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KPBS Midday Edition

The Nat Unleashes Its Archives In 'Unshelved'

Insects on display in the San Diego Natural History Museum's "Unshelved" exhibit, in an undated photo.
San Diego Natural History Museum
Insects on display in the San Diego Natural History Museum's "Unshelved" exhibit, in an undated photo.
The Nat Unleashes Its Archives In 'Unshelved'
The Nat Unleashes Its Archives In 'Unshelved' GUEST: Judy Gradwohl, president, San Diego Natural History Museum

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. One of the upsides of clean out the attic or the garage of the closet is that you find the most amazing things. Things you forgot you ever had and things you should be using. The San Diego Museum of Natural History is doing something along those lines in a exhibit. They're putting on display a fraction of the 8 million objects and specimen that makes up the nats permanent collection. 20 me is Judy Gradwohl, president, San Diego Natural History Museum . Welcome.Thank you.8 million specimens in the collection. Where do you usually store them?They are all behind the scenes in the building. I think that is one of the revelations when you roll up to the building, it looks enormous and the exhibits are all around the atrium and most of the building is storage for collections.Do have a warehouse as well?We do have one off-site but our research collections are on site.Give us an idea of the range of objects that you're putting on display.The largest is a sperm whale jaw. The smallest is a hummingbird in North America.Besides actual cash you have snakes in jars?Absolutely. We have the most comprehensive collection of rattlesnakes in the world and due to one very prolific collector who was also CEO of the Sanyo gas and electric. He is my role model because he could run the electric company and learn rattlesnakes.It is compiled of a large number of bird specimens. Are most stored in drawers?Most of the research specimens are stored in drawers.Explained what is the purpose of keeping all of those specimens on file in drawers for research?We have been in business for 143 years so we have been collecting and documenting life in and around San Diego. The specimens carry data. It's like a library. We sometimes call them vouchers. Whenever we do behind the scene tours, we ask everybody to look on everyone at the tour and to realize -- so that's why we need so many specimens because we need to be able to understand the life range and change over time.What is the difference between the specimens that are kept in drawers or the ones that are made into taxidermy objects so that people can see them?They are all real. The specimens are in the research collection have a tremendous amount of data associated with them. There is fieldnotes and some have tags with names and names of the collector in our oldest specimen is a spotted skunk that was a 32nd specimen that was inducted into a collection.If you or your kids are listening and like bugs, this is a show not to miss.We have amazing insects from incredibly beautiful butterflies. We have specimens of a tropical butterfly that flashed bright blue when they fly through some spots. We also have incredible beetles. The sections -- a section is about beauty in nature and you will see beautiful colors and beautiful patterns and also some bizarre things as well.Think I'm going to ask you about one of those bizarre things. There is a collection of family, friendly poop.Absolutely. We have a very nice collection and you might wonder why we bother with that.It provides evidence of animals that have been in the area. You know when you are hiking, you can tell if a coyote has crossed your path. Also there's a tremendous amount of information stored in we can understand the eating habits and we can also study change over time in some.There's also a really tremendously beautiful amethyst.An enormous amethyst. It is my Bridgestone. It is an old favorite of many of our visitors. It is been on and off you for many years. We had people come through and remember it from their childhood. So it's like bringing an old friend back on display.This is marked a new emphasis to showcase their own collection?Absolutely. We are very excited about this show. It was developed in-house by our incredibly 10th -- talented staff and is the first in a series that we are going to be developing that's featuring our collection an area. We are planning in late spring to open a space for very young children. Our big backyard and then were also in about a year from now going to be bringing out more gems and minerals.So you been at the NAT for short time.I just finished my first year.Do think the emphasis on outside exhibitions was taking them in the wrong direction?Not necessarily. It was the right thing to be done at the time. The financial model is not there right now and we are hoping with our new strategy to return to our roots and be emphasizing the natural history of our area so we can do that most effectively with our own specimens and stories are relevant to people. When I came to on the interview, a curator said to me our you Museum is a visitor center for me -- nature in our area. The more we can do with that, I think the better.Do you have a favorite or maybe one or two favor items in the exhibit?I consider myself a [ Indiscernible ]. I studied tropical forest birds when I was a graduate student. I have to go with some of these incredible birds. There's an entire wall of local species that you can see. We even have a pair of binoculars for you to use.The exhibit opens this Saturday with a special family day. I've been speaking with Judy Gradwohl, president, San Diego Natural History Museum. Thank you.Thank you.

The San Diego Natural History Museum’s latest exhibit gives patrons a glimpse of some of the eight million specimens in its permanent collection, part of a renewed focus on its own research.

The museum is cutting back on its dependence on touring exhibitions in favor of more in-house projects. The new exhibit, “Unshelved,” opens Saturday and includes hundreds of animals, plants, fossils and gems goings back more than 100 years. Some of the highlights include a whale jaw, a giant amethyst crystal and vintage taxidermy birds.

“We’re returning to our roots and really emphasizing natural history,” president Judy Gradwohl said. “Some of our past traveling exhibitions have been wonderful, but not about the natural history of our area.”

Gradwohl stepped into the position about a year ago and visited the museum’s National City warehouse as part of her orientation. She is a trained ornithologist, so she was quickly attracted to the museum’s preserved birds.

“I was taken by what one of our curators calls birds on sticks,” she said. “We used to have a display of all the species that lived in San Diego. And they’re a part of the new exhibit.”

Gradwohl joins KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday with more on the newly unearthed specimens on display.