l'oiseau?" (1993). Illustration from Wood beyond the WorldThe labor-intensive engraving process is shown through meticulously rendered illustrations, such as "The Wood Beyond the World" by William Morris (1894), giving the viewer an appreciation for the thought, time and effort that went into his work.
Individual panels of the exhibit vividly demonstrate how illustrations catch readers' eyes, draw them into their reading material and make a more direct connection to the information. The companion website features all of the images included in the traveling exhibit.


The Art of African Exploration

The lure of the unknown has always inspired travel. Early maps of Africa show vast expanses of uncharted territory. Before the 1800s, little was known about the interior of the continent, its geography, plants, animals, and peoples. As advances in medicine and technology made longer journeys possible, the zeal for African exploration peaked. A host of European travelers, driven by scientific curiosity, the desire for conquest or profit, missionary fervor or a thirst for adventure, explored the continent. Africa became a magnet for adventurers and scientists, opportunists and humanitarians. By the late 1800s, much of Africa had been mapped, giving European nations a foothold for imperialism, while uncovering a world largely unknown to science.
The compelling images that emerged from this time tell the story of Africa as it was first seen by Western eyes, and the impact it had on a fascinated public. The Art of African Exploration is on view in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Constitution Avenue lobby.
This exhibition has a companion website.


Freedom of Information Recent works on paper by James Wechsler
December 15, 2006 through March 16, 2007
Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library
Victor Building
Room 2100
750 9th St., NW
Washington, DC
More information

As an artist and art historian I rely a great deal on archival material. The works in this series developed out of my research on modernism and the international Left during my postdoctoral fellowship at SAAM in 2005-2006.

Each piece is based on an actual document from the FBI's Cold War era files on artists, performers, writers, civil rights activists, and the politically radical organizations they were affiliated with. Since their sources were so heavily redacted, the resulting works confound the conventional notions of portraiture - concealing rather than revealing identity - and history painting - frustrating instead of furthering our attempts to interpret the past.

Beyond their explicit commentary on censorship and the culture of surveillance, by concentrating on what has been blocked from view, the paintings evoke deeper psychological and existential questions about perception, collective memory, and the construction of meaning from fragmentary, self-negating, and otherwise indecipherable information.

Image above right:
James Wechsler
Freedom of Information: Alice Neel, 2.45, 2006
Acrylic and ink on paper
39" x 28 ½


Doodles, Drafts and Designs: Industrial Drawings from the Smithsonian

A Traveling Exhibition organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Click here for the tour schedule.

This exhibition presents examples of industrial drawings in the collections of the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Some are working drawings, ideas sketched in pencil or ink. Others are more finished, designed for presentation. A few are printed, either as sales material or as part of a patent application. They visually document American industrial creativity, from inventor's hand and investor's boardroom, to patent office, factory floor, and manufacturer's showroom.

As you look at these drawings and printed documents, think about their aesthetic merit and the ways they reflect the skills and knowledge of their creators. But also consider their purpose. These drawings capture on paper key aspects of technological and industrial process. They document thought, organization, work, and production. A website featuring the exhibit may be viewed at www.sil.si.edu/exhibitions/doodles/.

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