American Museum of Natural History. Irma and Paul Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life.

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Exist Dates

1933 - present

Biographical or Historical Note

abstract
Permanent exhibition. Opened May 2, 1933. Located on Floor 1, Section 10. The Irma and Paul Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History highlights the undersea world and its diverse and complex web of life in an immersive marine-like environment (1, 1933, p. 16; 2). The hall has undergone two major renovations. The first renovation, 1962-1969, completely overhauled the look and feel of the hall, introduced the Museum's world-famous blue whale model, and reopened on February 26, 1969 (1, 1968/69, p. 3). The second renovation, 2002-2003, refurbished the whale and other exhibits, brought them up-to-date with current scientific research, and added audiovisual enhancements, and reopened on May 17, 2003 (1, 2001/03 p. 7). Expeditions that contributed to the hall included the Bahamian Coral Reef Expedition (1923), Phipps Bahamian Expedition (1926), Stoll-McCracken Expedition to the Siberian-Arctic Expedition (1928), Miner-Olsen Expedition to the West Indies (1933), and Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition (1933-1934) (1, 1926, p. 9; 3, 1939, p. 111; 1, 1935, p. 15). The hall's original curators included Roy Chapman Andrews, Roy W. Miner, Bashford Dean, Harold Anthony, Hubert Lyman Clark, Charles Breder, and Dorothy Bliss (1, 1921, p. 29; 1, 1940, p. 11; 1, 1958/59, p. 22; 1, 1927, p. 17). Curators Richard Van Gelder and Charles Breder led the first renovation in 1962-1969 (4, 2000, p. 28-29). The 2002-2003 renovation was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of curators led by Melanie Stiassny, and included Mark Siddall, Paula M. Mikkelsen, Neil H. Landman, and Robert S. Voss. The hall reopened on May 17, 2003 as the Irma and Paul Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life in honor of the renovation's major donors (5, 2001, p. 50; 1, 2001/03 p. 7, 25-26). Original artists included Roy W. Miner, Chris E. Olsen, Bruce C. Brunner, W.H. Southwick, George H. Childs, Hermann O. Mueller, Francis Lee Jaques, and Joseph Guerry (1, 1935, p. 10; 1, 1940, p. 11). Artists and members of the Exhibition Department who worked on the 1962-1969 renovation were Raymond de Lucia, Matthew Kalmenoff, Lyle Barton, and Gordon Reekie (1, 1966/67 p. 72; 6, 2006, p. 169). Artists, project managers, and members of the Exhibition Department who contributed to the 2002-2003 renovation included David Harvey, Melissa Posen, Stephen C. Quinn, Dina Langis, Harriet Urgang, Sean Murtha, Alan Walker, Jack Cesareo, Joyce Cloughy, Tory Ferraro, Nicholas Frankfurt, Aimee Keefer, Karl Matsuda, David Melton, Vivian Stillwell, Mike Tomeo, Laura Friedman, Timothy Nissen, Cleo Villet, Perry Gargano, David Kaplan, Tom Doncourt, David McConack, Richard Weber, Lindsay Foehrenbach, Sarah Chen, Judith Levinson, and Felicity Campbell (6, 2006, p. 29, 169). Major donors have included Arthus Curtiss James, Junius S. Morgan, George S. Bowdoin, and Irma and Paul Milstein (1, 1911, p. 20; 1, 1920, p. 30).

The Whale Court or Court of Ocean Life first appears in the Museum's 1911 Annual Report with plans for it to adjoin the Halls of Fishes and Biology (Darwin Hall) (1, 1911, p. 20; 1, 1916, p. 23). Early plans for the first Hall of Ocean Life included a diving model of a humpback whale, but it never came to fruition (1, 1928, p. 27-28). The Hall of Mammals contained a "misplaced whale", a model of a sulphur-bottom (blue) whale constructed by Roy Chapman Andrews in 1907, but it was too large to move to the new Hall of Ocean Life (4, 2000, p. 26). Planning was interrupted by World War I (1, 1919, p. 18), but began again in 1922 (AR 1923 p. 26) opening to the public on May 2, 1933 (GG 1933 p. 35). Original exhibits in the Hall of Ocean Life included hanging models of a killer whale, blackfish, giant squid, dolphins, and porpoises; skeletons of a sperm whale, finback whale, right whale, California gray whale, and narwhal; mural paintings of American whaling scenes by John Prentiss Benson; and the Museum's collection of shells, formerly displayed in the Shell Hall, on the mezzanine level. The lower level showcases habitat dioramas including the Coral Reef Group (completed in 1935), Elephant Seal Group, Fur Seal Group, Sea Lion Group, and Florida Manatee Group, and a shell of the giant clam, Tridacna, was on view at the hall's entrance. Charles Lindbergh's plane was also on exhibit at this time (3, 1928, p. 44; 3, 1935, p. 32-35) and in 1933-1934, the Bathysphere was on special exhibit in the hall (1, 1934, p. 9).

Prior to the first major renovation, several notable additions were made in the Hall of Ocean Life. The Pearl Divers Group opened on June 10, 1941 (1, 1941, p. 11), the Pacific Walrus Group was completed by 1939, and murals by Francis Lee Jaques surrounding the Coral Reef and Pearl Divers dioramas, were completed by 1943 (3, 1939, p. 111; 3, 1943, p. 61-63). In 1952 habitat groups from the Darwin Hall which included the Salt Marsh Group, Sound-Bottom Group, Wharf Pile Group, Pond Life Group, Rock Pool Group, and Eelgrass Group (Woods Hole), as well as glass models of invertebrates by Hermann Mueller were moved to the Hall of Ocean Life (3, 1953, p. 75-82).

The Hall of Ocean Life and the Hall of Fishes closed for renovation in May 1962. The invertebrate exhibits in Ocean Life were to move into the space occupied as the Hall of Fishes, and the Hall of Ocean Life was completely remodeled. These new and reimagined exhibitions were part of the Museum's ten-year program to update and create new halls (1, 1961/62, p. 55).

Before its renovation, the Hall of Ocean Life was one of the less visited halls in the Museum. It was sparsely stocked and often closed when there was a shortage of heat or electricity. In order to reinvigorate the hall, the Museum decided on a whale centerpiece. Curators Richard Van Gelder and Charles Breder and Gordon Reekie of the Exhibition Department were tasked with creating a striking blue whale model without hanging it from strings (4, 2000, p. 27). Suspending such a sculpture from the ceiling without strings seemed an impossible feat before Lyle Barton from the Exhibition Department came up with the idea to bolt the whale to the ceiling (4, 2000, p. 28-29). The fiberglass model is based off of a female blue whale found in 1925 near the southern tip of South America; it weighs 21,000 pounds and is 94 feet long (7).

In addition to the now iconic blue whale, the new hall, which opened on February 26, 1969 (1, 1968/69, p. 3), featured a new habitat group, the Sperm Whale and Giant Squid (6, 2006, p. 169) and an exhibition of the Biology of Fishes, which included a large diorama depicting marine biota along the coast of Newfoundland on the gallery level (1, 1969/70 p. 27; 1, 1965/66).

In 2002-2003, the Hall of Ocean Life underwent its second major renovation. The original plans for the renovation included an actual aquarium with schools of model fish floating above, which was ultimately not installed (8, 2000). The hall was updated to reflect current scientific research and concepts, the lines of the original Beaux Arts architecture were restored, fourteen classic dioramas were renovated and eight more added, hands-on and interactive displays, videos, and ocean soundscapes were installed, and the blue whale was repainted and modified to reflect current scientific knowledge. Mini-dioramas of the Ordovician, Permian, and Cretaceous seas, originally displayed in the John Lindsley Hall of Earth History, were added to the mezzanine level. The hall reopened on May 17, 2003 as the Irma and Paul Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life in honor of the major donors to the renovation (5, 2001, p. 50; 1, 2001/03 p. 7, 25-26).

Featured dioramas include:

Andros Coral Reef

Common Dolphin and Tuna

Diving Birds

Elephant Seal

Harbor Seal

Northern Sea Lion

Pearl Divers

Sargasso Sea

Polar Bear

Sea Otter

Sperm Whale and Giant Squid

Tiger Shark and Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Walrus

West Indian Manatee (9; 6, 2006, p. 169)

Sources

    (1) American Museum of Natural History. Annual Reports. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1911-2001/03.
    (2) American Museum of Natural History. "Milstein Hall of Ocean Life", July 7, 2017, http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/biodiversity-and-environmental-halls/milstein-hall-of-ocean-life.
    (3) American Museum of Natural History. General Guide [to the Exhibition Halls of] the American Museum of Natural History. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1928-1953.
    (4) Wallace, Joseph. Gathering of Wonders: Behind the Scenes at the American Museum of Natural History. New York: Griffin Books St Martin; New York: American Museum of Natural History, 2000.
    (5) American Museum of Natural History. American Museum of Natural History: The Official Guide. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 2001.
    (6) Quinn, Stephen C. Windows on Nature: The Great Habitat Dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History. New York: Abrams; New York: American Museum of Natural History, 2006.
    (7) American Museum of Natural History. "The Giant Blue Whale Model", July 7, 2017, http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/biodiversity-and-environmental-halls/milstein-hall-of-ocean-life/the-giant-blue-whale-model.
    (8) Dunlap, David W. "Everything but Ahab: Ocean Hall Will Be Remade From the Whale Down CITY Museum Rethinks Ocean Hall From the Whale Down," New York Times, December 7, 2000.
    (9) Irma and Paul Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY. July 3, 2017.
    (10) American Museum of Natural History Research Library. "Bahamian Coral Reef Expedition" accessed August 23, 2017, http://data.library.amnh.org:8082/orbeon/xeac/id/amnhc_2000188
    (11) American Museum of Natural History Research Library. "Miner-Olsen Expedition to West Indies " accessed August 23, 2017, http://data.library.amnh.org:8082/orbeon/xeac/id/amnhc_2000311
    Information for the hall appears in the following Museum publications:
    American Museum of Natural History Annual Reports for years: 1911 (page 20); 1913 (page 31); 1916 (page 22); 1919 (page 18, 25); 1920 (page 19, 30,52); 1921 (page 29); 1922 (page 32, 68); 1923 (page 25, 26); 1924 (page 54); 1925 (page 18, 42, 123); 1926 (page 9, 143); 1927 (page 17, 32); 1928 (page 27); 1929 (page xix, 9); 1930 (page 38, 41); 1931 (page 6, 44); 1932 (page 62, 120); 1933 (page 16, 58); 1934 (page 9, 76); 1935 (page 10, 15); 1936 (page 10); 1937 (page 5); 1938 (page 8); 1939 (page 7); 1940 (page 11); 1941 (page 11); 1944 (page 4); 1948 (page [12]); 1951 (page 32); 1954 (page 49); 1957 (page 12); 1958 (page 5, 22); 1959 (page 11); 1960 (page 41); 1961 (page 4, 34, 55); 1962 (page 39); 1963 (page 70); 1964 (page 4); 1965 (page 4, 5); 1966 (page 44, 72); 1967 (page 39, 44); 1968 (page 3); 1969 (page 27, 39); 1970 (page 3); 1971 (page 9, 36); 1973 (page 24); 1974 (page 7, 30); 1975 (page 4); 1976 (page 8); 1977 (page 20); 1978 (page 6); 1978 (page 4, 7); 1981 (page 6); 1982 (page 56); 1983 (page 2, 62 1984 (page 1); 1985 (page 67); 1986 (page 14); 1987 (page 5, 57); 1988 (page 56); 1989 (page 63); 1990 (page 18, 43); 1991 (page 6); 1992 (page 9); 1993 (page 11); 1994 (page 12); 1996 (page 12); 2000 (page 10); 2001 (page 7, 41); 2002 (page 25); 2006 (page 29); 2007 (page 26); 2009 (page 42); 2010 (page 44)
    American Museum of Natural History General Guides for years: 1926 (page 38); 1927 (page 37); 1928 (page 43); 1930 (page 43); 1931 (page 32); 1932 (page 32); 1933 (page 32); 1934 (page 32); 1935 (page 32); 1936 (page 32); 1939 (page 16, 108); 1943 (page 16, 116); 1945 (page 16, 116); 1947 (page 16, 62, 113); 1949 (page 62, 113); 1953 (page Floor plans, 23, 146); 1956 (page 26, 151); 1958 (page 26, 153); 1962 (page 12, 20, 42); 1965 (page 4)
    American Museum of Natural History: An Introduction 1972, page 6, 7, 58, 85.
    American Museum of Natural History Official Guides for years: 1984 (page 15, 17, 24); 1993 (page 10, 50); 2001 (Table of Contents, 60)

Terms

place
New YorkExternal link
AMNH: Floor 1, Section 10.

Related Corporate, Personal, and Family Names

Andrews, Roy Chapman, 1884-1960.
Curator for hall (1, 1911, p. 20).
Ayers, Edwin
Funder, "Thetis" Expedition, which conducted research for hall (1, 1941, p. 11).
Ayers, Edwin, Mrs.
Funder, "Thetis" Expedition, which conducted research for hall (1, 1941, p. 11).
Bahamian Coral Reef Expedition
Expedition gather data for Coral Reef Group (10).
Barton, Lyle E.
Exhibition Department, engineered way to bolt Giant Blue Whale model to the ceiling during the 1960s renovation (1, 2000, 29).
Bauer, Ralph J.T.
Exhibition Manager, designer, vistor's lounge (1, 1977/78, p. 20).
Benson, John Prentiss 1865-1947
Original artist of whaling mural series (3, 1935, p. 32-35).
Berne, Robert
Hall donor (9).
Berne, Steffi
Hall donor (9).
Betts, Constance McCann
Funder, "Thetis" Expedition, which conducted research for hall (1, 1941, p.11).
Betts, Wyllys R
Scientist on "Thetis" Expedition, which conducted research for hall (1, 1941, p.11).
Bliss, Dorothy E
Curator, Gallery of Invertebrates exhibit on mezzanine level (1, 1958/59, p. 22).
Bowdoin, George Sullivan
Hall donor (1, 1911, p. 20). Departmental Committee for hall (1, 1932, p. 120).
Breder, Charles M. (Charles Marcus), 1897-1983
Curator for hall, worked on 1960s renovation (1, 1958/59, p. 22).
Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation
Donor 2002-2003 renovation (1, 2001/03,p. 25-26).
Brunner, Bruce C.
associated dates: 1935-1941

Diorama foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Campbell, Felicity
associated dates: 2003-

Painting conservation, diorama (6, 2006, p. 169).
Cesareo, Jack
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground arist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Chen, Sarah
associated dates: 2003-

2003 renovation team, dioramas (6, 2006, p. 169).
Cloughy, Joyce
associated dates: 2003-

2003 renovation team, dioramas (6, 2006, p. 169).
Crocker, Templeton 1884-1948
Funder, "Thetis" Expedition (1, 1941, p. 11).
Darwin Hall
Habitat groups from Darwin Hall moved to the Hall of Ocean Life after closure of Darwin Hall (3, 1953 p. 80-82)).
DeLong, Edith Haggin
Hall donor (1, 1938, p. 8).
DeLong, George Bowen
Hall donor (1, 1938, p. 8).
DeLucia, Raymond H.
Museum artist, worked on exhibit (1, 1966/67, p. 72).
Dean, Bashford 1867-1928
Curator for hall (1, 1927, p. 17).
Doncourt, Tom
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Emmanuel, George
Funder, "Thetis" Expedition, (1, 1941, p.11).
Ferraro, Tory
associated dates: 2003-

2003 renovation team, dioramas (6, 2006, p. 169).
Foehrenbach, Lindsay
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Frankfurt, Nicholas
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Friedman, Laura
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Gargano, Perry
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground and background artist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Guerry, Joseph M. 1906-1967
Museum artist, whale murals (1, 1940, p. 11).
Harvey, David, 1950-
Exhibition Department, supervised exhibition work for 2003 renovation (6, 2006, p. 169).
Humanity's River (Exhibition)
associated dates: 1979 January 15-1979 April 15
Huntley, Jennifer Smith
Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
James Stewart and Company
Construction contract for original hall (1, 1923, p. 26).
Jaques, Francis Lee 1887-1969
associated dates: 1935-1943

Diorama background artist, expedition member on expeditions that conducted research for hall (6, 2006, p. 169; 1, 1939, p. 8).
Jennings, Oliver Gould 1865-1936
Hall donor (1, 1928, p. 27-28).
John Lindsley Hall of Earth History
Miniature dioramas from the Hall of Earth History, which closed approximately 1991, moved to the Hall of Ocean Life during the Hall of Ocean Life's 2003 renovation.
Joseph, Patricia Stryker
Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Kalmenoff, Matthew
Diorama background artist (5, 2006, p. 168).
Kaplan, David
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169)
Keefer, Aimee
associated dates: 2003-

2003 renovation team, dioramas (6, 2006, p. 169)
Keller, Norman K.
Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Landman, Neil H
Curator, 2003 renovation (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Langis, Dina
Project Manager, 2003 renovation (6, 2006, p. 169)
Levinson, Judith
associated dates: 2003-

2003 renovation team, dioramas (6, 2006, p. 169).
Lindbergh Plane (Exhibition)
associated dates: 1934 January 15-1955
Lucas, Frederic A. (Frederic Augustus) 1852-1929
Curator responsible for development of original hall (1, 1929, p. 47).
Mark Haas Foundation
Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Markus, Fritz, Mrs.
Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Matsuda, Karl
associated dates: 2003-

2003 renovation team, dioramas (6, 2006, p. 169).
McCornack, David
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169)
Melton, David
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist and model restoration (6, 2006, p. 169).
MetLife FoundationExternal link
Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Mikimoto
Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Mikkelsen, Paula M
Curator, 2003 renovation (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26)
Milstein, Irma
Hall donor (2).
Milstein, Paul, 1922-2010External link
Hall donor (2).
Miner, Roy Waldo 1875-1955
Curator, preparator, and expedition member for hall (1, 1921, p. 29).
Miner-Olsen Expedition to West Indies
Expedition studied and made photograhs for Coral Reef Group (11).
Moore, James
Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Moore, Jane
Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Morgan, Junius Spencer 1892-1960
Museum trustee, hall donor (1, 1928, p. 27-28).
Mueller, Herman Oskar
Artist, models in hall (1, 1935, p. 10).
Murtha, Sean
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama background and foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Netto, David
Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Nissen, Timothy
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Olsen, Chris E.
Prepartor and expedition member (1, 1935, p. 10).
Phil Fraley Productions, Inc.
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artists (6, 2006, p. 169).
Phipps Bahamian Expedition
Expedition collected specimens and data for Coral Reef Group(1, 1926, p. 9)
Phipps, John H., (John H.H.,Jr.)
Hall donor (1,1928, p. 27-28).
Phipps, John S.
Funder, Phipps Bahamian Expedition (1, 1926, p. 9)
Posen, Melissa
associated dates: 2003-

Exhibition Department, supervised exhibition work for 2003 renovation (6, 2006, p. 169).
Quinn, Stephen C. 1951-
associated dates: 2003-

Project Manager, 2003 renovation (6, 2006, p. 169).
Research Casting International
Project Manager, 2003 renovation (6, 2006, p. 169).
Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition
Expedition collected specimens for hall (1, 1935, p. 15).
Shrimps, Lobsters and Crabs: Much Ado About Decapod Crustaceans (Exhibition)
associated dates: 1959 March 17-1959
Siddall, Mark Edward 1966-
associated dates: 2003-

Curator, 2003 renovation (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Sobel, Denise R.
Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Southwick, W. H
Artist, exhibits (1, 1935, p. 10).
Sterling, Robert D.
Hall donor (1, 1970/71, p. 3).
Sterling, Robert D., Mrs
Hall donor (1, 1970/71, p. 3).
Stiassny, Melanie L. J
associated dates: 2003-

Curator, 2003 renovation (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Stilwell, Vivian
associated dates: 2003-

2003 renovation team, dioramas (6, 2006, p. 169).
Stoll, Charles H
Funder and expedition leader, Stoll-McCracken Siberian-Arctic Expedition (1928) (1, 1928, p. 27-28).
Swiss Re (Firm)
associated dates: 2003-

Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
The Lost World: The Life and Death of Dinosaurs (Exhibition)
associated dates: 1997 May 24-1997 September 30
Thorne, Edwin
associated dates: 2003-

Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Tomeo, Mike
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist and model restoration (6, 2006, p. 169).
Tōyō Hogei Kabushiki Kaisha
associated dates: 2003-

Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Ungar, Cole
associated dates: 2003-

Hall donor (9).
Ungar, Harrisonha
associated dates: 2003-

Hall donor (9).
Ungar, John, Mrs.,a
associated dates: 2003-

Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Unterberg, Ruth A.
associated dates: 2003-

Hall donor (1, 2001/03, p. 25-26).
Urgang, Harriet
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama background conservation (6, 2006, p. 169).
Van Gelder, Richard G. (Richard George) 1928-1994
Curator for hall during 1960s renovation (4, 2000, p. 27).
Vanderbilt, William K. (William Kissam) 1878-1944
Departmental Committee for hall (1, 1932, p. 120).
Vilett, Cleo
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Voss, Robert S
associated dates: 2003-

Curator, 2003 renovation (1, 2002/03, p. 25-26).
Walker, Alan
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Weber, Richard
associated dates: 2003-

Diorama foreground artist (6, 2006, p. 169).
Whales: Mammals of the Sea (Exhibition)
associated dates: 1976 January-1976 February 15

Related Resources

subjectOf
Historic Halls of the American Museum of Natural History
Curated digital images of permanent halls in the American Museum of Natural History Library, Digital Special Collections.

Written by: Clare O'Dowd
Last modified: 2019 February 13


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