During our ongoing photo collection survey, we came across an image (by Moulin Studios) of a scale model version of the lion diorama that still stands in African Hall. Since the model is dated 1929 and African Hall didn’t open until five years later, it’s a rare glimpse into the early planning stages of the exhibit. Scale models were used to sketch out ideas for large dioramas before building the real thing.
The final diorama turned out significantly different than the original model: the lions are facing the opposite direction, and a second female lion was added. Every aspect of the diorama was undertaken by Frank Tose (then Head of Exhibits), including the taxidermy, installation, and background mural.
The lion diorama was unchanged from 1934 until the closure of the Academy’s original buildings in 2004. Since the murals in each diorama were painted directly onto the walls of African Hall, there was no way to save them when the building was demolished. Instead, they were painstakingly documented, color-matched, and re-created in the new building.
The lions themselves were sent to a taxidermist for cleaning and repair, since 70 years on exhibit had taken its toll on them. The original foregound was preserved and re-created, although the sunset in the background was toned down, due to Academy scientists’ concerns about its scientific accuracy. In 2011, an additional audiovisual element was added to create moving herds on the plain behind the lions.
Special thanks to Roberta Brett for her stories about the process of moving African Hall!
- Digital Production Assistant