American Museum of Natural History. Whitney Memorial Hall of Oceanic Birds.

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Exist Dates

1939 - present

Biographical or Historical Note

abstract
Permanent exhibition. Opened 1939. Located on Floor 2, Section 19. The Whitney Memorial Hall of Oceanic Birds at the American Museum of Natural History represents bird life on islands of the Pacific Ocean, from the Arctic to the Subantarctic and from the coast of Peru to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. It was developed as a memorial to Harry Payne Whitney and his father, William C. Whitney, by Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney after her husband's death in 1930. Following the death of Mrs. Whitney in 1942, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, Cornelius V. Whitney, with the support of his family, carried on the necessary work to complete the project (1, 1953). The hall was completed and dedicated in 1953. The hall's curator was Robert Cushman Murphy. The Whitney South Sea Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History (1920-1941), managed by Leonard C. Sanford and Robert Cushman Murphy and included expedition members Rollo Beck and William Coultas, contributed the majority of specimens and research for the hall. The hall was designed by Francis Lee Jaques who also painted the sky dome and the background for the dioramas. Other artists included George Adams, Raymond deLucia, Joseph Guerry, George Frederick Mason, Carlton McKinley, George Petersen, Raymond B. Potter, Reginald "Buddy" Sayre, and others listed below in Relations (7, 2006, p. 167).

Planning began in 1929, with construction following in 1935. In 1939 the Whitney Memorial Hall opened to the public with eight exhibit groups, and a ninth group showing birds of the high mountains of new Guinea, made possible by support from Richard Archbold through materials collected during his expedition. (2, 1939, p 8). Further construction was interrupted for many years by World War II and its aftermath, and the hall was finally completed and dedicated on January 29, 1953. The dedication marked the completion of the four final habitat groups in the hall (3, 1953).

The Whitney Memorial Hall was the principal exhibition floor of the Whitney Wing in the museum, with Robert Cushman Murphy directing and guiding the research, construction and preparation (1). In the Dedication Ceremony Program from January 29, 1953, Murphy wrote:

"Ringed by a common horizon, you see very nearly every type of Pacific island. The landscapes are real, not imaginary; each represents an actual view from a particular geographic point. Climatically, they run from the Equator to icy seas; meteorologically, from the bone-dry Chinchas to rain-forest of Solomons; structurally, from an atoll of the Tuamotus to the Snow Mountains of New Guinea; botanically, from Galapagos lichens and cacti to the lofty conifers of New Zealand. Ornithologically, you will find here all the families of sea fowl, from penguins to terns, that inhabit an ocean covering a third of our globe. Even among land birds the sampling is surprisingly comprehensive."

The Whitney South Sea Expedition (1920-1941), funded by Harry Payne Whitney, searched out the birds of the little-explored Pacific Islands. In continuous journeys throughout the entire South Pacific region, from Eastern Polynesia westward to New Guinea and the Philippine Islands, and from the Japanese mandated islands of the Carolines to New Zealand, the expeditions traveled more than 50,000 miles and visited some 350 islands. The islands varied from tropical to subantarctic, flat to mountainous, and arid to rainforest. The birds, including more than 30 previously-unknown species, were adapted to every kind of habitat encountered. The materials collected by this and later expeditions provided the basis for the Whitney Memorial Hall, in which scenes illustrate this great span of environments. The information collected has provided significant insights into the geographic distribution of bird populations and how their island isolation affects the development of new species (5, 1995).

Supplementary work in the field by Leonard C. Sanford, Templeton Crocker, Charles H. Stoll, Richard Archbold, Adam Bruce Fahnestock, John Sheridan Fahnestock, A.L. Rand, Rollo Beck, and William Coultas and funding from Andrew G. C. Sage and Henry W. Sage, contributed to the final exhibition in the Whitney Memorial Hall (6, 1953). Other expeditions included the Brewster-Sanford Expeditions (1913-1916) the Templeton Crocker South Pacific Expedition (1936-1937), the Archbold Expedition to New Guinea (1933), the Archbold-Rand New Guinea Expedition (1934-1939), the Fahnestock South Sea Expedition (1940) (2, 1929 p. 10; 2, 1935 p. 34; 2, 1936, p. 44-45; 2, 1940, p. 18).

The habitat groups reproduce the landscapes exactly as Museum expeditions found them. Each represents an actual site at a given time (3, 1953):

Shipfollowers, Southeast of South Island, New Zealand

Samoa, Island of Saoaii

Tuamotu, Island of Hao

Marquesas, Nukahiva Island

Peruvian Guano Islands, Pisia Bay, Peru

Galapagos, James Island

Hawaii, Island of Kaui

Laysan, Taipan Island, Hawaiian Bird Reservation

New Caledonia

Solomon Islands, Crawford Island

Philippines, Bataan Peninsula, Luzon Island

Papua, The Laloki River Gorge, Owen Stanley Mountains

Little Diomede Island, Bering Sea

Snow Mountains, New Guinea, Lake Habbema

Australian Great Barrier Reef, Near Cairns, Queensland

Fiji, Vitu Tivu, Slopes of Mount Karombama

New Zealand, Lake Brunner in the South Island Alps

Snares Island, New Zealand

Birds of Paradise (central cases)

South Sea Lories (central cases)

Rifle Bird Group (central cases)

Malay Archipelago Group (central cases)

Bird Dome (6, 1953; 3, 1953; 8, 1958, p. 119-127)

From 1998 and as of 2017, The Butterfly Conservatory, an annual seasonal exhibition, takes place inside the Whitney Memorial Hall of Oceanic Birds (2, 2000, p. 44).

Sources

    (1) American Museum of Natural History. Press Release. “Whitney South Sea Expedition and Whitney Memorial Hall by Cornelius V. Whitney.” January 30, 1953.
    (2) American Museum of Natural History. Annual Reports. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1939-2000.
    (3) American Museum of Natural History. Press Release. January 30, 1953.
    (4) American Museum of Natural History. The American Museum of Natural History: An Introduction. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1972.
    (5) Rexer, Lyle & Rachel Klein. American Museum of Natural History: American Museum of Natural History: 125 Years of Expedition and Discovery. New York: Harry N. Abrams; New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1994.
    (6) American Museum of Natural History. Press Release. “Background Information on Whitney Memorial Hall of Pacific Bird Life”, January 30, 1953.
    (7) 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.
    (8) 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, 1958.
    Information for the hall appears in the following Museum publications:
    Annual Reports for the years 1929 (page 7-10, 123); 1930 (page 43); 1931 (page 51-52); 1932 (page 9-10); 1934 (page 11, 27, 74); 1935 (page 3, 15, 34, 37, 84); 1936 (page 13-14, 44-45); 1937 (page 62, 72); 1938 (page 1); 1939 (page 8, 21-22); 1940 (page 2, 18); 1941 (page 4); 1942 (page 11-12); 1944 (page 28, 34-35); 1948 (page [11]); 1949 (page [13]); 1950 (page 35); 1951 (page 20); 1952 (page 49); 1953 (page 52); 1962 (page 3, 44); 1984 (page 52); 1993 (page 87)
    General Guides for years 1939 (page 80-85); 1943 (page 81-88); 1945 (page 81-88); 1947 (page 81-88); 1949 (page 81-88); 1953 (page 108-117); 1956 (page 118-127); 1958 (page 119-127); 1962 (page 10, 12, 30-31); 1964 (page 10, 12, 30-31)
    American Museum of Natural History: A Pictorial Guide, 1967
    American Museum of Natural History: An Introduction, 1972 (page 100)
    American Museum of Natural History Official Guides for years 1984 (page 30-31); 1993 (page 11-12); 2001 (page 54)

Terms

place
New YorkExternal link
AMNH: Floor 2, Section 19.

Related Corporate, Personal, and Family Names

A New Wing for Birds: 50th Anniversary of the Whitney Building (Exhibition)
associated dates: 1989 October 6-1989 October 22
American Museum of Natural History. Department of Ornithology.
Archbold, Richard
Led Archbold-Rand New Guinea Expedition, which collected material for hall (2, 1936, p. 44-45).
Archbold-Rand New Guinea Expedition
Expedition collected material for hall (2, 1936, p. 44-45).
Beck, Rollo Howard 1870-1950
Member of Whitney South Sea Expedition, which collected material for hall (2, 1929, p. 10).
Birds and Paintings from the Templeton Crocker Expedition (Exhibition)
associated dates: 1936 March 18-1936 April 2
Brewster-Sanford Expedition
Expedition collected material for hall (2, 1929, p. 10).
Brewster-Sanford Expedition to South America
Expedition collected material for hall (2, 1929, p. 10).
Brewster-Sanford South American Expedition
Expedition collected material for hall (2, 1929, p. 10).
Chapin, James Paul 1889-1964
Member of the Templeton Crocker Pacific Expedition, which collected material for the hall(1, 1935, p. 34).
Confiscated (Exhibition)
associated dates: 1982 June 29-1982 October 31
Coultas, William F.
Member of Whitney South Sea Expedition, which collected material for hall (1, 1936, p. 44-45).
Crocker, Templeton 1884-1948
Sponsor and member of Templeton-Crocker Pacific Expedition (1934-1935) collected material for hall (6, 1953).
Fahnestock South Sea Expedition (1940) (6, 1953).External link
Curator for the hall (1, 1953).
Fahnestock, Bruce 1911-1942
Member of Fahnestock South Sea Expedition (1934-1935) collected material for hall (6, 1953).
Fahnestock, Sheridan 1912-1965
Member of Fahnestock South Sea Expedition (1934-1935) collected material for hall (6, 1953)
Jaques, Francis Lee, 1887-1969
Designed hall, painted sky dome, diorama background artist (7, 2006, p. 167).
Murphy, Robert Cushman, 1887-1973
Curator for the hall (1, 1953).
Rand, Austin Loomer 1905-1982
Member of Archbold-Rand New Guinea Expedition, which collected material for the hall(2, 1939, p. 21-22).
Sage, Andrew G.C.
Hall donor (6, 1953).
Sage, Henry W.
Hall donor (6, 1953).
Sanford, L. C. (Leonard Cutler) 1868-1950
Museum trustee and sponsor for expeditions which collected for the hall (2, 1929, p. 9).
Stoll, Charles H
Expedition member on expeditions which collected for the hall (6, 1953).
Templeton-Crocker Pacific Expedition
Expedition collected material for hall (2, 1935, p. 34).
Tibetan Butter Sculpture (Exhibition)
associated dates: 1989 January 24-1989 March 30
Whitney South Sea Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History
Expedition collected material for the hall.
Whitney, C. V. (Cornelius Vanderbilt), 1899-1992External link
Hall donor (1, 1953).
Whitney, Gertrude Vanderbilt, 1875-1942External link
Hall donor (1, 1953).
Whitney, Harry Payne, 1872-1930
Hall dedicated to Harry Payne Whitney and his father, William C. Whitney (1, 1953).

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 15


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