Still Life from Natural Life

Paintings by the Howard Pyle Studio Group, on exhibit through May 29, 2024

Between 1883 and 1911, American illustrator Howard Pyle immersed himself in painting, writing and teaching within the light-filled studios at 1305 N. Franklin Street in Wilmington, DE. The Howard Pyle Studio Group, established in 1935 as a small collective of women artists dedicated to honoring his legacy, is privileged to own, use and maintain these historic buildings.

Continuing their artistic collaboration with the museum, Studio Group members explored the Public Engagement Division’s educational collection to gather specimens for creating still lifes. Working within the museum’s classroom, the artists brought to life four distinctive still lifes inspired by the fascinating natural specimens, each using diverse mediums and styles.

All artwork is available for purchase, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the museum.

To learn more about the Howard Pyle Studio Group, visit howardpylestudio.org, or follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

Permian Monsters

On exhibit Saturday, October 12, 2024-Sunday, May 11, 2025

Step back in time 290 million years when bizarre-looking animals dominated life on land and sea to discover the greatest extinction the world has ever seen. Using a blend of art and science, this unique traveling exhibit brings the past back to life with fossilized skeletons and full-size models of animals, including giant insects, bizarre sharks and strange reptiles that ruled the world millions of years before the age of dinosaurs.

Permian Monsters showcases an amazing collection of fossils and models from this relatively unknown period. View fossilized skeletons and reconstructed models of amazing creatures that dominated land and sea. Meet the top predator, the largest sabertoothed creature of all time. The Permian Period ended with the extinction of 80% of all species. Find out how a huge volcanic eruption set off a chain of events that led to the greatest extinction of all time to make way for Earth’s next rulers: the dinosaurs!

Mindbender Mansion

Can you solve the puzzle?

Enter the wonderfully puzzling world of Mindbender Mansion, an eclectic place full of brainteasers and interactive challenges guaranteed to test the brain power and problem-solving skills of even the most experienced puzzlers.

Guests to this fun and quirky mansion are invited to join the Mindbender Society by gathering hidden clues and secret passwords scattered throughout the various thematic rooms of the house. The clues and passwords are revealed by solving select brainteasers and group challenges.

Visitors are encouraged to think outside the box and collaborate with their fellow mansion guests to meet individual and group challenges, which include manipulating a tilt table, keeping up with trays on a conveyer belt, and disco hopscotch spelling.

Mindbender Mansion is incredibly engaging for all ages and generations as grandparents, parents, and children learn from each other to solve the 40 brainteasers and five group activities.

Mindbender Mansion is on exhibit through May 12, 2024

Mindbender Mansion was produced and is toured by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Portland, Oregon, and is sponsored locally by Bank of America.

The du Pont Trophy

Connecting art with science: the du Pont Trophy original paintings by artist Lauren J. Sweeney

For more than 50 years, the museum has presented the du Pont Trophy Award to the “overall outstanding exhibit” entered at shell shows around the country. The award honors exceptional citizen scientists having a passion for shells, shell collecting, and the natural history of mollusks.

For the majority of its history, the du Pont Trophy was a simple engraved plaque. As part of the Museum’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2012, Director of Collections and Curator of Mollusks, Liz Shea, Ph.D. re-imagined the award to celebrate the variety in the museum’s vast collection of more than two million mollusks. She turned to long-time museum supporter and local artist, Lauren J. Sweeney, Ph.D. to make this vision a reality. The result is an original watercolor highlighting a different shell from the collection each year. A framed limited-edition, signed print of this commission is presented to the du Pont Trophy winners.

Lauren Sweeney’s paintings are informed by a lifetime of scientific observation. Originally a biologist who focused her talents on research, teaching, and scientific illustrations, Lauren is now a full-time artist. Her attention to detail brings the shape, color, texture, and pattern of her subjects into sharp focus. Lauren has exhibited her work in the greater Philadelphia area, including the Sketch Club, Gallery Twenty Two, and the Main Line Art Center.

For more information about the artist, visit www.inliquid.org.

The original paintings, currently on exhibit, are for sale for $600 to benefit the museum’s collections.

2023 duPont Trophy

Lambis lambis

The 2023 du Pont Trophy features the changing morphology of Lambis lambis. These dramatically different stages are symbolic of the major metamorphosis the museum experienced over the past few years. The Delaware Museum of Nature and Science reopened to the public in May 2022 with completely renovated exhibit spaces.

2022 duPont Trophy

Melongena corona

This painting depicts the marine snail Melongena corona as positioned on Curator of Mollusks Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D.’s kitchen table. The specimen (and setting) was chosen in recognition of the chaotic year ushered in by COVID.

SOLD

2020 du Pont Trophy

Spirula spirula

This painting features the internal shell of Spirula spirula, a deep sea cephalopod commonly referred to as ram’s horn squid. They are more often collected as shells than as live organisms. S. spirula was selected for the painting in recognition of research projects conducted by Widener University students.

2019 du Pont Trophy

Tellina radiata

This specimen of Tellina radiata, a bivalve mollusk commonly known as the Sunrise Tellin, is from the Alison Bradford collection, bequeathed to the museum by Alison Bradford, a longtime volunteer and member of the Board of Trustees. Bradford had been at the museum for over 30 years. She passed away in the summer of 2018 and transferred her collection of more than 1,000 shells to the museum, most collected in Gasparilla Island, Florida, where she owned a home. 

2018 du Pont Trophy

Haliotis fulgens Philippi

The pearlescent marine sea snail abalone is the inspiration for the 2018 du Pont Trophy, featuring two specimens of the green abalone Haliotis fulgens Philippi, 1845 (DMNH 10958). These specimens have a beautiful nacreous layer and were selected by the museum’s first Mollusk Curator, R. Tucker Abbott, for illustration in the second edition of American Seashells. Published in 1974, the book is an essential resource for shell lovers and an important part of the museum’s history.

SOLD

2017 du Pont Trophy

Liguus crenatus variation

The 2017 du Pont trophy was based on shells owned by renowned Delaware illustrator Frank Schoonover, a gift from one of his most well-known clients, Irénée du Pont, owner of Granogue in Delaware and the fabled Xanadu mansion in Cuba, where the shells were collected. The shells were donated to the museum in December 2015 by Schoonover’s grandson John Schoonover.

2016 du Pont Trophy

Anodonta imbecilis from Florida

This year’s shell is a group of freshwater bivalves, commonly known as Paper Pondshells, collected in Lake Talquin, Florida in 1954. Freshwater bivalves are the focus of a recent National Science Foundation grant that will help the museum share its collections on the web.

2015 du Pont Trophy

Leporicypraea mappa variation

The museum’s mollusk collection contains over 250,000 boxes (or “lots”) of shells, making it one of the largest collections in North America. The Map Cowries in this painting highlight the depth of the museum’s holdings and the variation found within a single species.

2014 du Pont Trophy

Spondylus with data label

New collections come into the museum from many sources, often accompanied by old data labels. This specimen of Thorny Oyster is a beautiful and ornate U.S. species, complete with an interesting original data card.

2013 du Pont Trophy

Scaphella junonia on sand

Finding a Junonia on the beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast is cause for celebration. This composition highlights the popular marine snail resting on a background of sand collected from Boca Grande, Florida by long-time museum trustee and volunteer Alison Bradford.

SOLD

2012 du Pont Trophy

Festilyria duponti holotype

The subject of the first watercolor is Festilyria duponti, a shell named by Clifton Stokes Weaver in honor of Delaware Museum of Natural History founder, John E. du Pont. The background is a representation of a technical book on shells, co-authored by du Pont and Weaver.

Oceans

Vast moving waters give life to our blue planet. Oceans cover two-thirds of our planet and include the largest unexplored areas on Earth. They also affect life here on land. Like the rainforests, oceans produce oxygen for the world and regulate our climates. Protecting them is vital for our survival.

Beneath the water’s surface, mountains, valleys, and plains shape a variety of ecosystems: sunny and shallow coastal waters, vast expanses of dimly lit mid-water, and the inky darkness of the deepest sea, all providing habitats for diverse marine life. World Ocean Day is designated to bring awareness to the importance of our oceans and the need to protect them. At the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science, guests may explore three different marine ecosystems — shallow, mid-water, and deep sea — today and every day.

Mid-Water

Sunlight fades away in the ocean’s twilight realm

The mid-water exhibit is generously sponsored in honor of Leila Saavalinen Steele

Most of the world’s oceans are mid-water, located between the surface shallows and the seafloor far below. Here, in the largest expanse of unexplored space left on Earth, immense whales and giant squid swim alongside fishes and invertebrates of all sizes.

The Mid-Water Ocean exhibit includes the juvenile humpback whale skull collected by DelMNS staff in 2018.
The whale exhibit is sponsored by M&T Bank | Wilmington Trust

Deep in the mid-water, light is scarce, temperatures are low, and pressure is high. Sea life has found survival strategies for this harsh environment.

The Nightly Commute: Every night as the sun sets, many ocean residents commute up towards surface waters in search of food. As the sun rises, they return to deeper waters, where darkness helps them hide from predators. This behavior, called diel vertical migration, varies depending on the species and its life stage. Some organisms travel long distances while others stay mostly at one depth.

Deep-Sea Dive

Take the plunge into an ocean canyon expedition

The ocean’s canyons are deep and dramatic, just like those on land. Marine scientists explore these mysterious realms with remotely operated vehicles or ROVs – small submersible vessels launched from research ships.

Scientists and engineers remain on the ship, guiding the ROV’s descent to roam the canyon floor. As the vessel’s cameras record the trip, engineers use its robotic arms to collect specimens of sea life.

These dives provide valuable glimpses into our vast and unexplored oceans.

Ocean canyons are narrow valleys with steep sides cut into the edges of continents under oceans. They can be several thousand meters deep. This video shows a dive into Kinlan Canyon, located in the Atlantic Ocean about 600 kilometers (375 miles) east of New York City.

Museum scientists collected these specimens from canyons in the North Atlantic using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). The jars were hand-blown by At-Mar Glass in Kennett Square, PA. Each jar has a glass armature created specifically to hold each specimen.

Shallow Water

The ocean’s shallow, clear waters are full of life.

Around the edges of continents, the oceans are shallow and sunlight can reach down to the seafloor. Fishes, crustaceans, and many other organisms browse on submerged grasses and swim among kelp forests.

In warm, shallow seas, tiny coral polyps make stony skeletons that gradually build up into immense structures. These coral reefs overflow with diverse plant and animal life.

Coral Reef

One of the most frequent questions asked about our exhibits: “Is the coral reef staying?”

It is! The museum’s popular coral reef exhibit is getting a new look, with updated and refurbished elements. The scene is designed to look like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The exhibit features a wide variety of corals — the animals that make the coral reefs — in many shapes, sizes, and colors. In addition, fish, mollusks and other specimens are represented.

A flock of new specimens

Look up into the trees in the Regional Journey Gallery, and you’ll see birds and small mammals perched on branches and tucked into crevices. Among the new additions added to the galleries recently include a variety of bird taxidermy, including a dramatic Bald Eagle, owls, woodpeckers, a Kingfisher and a family of Wood Ducks, with more scheduled for installation soon. Take a look at some of the newest arrivals.

Metamorphosis in Progress

Take a look at some of the new exhibit components and other changes happening at the museum!

Fishy Behavior: Modeling a snack for a Giant Squid

The giant squid (Architeuthis dux) in the museum’s atrium has become one of our iconic exhibits, with thousands gazing up to it in wonder every year. Look up, and you’ll see an orange roughy fish (Hoplostethus atlanticus), trying desperately to avoid the grasp of the squid. But the orange roughy wasn’t the original fish in the atrium.
In 2007, new information about the feeding grounds of giant squid suggested they hunt in deep water – a place where tuna (the previous display fish) rarely go. So, the museum’s Curator of Mollusks, Liz Shea, Ph.D., and former Exhibits Manager Jennifer Sontchi decided to update the exhibit, concluding the orange roughy was the best choice from a scientific, exhibit design, and educational perspective.

While many of the animals in museum displays are real specimens preserved with taxidermy, others have been sculpted by museum artists. Since orange roughy populations are vulnerable to extinction from over-fishing, we chose to sculpt a model for the exhibit instead of displaying an actual preserved fish. Follow along below to see the fascinating process behind creating a scientifically accurate museum model.

Reference

The first step towards producing any realistic display is excellent reference material. Dr. Liz Shea, Curator of Mollusks, oversaw the entire project to make certain every detail is correct. The fish at the top of the photo is the paper template created to provide the measurements and proportions of a real orange roughy. The fish in the lower part of the photo is the clay model itself.

Supplemental fins

This photo shows a red snapper fish having its fins molded. We made molds of the snapper’s fins, modified the casts, and inserted them into the clay model of our orange roughy. These fin casts are more realistic than if they were sculpted from scratch.

The model

The clay model of the orange roughy is complete in this photo. You can see the plastic, white, snapper fin casts inserted into the model. The clay surrounding the model is the beginning of the next step, which is making a two-piece mold.

The mold

Here you see the clay model encased on one side in a pale-colored, flexible plastic, which is cradled by a hard, grey shell. Once both sides of the clay model are molded this way, the clay fish model is removed and discarded. The mold now provides an empty space exactly the shape and size of the clay model. A cast is made by filling that fish-shaped space with a liquid plastic that then hardens into an exact replica of an orange roughy.

The cast

This is the finished plastic cast of the model. All that is needed now is paint!

The display

Voila! The orange roughy is sculpted, molded, cast, painted, and attached to the giant squid with hidden pins. That orange roughy better swim faster (just keep swimming, just keep swimming) if he wants to get away.