History museum

Column: This San Diego Museum of Natural History program lets you bring home creatures large and small

When Carroll DeWilton Scott was hired as the first director of education at the San Diego Museum of Natural History in 1920, one of his first projects was the Nature Cabinet program. With the help of a new Ford truck, museum workers brought nature study kits filled with mounted geological specimens, shells, birds and insects from the museum’s collection to local schools. .

According to Scott, one of the best ways for the people of San Diegan to understand their county was to understand a little about the plants and animals that lived here in the first place. He was right then, and he’s right now. And more than 100 years later, the San Diego Museum of Natural History brings nature to people in ways even the forward-thinking Scott could never have imagined.

Now known as the Nature to You Lending Program, the accessible collection includes more than 1,300 items that program members can view and bring to their classrooms, art studios, and even to occasional office parties. .

With the help of an online searchable database, Nature to You brings everything from velvety gray fox pelts to terrifying emperor scorpion specimens to students, carvers, parents and park rangers.

Its offerings have extended far beyond what a Ford truck could haul, but what it offers is still as special as it gets.

“I really think the benefit of having these interactive, tactile specimens is that children and adults can create these unique experiences,” said Haylie Priest, education specialist at the museum, whose first Nature to You experience dates back to elementary school, when her fourth-grade teacher checked out some specimens to share with the class.

“When you go out and there’s a red-tailed hawk flying overhead, you can only really see it for 10 seconds. If a specimen is brought to you, you can see the details. You can see how red that tail is. You can see how long and sharp those talons are. It really creates a greater respect for the wild counterparts of these specimens.

This acrylic painting by San Diego high school student Danette Garcia was inspired by a coyote specimen that teacher VC Groves discovered through the San Diego Museum of Natural History’s Nature to You loan program. Diego.

(Danette Garcia)

For an annual fee of $75, Nature to You members can view up to seven specimens for up to two weeks. The program also includes thematic educational kits. A one-time $25 subscription allows you to check four specimens for one week. In addition to the online database, members can browse in person at the Balboa Park Museum’s on-site lending library, open Monday through Thursday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Many specimens were collected between 1920 and 1960. Today, the museum does not kill animals for display, but mounts animals that died by accident or from natural causes.

Whether it’s fossils or preserved mammals, fish, birds or insects, Nature to You specimens find a whole new life as homework companions, training tools and even decorations. Skeletons are especially popular on Halloween, and Priest recalls a group of office workers who checked out animals matching work-related team names to act as mascots at their annual party.

At Mission Trails Regional Park, museum specimens are used in annual trail guide training sessions. Longtime ranger Heidi Gutknecht also uses Nature to You offerings for her monthly craft program for children. The surprisingly large black-tailed hare is always a crowd pleaser, as is the little gray fox. The latter is so elusive that Gutknecht only saw the tracks and droppings left by the animals.

“They always say a picture is worth a thousand words, but that’s even truer with an actual specimen,” Gutknecht said.

“It helps people better appreciate the resources here. In a way, you meet the wildlife that shares the region with us. Hopefully, this makes people more likely to care about it and be more eager to preserve and protect it.

For San Diego High School students taking VC Groves art classes, the Nature to You specimens have been a source of education and inspiration. Groves started animal watching a few years ago, hoping that a great blue heron or a little axis deer fawn would bring out something in his students that a bowl of fruit couldn’t.

Charcoal drawing of a fawn by San Diego High School student Anais Saracen.

This charcoal drawing by San Diego high school student Anais Saracen was inspired by a fawn specimen that teacher VC Groves retrieved from the San Diego Museum of Natural History’s Nature to You loan program.

(Anais Saracen)

Like pioneer Carroll DeWilton Scott, Groves believed that bringing nature into the classroom would open up a world of possibilities. She was right too.

“One of the girls did the fawn, and she did the most delicate and beautiful soft charcoal work. One of the other girls did the falcon, and it’s so powerful and bold, with a really strong contrast. They absolutely captured the mood of the animals.

“I told my students that they really honored the animal by drawing it. They extended its life by making it visible to other people and directing their interest towards this animal with their works of art. It was very motivating for the children. »

For more information on the Nature to You program, drop by during business hours, call (619) 255-0236 or email [email protected].