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Dwayne Harty: The Creative Life of a Diorama Artist

Wildlife, landscape, and diorama artist, Dwayne Harty, spoke to the upper school students on Wednesday about his career and the history and process of making taxidermy dioramas for various natural history and wildlife museums. He explained that teams of artists and scientists work together to assemble these dioramas to make them both as lifelike as possible, as well as aesthetically pleasing.
Mr. Harty brought with him a "death mask" of a gorilla, which is a mold of an animal’s (or person's) face, usually made after their death. He also showed many interesting historical images of famous artists and scientists working on dioramas. He explained that the taxidermy animals in museums are actually hollow. Artists create clay molds and fit the animal skins around them. He told great stories about the adventure and danger some of these scientists and artists experienced in order to collect specimens for display, including elephant and jaguar attacks!

Mr. Harty explained that his decisions as an artist – painting the background images in his displays – are ultimately dependent upon the authority of the scientists in the group, who get the final say. It isn’t enough for the display to look aesthetically pleasing, but it must be scientifically accurate, and take into account practical issues, such as fitting the display into an allotted exhibit space.

This was a great opportunity for students to see a unique integration of science and art. The students greatly enjoyed this presentation, and asked many questions about the process of creating dioramas and about Mr. Harty’s career.
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