By Yevgeniya SIDOROVA, journalist
Different visitors - from three-year old children with their parents to outstanding scientists - come to the State Darwin Museum, which is located in the south-west of the capital. All of them leave its hospitable walls enriched, where they join in the world of science about wildlife so organically. The first museum of evolution in the world celebrates its centenary in its prime: its exposition is broadened; show-rooms were opened in the new archive building in 2007; popular books, catalogues, works are issued; and ecological holidays organized here gather audience of many thousands.
In 1907, the graduate of Moscow University Alexander Kots brought his collection of stuffed animals and natural-scientific preparations to the premises of Moscow Higher Woman's Courses, where he read the course of evolutionary theory to demonstrate at lectures. Thus, the Darwin museum was born.* Its founder was an exceptional man, who appreciated "originality of lifestyle and freedom of individual creative work" more than the guaranteed career. He loved his work devotedly and, evidently, was a genius of museum management studies, as the exposition so attractive for our contemporaries, is, in the end, implementation of his ideas.
In the spring of 1913, Alexander Kots and his wife and companion-in-arms Nadezhda Ladygina-Kots went to Europe in order to get acquainted with the largest zoo-
* See: "New Life of the Darwin Museum", Science in Russia, No. 1, 1997. - Ed.
logical institutes, museums and preparation companies. They thought there was a gap between true science and its representation in displayed collections, that is, the latter were not fit to be used as a source of generalizing knowledge for population. Alas, what they saw confirmed those doubts. "Everywhere the same monotonous rows of stuffed animals or birds, at best, colored by biological groups, as if the most skilful pretence of life and habits of different animals could reveal the meaning and sense of studies of wildlife for the general public," Kots wrote. He aimed at escaping from the standard design of exposition: "interrelation of feelings and intellect underlying human nature determined a new feature in organization of the planned museum: combination of Science and Art."
Combination of painting, drawing and sculpture with natural-scientific exhibits practically from the very beginning made up the Darwin Museum originality (the first works of the animalist and sculptor Vasily Vatagin, who later worked in the Museum for 40 years, were acquired by Kots in 1912). The founder's surviving records are an ideological basis for the present director Anna Klyukina, Candidate of Culturology, to design an exposition. The show-rooms full of visitors are confirmation of correctness of the chosen way. However, apart from emotional influence, "logical harmony" and
"internal connection" of collections, as Kots dreamed of, make an acquaintance with them so fruitful.
Examining stuffed animals, arranged in a definite composition, children for the first time see individual and geographical variability of animals, while looking at animal paintings they start to realize: a white jackdaw and a white crow are real, they are a part of wildlife. The paintings depicting the hunt of predators would tell them about starting struggle for existence. That's why Kots ordered subject paintings depicting albinos or the most important part of the theory of evolution.
He wrote that "he believes the greatest foolishness to commit people who are considered to be grown up to search for scientific truth ... To impose by force ... where there is no need in it, is as reasonable as to make people drink who are not thirsty". In the Darwin museum they find ways of natural increase of audience. Here a great number of events which allow to attract people with different interests, take place. Say, lovers of cactuses or other indoor plants widely represented in the showrooms recently, can take no interest in the theory of evolution. However, while in the Museum for the sake of their hobby, they will also see exhibits of the main fund which, probably, would not leave them indifferent. The exhibition of butterflies from the Museum funds, which opened a jubilee year, was so much attractive.
Whole families and school classes come to the Museum for ecological holidays (International Day of Birds, International Day of the Earth, World Day of Water, etc.). Moreover, in quiz programs there are tasks meant for people of different age and degree of training. Taking pains, everyone can win a prize. However, only experts and inquisitive visitors can win in the main competition. They are rewarded with tickets to a concert in the Museum cinema hall. Children in the process of the game (get on the scales and learn how much water there is in you and get a "water passport") acquire knowledge. It is here that they can for the first time in life peep into the microscope and make sure that life "swarms" even in a tiny drop.
Attaching great importance to search for means which make the Museum values clear and open to everyone, at the same time Kots warned: "Don't turn the Museum into a wall newspaper." Today there are computers in every show-room containing the richest scientific information revealing profundity of the subject of expositions displayed here. This information cannot be found (its volume is more than a thousand of printer's sheets) in Internet: it is collected and systematized by the Darwin Museum employees, who generously share their intellectual property with visitors.
BEHIND THE SCENES OF EXPOSITION
The Research Department deals with the problems of biodiversity and, presently, its staff members are developing a number of subjects in cooperation with American experts from the Burk museum (Washington, Seattle). The other area of work of this department is a problem of species formation, which is also studied in the Department of Funds (Entomology). In 2000,
Pensoft Publishers issued a book, devoted to new species of insects Guide to the Butterflies of Russia and Adjacent Territories. Among its authors is main custodian of the Darwin Museum, honored worker of culture Pavel Bogdanov.
The employees of Ecology and Nature Protection Department are greatly interested in the events related to anthropogenic changes of the plant and animal kingdom of Moscow and the area near Moscow. Under the financial support of the Moscow Department for Environmental Management and Nature Protection they have set up multimedia center "Ecomoskva" equipped with modern computers. Now visitors can use databases about the flora and fauna of our region practically free of charge (they pay only for printing of materials) for a whole day.
However, the main problem of all experts of the Darwin Museum is processing of available funds. Before moving to a new building in 1994, this work was impossible due to lack of space: they had to be satisfied with keeping exhibits in boxes and wait for the best times. Now they sort out and systematize collections and annually issue their catalogues. One of them, nicely published (with pictures, descriptions, specification of important dates) is dedicated to the unique collection of rare books on ornithology (the collection catalogue "Rare Book". Ornithology. M.: The State Darwin Museum, 2006). There are surprising ancient copies, painted by hand, and now more lovers will learn about them and be able to see them. Some rarities are dated to the 17th century.
One more direction of the Darwin Museum publishing activities is popular science literature. Books The Nature of Moscow and Moscow Region from A to Z, The Museum ABC from A to Z and others were published; booklets with pictures of Moscow birds or plants, sets of postcards (with CDs) are issued. Each visitor can choose a guidebook on the exposition corresponding to his age and degree of training out of a number of guidebooks developed by experts.
During individual excursion one can hear songs of birds living in the area near Moscow without being afraid of frightening away feathered actors: the records made by the Museum employee Alexander Rubtsov, Cand. Sc. (Biol.), allow not only to enjoy their voices but learn their peculiarities. The same is true of a set of postcards with CD issued recently.
Here a methodological center for natural-scientific museum management studies has been operating since 1997. Therefore, the collections Works of the State Darwin Museum (the tenth issue appeared in 2007) include articles of museum employees from Russia's different regions. They are published under the support of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography and sent free of charge to natural-scientific museums and museums of local lore, history, and economy, which have departments of nature. Anna Klyukina and other employees take pains so that the annual seminars on raising the level of skill would promote improvement of the skill of visiting colleagues and inspire them to work under rather difficult modern conditions. In 2007, the large illustrated book Russia's Natural-Scientific Museums, including information about 420 of them (where they are located, who founded them, their funds), is expected to be published. The Darwin Museum employees have been preparing it for publication for a few last years.
Meanwhile, this Museum which, in the opinion of a majority of domestic and foreign experts, is the best in Russia, has problems. One of them relates to acquisition of the main exhibits - stuffed animals. Young zoologists don't make them: evidently, such painstaking long-term work does not attract our contemporaries as compared with experts of the past. Once Kots bought stuffed animals in taxidermistic shops in the West. Now it is difficult from the viewpoint of customs clearance. Thus, the main source to replenish the fund remains the Moscow Zoo, supplying it with fallen animals, and expeditions of the Museum's research workers. Sometimes-alas, more and more rarely - they manage to buy private zoological collections. The recent acquisition was a collection of carcasses of mammals and skins of birds of the deceased zoologist Professor Alexander Kuzyakin, who when alive often presented the Darwin Museum with interesting samples.
Lack of worthy premises was another main problem for a long time. The building which was built in 1994 (it took 20 years) had a number of drawbacks, as Moscow architects had no experience in designing a museum. For example, exhibition areas were not envisaged. The cloakroom was twice enlarged, as a number of visitors was underestimated.
Nevertheless, in spite of difficulties, our contemporaries with no lesser enthusiasm continue the work, started by Kots and his colleagues, and it bears fruit. Finally, the new building for storing the funds is ready, and there has appeared an opportunity to open show-rooms to demonstrate the richest collections of animalistic art (about 8 thousand of drawings and 1.5 thousand of paintings), rare books, etc. Visitors will be able to see all this already in 2007, while the first such event was already held-the retrospective exhibition "Finished with Canvas and Paintbrush".
VACCINE AGAINST LACK OF CULTURE
In her speeches Anna Klyukina, President of the Association of Russia's Natural-Scientific Museums, always emphasizes that their status must be raised. Recently, there has appeared interest in the fate of this sphere of culture at the state level: RF Government bodies have applied to the Darwin Museum Director with request to advise them about setting up a nation-wide natural-scientific museum. It is worth mentioning that this idea is not new; for the first time it appeared in early 1920s. However, at that time the functionaries planned to unite the Timiryazev and Darwin museums already existing in Moscow, though very different with regard to conception. Experts did not agree. They returned to this idea in the 1930s and 1970s.
Meanwhile, civilized countries make great investments in "temples of science" by erecting a great number of new ones as it has become evident: Nature of the Earth loaded with megalopolises needs to be protected. It is not accidental that in 2004 the Natural History Museum in London ranked first by its attendance and now it is extended, as well as the Evolution Gallery in Paris. In our country there is also a tendency towards revival in this sphere. Thus, departments of nature in museums of local lore, history, and economy enlarge their expositions and set up independent institutions. In
* Kuzyakin. A. P. (1915 - 1988) - the outstanding Russian zoologist and collector. From 1952 he was in charge of the Zoology Subfacility at the Moscow Regional Pedagogical Institute (MOPI) named after N. Krupskaya. - Ed.
preserves they create small "visit centers" or museums of nature trying to promote development of ecotourism, which is so popular today in the world (museums in the open air in New Zealand, etc.).
According to Klyukina, artistic and historical museums, which are very popular now in Russia, and natural-scientific ones must go "hand in hand" in the cause of man's upbringing. It is not a secret that it is often easy to attract the attention of a child who came to the Museum for the first time by objects of nature. It is not accidental that kids do not want to leave the Darwin Museum - sometimes it comes down to tears. Such visitors come back again and again. When travelling in showrooms, they see at least by sidelong vision a lot of pictures on the walls, and step by step they get prepared for their thoughtful contemplation. A little later time will come to visit the State Tretyakov Gallery.
Practically all patriarchs of Russian animalistic painting - Vasily Vatagin, Konstantin Flerov, Vadim Trofimov, Alexei Komarov - worked at the Darwin Museum. Moreover, they had different education: Vatagin and Komarov were professional painters who took a great interest in zoology; Trofimov, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), was good at sculpturing and painting; Flerov was a palaeontologist. By the way, today their followers, including very young, work here - a study group of animalistic painting is open for them.
It is worth mentioning another traditional direction of the work of the Darwin Museum staff members - service of disabled people. Back in the 1920s Alexander Kots conducted excursions for blind students. Today this is the only museum in our country which has adapted its exposition for blind visitors. Not only children but grown-ups as well could understand for the first time by special models of mosquitos or shark's jaws what these words so often heard by them mean. All statuary in showrooms has labels according to Braille, and the blind are allowed to "see" it by hands. Klyukina insists that in no circumstances should they prepare special events for disabled people, they must be on holidays together with healthy people as this will be useful for all. The Museum employees set forth their concept in the methodological textbook on rehabilitation of disabled people by museum means issued recently (the first in Russia), and held two special seminars. Here they conduct excursions free of charge for children suffering from serious diseases, including oncological.
In fact, the Child's Year declared in Moscow in 2007 has never been discontinued in the Darwin Museum. Here they introduce new traditions: i.e., on Mother's Day in October 25 each little visitor gets a free ticket for his mother. Later their visits can become traditional, and a future citizen will get a necessary set of ecological knowledge, be able to realize his place in the world of nature and make an adequate contribution to preserve it. This is what followers of Alexander Kots work for. "Of course, we cannot do without state support but a lot depends on people", Anna Klyukina believes. And turning to the century-long history of the Darwin Museum, it is difficult not to agree with her.
About · News · For Advertisers · Donate to Libmonster
Libmonster ® All rights reserved.
2014-2023, LIBMONSTER.COM is a part of Libmonster, international library network (open map)
Keeping the heritage of the United States