Coliseum deal could go forward today

The California Science Center Board of Directors could vote at its meeting June 5 to approve the latest terms of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum lease agreement with USC.

If approved by the Board, the agreement would give USC full managing rights at the state historical landmark and guarantee the university 70 percent of the parking spaces in the Science Center’s deck on 25 event days per year (33 if the NFL uses the stadium temporarily). It would also extend USC’s lease from 2054, the expiration date agreed upon in a December 2012 plan, to 2111 — a 98-year deal.

But opponents of the deal spoke out at public forums this week, saying that the loss of parking would take both revenue and visitors away from the California African American Museum , the California Science Center and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. [Read more…]

Natural History Museum keeping the art of taxidermy alive

By Kat Bouza

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

Tim Bovard handles dead animals for a living.

Now, the very thought of that might make most of us squeamish. But Bovard isn’t like most of us — he’s the head taxidermist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. When you ask him about his work, he’ll light up with an enthusiasm that your average adult would reserve for describing a relaxing vacation — not a life spent skinning lemurs that died in captivity, or bobcats hit by cars.

It doesn’t hurt that Bovard has practiced taxidermy for most of his life.

“My parents would have said that they think I was born with this in mind,” Bovard reveals. “As a kid, I was already trying to do things, find animals, try and preserve them. I actually mounted my first animal to try and do a realistic life mount…was when I was 9, 10 years old. And it was a skunk.”

Bovard grew up in Southern California, and his family would often visit the Natural History Museum. His love of the museum’s intricate dioramas fueled his interest in the taxidermy profession. “A lot of people become somewhat fascinated because you never get to see the muscular typically of animals because they’ve got the skin on,” Bovard admits, adding, “And there’s not as much blood and bad smells and stuff as one might think of.”

The taxidermy process is surprisingly simple. Animal specimens are measured to ensure a proper fit over a polyurethane form, then skinned. The skin is salted and placed into a solution for pickling. “Pickling is just like doing pickles,” Bovard explains. “It’s an acid and a salt…same idea, pickling solution, couple of days.”

I follow Bovard outside of his office to a workspace covered in machinery, large plastic barrels, and buckets full of salt and animal fat.

He leads me to one barrel tucked away in the corner of the workspace and removes the lid. It’s filled to the brim with a briny, murky brown liquid. Bovard plunges his hand inside the barrel and fishes around until he produces a large, sopping wet — but extremely beautiful cow’s hide.

Bovard lifts up the hide to show where the skin has been shade as he explains the process: “You can see some lines or ridges in it,” he says, indicating to marks on the underside of the hide. “And what I’ve been doing is shaving it down. So, removing any excess tissue or flesh, but also actually shaving the thickness of the hide down. “

When the animal’s skin reaches the desired thickness, it’s put into a tanning bath then rubbed with oil to ensure the hide won’t shrink. From there, the skin is glued to the form. Glass eyes and clay features, such as noses and footpads, finish out the mount.

The entire process can take one or two days for small animals and birds. A larger animal — like the cow Bovard is pickling — can take several weeks.

Los Angeles’ Natural History Museum is one of only several museums that still employs a full-time taxidermist. Most museums use dioramas created at the beginning of the 20th Century. So, the need for artisans like Bovard has dwindled with the passage of time.

“When they had most of their exhibits built, why did they need a taxidermist anymore?” he says. “In most cases, their exhibits were behind glass and sealed up, so when the taxidermist retired, often they weren’t replaced.”

“Some of our dioramas bays, instead of saying, being installed in the 20s and never touched since then, have had three, four…different sets of animals in them…to kind of update our story. That is a unique part of this institution.”

A skilled taxidermist is intimately familiar with everything from anatomy to sculpture.

But the real artistry in taxidermy, says Bovard, is bringing dead animals back to life.

“You know, we like live stuff too,” he jokes. “That’s sometimes intriguing to people who think we’re just into the dead stuff. And if you think about it, it makes sense. Yeah, we are working with a dead animal, but we are trying to make it back to what it looked like in life. And that is a challenge…To me, kind of the ultimate challenge is to take that dead animal and get it back and capture some of the essence, some of the beauty of that animal.”

If Bovard decides to retire, that doesn’t mean the taxidermy department of the Los Angeles Natural History Museum will disappear. Bovard is currently working with two apprentices, ensuring the art of taxidermy will live on.

Natural History Museum has preview of new section

imageListen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky today as Natural History Museum employees showed off the new addition still under construction, North Campus.

It doesn’t look like much now. But when it’s done, the 3 ½ acre area will serve as a new front yard for the museum and a new outdoor destination for museum-goers.

Don Webb works for Cordell Corporation and was involved with the master planning.

“There’s something really deliciously ironic about taking the natural history and putting it back out into nature,” Webb said.

The new addition will include gardens, ponds, streams and exhibits for butterflies, birds and bugs. The gardens will allow visitors to learn to plant their own gardens and will have flowers blooming year-round.

It’s funded in part by the County of Los Angeles and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Mia Lehrer headed up the landscaping design. She hopes this will give city residents an opportunity to deepen their understanding of the natural world, before walking through the actual museum’s doors.

“Connect Angeleno’s to the nature in the heart of the city, connect to the museum’s collection and connect to the museum’s research,” Lehrer said.

North Campus won’t be officially open until June of 2013 for the museum’s centennial celebrations. So if you’re eager to see the new landscape, you’re going to have to wait a little longer.

New museum exhibit welcomes Baby T. Rex

imageTeething toddlers can exhaust parents, but a set of chompers on a two-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex that has just arrived to the Natural History Museum may delight parents and children starting July 16. After all, those baby teeth teeth were once capable of reaching the side of a ram’s horn – each.

The ostrich-sized baby T.rex is just one of the new world-class dinosaur specimens to be unveiled to the public as part of a new 14,000 square-foot Dinosaur Hall.

Sunlight piles into the enormous, two-level showroom, which is also home to more than 300 fossils, like eggs, footprints and teeth. Two other T.rex specimens loom over the fledgling dino – one, a 20-foot-tall teenager and the other, a 34-foot-tall adult named “Thomas.” He is one of the largest and most complete T.rex skeletons ever unearthed and now stands with the only T.rex incremental growth series in the world.

“We used to have [a dinosaur hall] a few years back, but it was kind of small,” said Iliana Dominguez, a 17-year old museum volunteer. “Everybody’s been expecting one and now we finally have it. I think a lot of people are going to be coming for that hall.

Dominguez has volunteered since last year and has been trained as an educator for the new dinosaur specimens. She held up a mold of a T.rex brain – the size of a cordless telephone receiver – and explained that the creatures relied more on instinct and brawn than brainpower.

image“This really is a place to learn,” said Dominguez, a New Designs Charter School student who has her eye on an archaeology program at Cornell University. “Most of us who took the dinosaur training have been really excited to study more and learn all the facts we can.”

Volunteers and staff receive regular visits from outside experts who train them as guides in the museum’s exhibits, which range from a gem display room to an Age of Mammals display that chronicles human evolution. Gallery translators trained in details about the exhibits comb the hallways for guests looking for more in-depth knowledge.

When guests enter the Dinosaur Hall, they are first greeted by a Triceratops with a skull that weighs nearly half a ton. As they move past the bulky beast toward more elongated creatures, visitors must crane their necks to follow the 68-foot body length of a long-necked Mamenchisaurus – the museum’s largest specimen.

imageMuseum members and educators received a sneak preview this week and many slowed to a halt in awe upon entering the epic hall.

Four lively children accompanied parents Marcus and Melody Tarver, who visit the museum every few months.

“I get to learn something too, especially the things that I didn’t learn at their age,” said Marcus Tarver, 26, who attended the museum on school field trips while he grew up in nearby Compton. “Now that I’m older I can appreciate it more.”

The museum is expecting huge crowds, so they’re suggesting you reserve your tickets online to avoid long waiting times. Admission is free for members and children under 5. Ticket prices are $5 for ages 5-12, $8 for ages 13-17, $9 for college students and $12 for adults. The free Tuesday program won’t be available in July and August, but will return in September. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.

Photos by Lisa Rau