Cleveland Museum of Natural History at 100: Museum’s impact explored in new exhibit (photos)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland Museum of Natural History was built over 100 years ago in a small wooden building on Public Square. Inside, visitors could see some exhibits about wildlife and the world.

It changed a lot over the next century, more and more to show off some of the most impactful scientific discoveries and also to accommodate ongoing research into the world around us. And that continues to change, as an ongoing large-scale renovation project reworks the building at 1 Wade Oval Dr.

The history, current work and future of the museum are all captured in the new CMNH exhibit, “100 Years of Discoveries”.

The showcase is on display until July 24, 2022. Admission to the exhibit is included with museum tickets, which range from $ 14 to $ 17, with free admission for museum members and for children under two years.

As they enter ‘100 Years of Discoveries’, visitors walk through an old-fashioned hall, designed to resemble the original space of the public plaza, where ancient organizations came together to study natural history in the late 1800s. (The CMNH was officially founded in 1920.)

“Many museums have long been people’s curiosity cabinets, where you get to see interesting and strange things,” said Gavin Svenson, director of research and collections and curator of invertebrate zoology at the CMNH. “It was the place where people had time to take an interest in natural history, where they came to share the kind of ideas and strengthen their interest in plants, insects, animals.”

From there, the exhibition presents major moments in the history of the CMNH. This includes iconic specimens like Lucy, a plaster replica of the bone of a 3.2 million year old human skeleton discovered by CMNH paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson in the 1970s, and Balto, the sled dog who led a team of dogs to deliver an antitoxin to Nome. , Alaska, during a diphtheria epidemic.

(Photo by Russell Lee, Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

Other impactful advancements are explored in the exhibit, highlighting local findings and studies of gypsy moths, bald eagles, shale deposits and the biodiversity of Lake Erie.

The space is dedicated to the Blossom Expedition of 1923, showcasing the vast voyage which gathered thousands of specimens from around the world, for the use of the museum. The exhibits contain the museum’s first scientific notebooks and journals, featuring detailed paintings of bird and plant species on faded pages, shown as scientists discovered them in the wild decades ago.

“We put things like fine art collections and our book collections together because art and books and everything in between come together very early in the history of natural history itself,” Svenson said. . “Art and nature were one and the same in terms of seeing something.”

Some specimens are also available in the exhibit – showing a small sample of the items that reside in the museum’s huge basements filled with cupboards. (To put it in perspective, Svenson said less than one percent of the museum’s artifacts are on display to the public at any given time.)

Many of these articles show Northeast Ohio’s own ecological history, capturing changes over time. In line with the work of the CMNH as a research institution, the museum has established a large nature conservation program around northeastern Ohio, with reserves located as far north as the Kelleys Island and south to Akron.

“You see documentaries about tropical places in Africa, but we actually have incredible diversity here,” said Nicole Gunter, associate curator of invertebrate zoology at the CMNH.

Gunter’s research on dung beetles is concentrated in the exhibition, in a section devoted to the museum’s ongoing work.

Along with biannual fieldwork dedicated to studying dung beetles and other specimens in the wild, Gunter also worked to identify dozens of insects in the museum’s ground floor collection and to digitize insect specimens to make them available online for other researchers.

“We have, I think, around 140,000 of our insect specimens – all of this data is available online, so any researcher doesn’t even need to contact us, but can get all of this information to inform their research,” Gunter said.

Exhibitions at the museum

(Photo by Anne Nickoloff,

Gunter said she received funding to help her release her research data to new audiences in the museum’s planetarium. The software in her program will help other researchers present their work in planetariums around the world in a new format, she said.

It’s an important piece of the puzzle for the CMNH: finding ways to share its intensive scientific research with the general public.

“All of the researchers here, when we present our research at conferences and publish papers, we are preaching to people who are very interested in this topic,” Gunter said. “But really, the most important and exciting part of our job is communicating what we do with the public and why it matters.”

This educational component plays an important role in the museum’s ongoing renovation, which is expected to be completed in stages in 2023 and 2024. The 10-year project, which included the Perkins Wildlife Center and Woods Garden, will expand the museum’s footprint and will revamp its exhibits that haven’t been updated for decades, Svenson said.

It’s not just the building that will change with the new updates. Svenson said CMNH exhibits will also follow new formats.

Instead of chronologically, the new museum plans to develop its exhibits around questions and answers, focusing on telling stories about the world, Svenson said. Like the “100 Years of Discovery” exhibit, the CMNH as a whole will present the roles of peoples in the natural world around them.

“We have moved away from a chronological type of reporting,” Svenson said. “What we’re trying to do is reinterpret the way we present natural history information, and a question-based or scenario-based framework also incorporates humans into the images.”

He added, “We are not that separate thing from natural history – we are part of it.

Find more information on “100 Years of Discovery” and other CMNH exhibits at

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About Carlos V. Mitchell

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