SMILE when you call it MUSEUM

That's the message one of the world’s best, the Royal Ontario Museum, is trying to get across with discreet bizzazz, by converting its traditional glasscase galleries into an academic fun palace where the customer is always right (even when he isn’t)

Shirley Mair September 4 1965

SMILE when you call it MUSEUM

That's the message one of the world’s best, the Royal Ontario Museum, is trying to get across with discreet bizzazz, by converting its traditional glasscase galleries into an academic fun palace where the customer is always right (even when he isn’t)

Shirley Mair September 4 1965

SMILE when you call it MUSEUM

That's the message one of the world’s best, the Royal Ontario Museum, is trying to get across with discreet bizzazz, by converting its traditional glasscase galleries into an academic fun palace where the customer is always right (even when he isn’t)

Shirley Mair

WHEN DR. WILLIAM E. SWINTON, director of the Royal Ontario Museum, was a young and very junior member of the British Museum’s Natural History Division, King Tut’s tomb was being excavated. Among the treasures brought back to London was a leather scroll so dried and brittle that it was a year's work to make it pliable enough to unroll. Swinton was given the rare privilege of attending the unwinding. The scroll, it was discovered, consisted of four schoolboy sums (King Tut had died in his teens) and, it turned out, all the answers were wrong.

Young Swinton learned that day not to take his work too seriously. Not that he hasn’t pulled his load: at sixty-four, the Scots bachelor could— if he wanted to take the time—write nineteen letters after his name. He was the first man to write a book solely about dinosaurs. That was in 1934, and he’s written eighteen books and more than two hundred textbooks and magazine articles since.

With impeccable academic credentials and years thinking about the right way to run a museum, Dr. Swinton is now trying to popularize the Royal Ontario Museum. He hopes to convert its image into that of an academic fun palace by getting his staff to understand that museums should be run like department stores. By his reckoning, he’s the director (president) in charge of a staff (buyers) who go around the world gathering merchandise that will sell well back home.

Linder his direction two of his “buyers,” Ario Gatti and Terence Shortt, last year went to India to collect and bring back for display no ordinary exports like Indian rugs or brasses, but instead an entire section of rain forest which they collected leaf by leaf in southern Madras State. They packed up a leopard and a jungle fowl, an assortment of trees, one giant grasshopper and a bevy of butterflies. More than fifty different kinds of rain-forest plant and animal life are now on dis-

play at the ROM in a diorama, a three-dimensional showcase that has ROM visitors (customers) lingering in front of it to learn what a Vain forest looks like and what lives there.

Every leaf and bush and butterfly in the display is positioned with scientific care. A giant grasshopper lights on a tree trunk in the rain foiest, so it does the same thing at the museum. A jungle fowl walks stupidly close to a leopard; it is, dn fact, biologically dumb enough to do just that.

In March the museum officially opened its new southern-lndia diorama with the clink of glasses, which it hoped was heard by Torontonians who ordinarily like to visit museums only when they are out of town. The ROM is getting irritated about being taken for granted. There’s slight impatience when anyone remarks that the museum is known best for its totem poles, dinosaurs and mummies — a comment some museum officials think proves the critic hasn’t been near the place since grade school. There’s some exasperation over the lack of “customers” for its famous Chinese collection, which everyone should automatically know about without being told, since there is considered to be none better in the Western world.

It’s not that the ROM wants to disavow that it is primarily a “teaching museum” and an integral part of the University of Toronto. It will admit it is the biggest university museum in the world. It can also call itself one of the great museums of the world. But Dr. Swinton takes slight comfort in the academic status of his store. He thinks he knows what the public really thinks about it and admitted as much to a group recently by saying, “You’ll find us more than a dead zoo or a spacious warehouse.” The rainforest diorama, for instance, replaces glass cases filled with stuffed birds lined up and properly labeled with their ornithological titles. The bird cases were, at least to the layman, unintelligible dead zoos — guaranteed to keep customers away. But other equally uninteresting cases and galleries still remain. Since each curator can do anything he wants with his own gallery, the remaining hohum galleries could be changed tomorrow — and might be, if only the money could be found.

The University of Toronto pays the ROM’s operating costs, but the budget doesn’t include costly overhauls and curators are constantly on the lookout for private or corporate angels to help them. The most spectacular recent ROM gift came from Col. R. S. McLaughlin, former head of General Motors in Canada, who gave the museum a million dollars to build itself a planetarium. Dr. Swinton’s publicity department lost no time telling the public the McLaughlin planetarium, once completed, would let visitors “relive cosmic episodes, such as the arrival and disappearance of Halley’s Comet.”

Renovations aren’t nearly as costly. Dr. Walter Tovell, curator of geology and one of the first to transform his galleries, worked with $ 107,000 from the J. P. Bickell Foundation to build a color-mad, spotlit show of the basics of geology. Visitors can study a mine operation in miniature; feel a meteorite chunk or take the time to read thousands of geological labels painted on a huge aluminum globe of the world that revolves at a conveniently slow pace and divides itself in two at the equator to show the white-hot core of the earth. “This is better than a field trip,” a highschool geography teacher said recently. “Here we can see a hundred different geological specimens. In the field, we’d be lucky to spot six.”

From the mineralogy gallery across the foyer from the geological display, Dr. J. A. Mandarino, associate curator, and his staff lugged twenty tons of minerals out of glass cases into storage

after the International Nickel Company announced in 1962 it was giving seventy-five thousand dollars (which they have since doubled) to build a new gallery. It won’t be finished for another two years, when Dr. Mandarino hopes to lure people into the new display by flashing crystal forms at the door and promising them that inside they can watch other crystals form before their eyes.

Dr. Swinton encourages his curators to dream. Dr. A. Gordon Edmund, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology and therefore manager of the dinosaur galleries, has a series of tiny wire dinosaurs he shoves around a box in his office. At present the real dinosaurs are posed stiffly in the galleries, propped up with obvious supports rising from the floor. Dr. Edmund’s lively miniatures, on the other hand, are locked in deadly combat or strewn in death on the ground. He wants to activate his galleries to match.

His colleague, Dr. R. R. H. Lemon, curator-

in-charge of invertebrate paleontology, dreamed his own far-out dreams for his fossil gallery and then managed to convince Dr. Swinton and other museum administrators that although Carling Breweries Limited did finance the ROM’s fairly new reptile gallery, no company would be likely to affix its corporate image to fossils. The museum gave Dr. Lemon eighteen thousand dollars out of its own budget and he’s using it to give his customers an underwater tour of an ancient sea. Visitors will walk into a darkened gallery with aquatic lights and sounds. As they walk along the bottom of the sea, they’ll lirst see lighted aquaria of fish they recognize, then modern fossils of crabs and corals and snails. Some of them will have signs bearing the unmuseumlike notation, “Touch me.” / continued on page 35

continued on page 35

For more pictures of what goes on behind the scenes at the ROM, turn the page . . .


What goes on in the ROM's other world

Like an iceberg, much of any museum is hidden from public view. In backroom workshops, laboratories and storage quarters, experts and their staffs study, catalogue and restore new acquisitions, observe the growth patterns of live reptiles, plan new ways to display their prizes to the public, and chart new expeditions to acquire more. Seen here is some of the busy backstage life at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Where did wily Athenians keep their gold? Plated to a statue — 40 feet high


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Some ROM curators grumble that Hurley Parker, general display chief and the fossil-gallery's artistic designer, has unruly opinions to match his flyaway hair and beard. He scoffs openly at the "nineteenth-century curator laying out his classified data.' and claims that because he, Parker, is as uninformed as any layman before he starts w'ork on a gallery, he can best tell the curator what the general public wants to know — or not know.

Parker’s next project is to construct two “orientation galleries’’ to front the ethnology displays. The problem for the public, as he sees it, is to visualize what it would be like in the primitive cultures of such peoples as the early North American Indian and Eskimo. The orientation galleries, he explains, will be set up for the public “to shed its Cadillac complex. I've got to make people understand, for example, that the North American Indian didn't even have a horse until the fifteenth century.”

The most recent significant happy development in the arts and archaeology departments came when Toronto-born Sigmund Samuel financed the construction of a Canadiana gallery. two bus stops down the avenue but still part of the ROM. He moved into it his own large collection of Canadiana, leaving room for other additions — w'hich are being steadily made with the help of Gerald Stevens, the gallery’s research associate, w'ho is a noted expert on Canadiana and Maclean's columnist on the subject.

With little hope of getting any more Greek and Roman antiquities, Dr. J. W. Graham, curator of the Greek and Roman department, has recreated the highlights of Athens in miniature. The gallery displays a model of the Acropolis and even has a working balloting machine to demonstrate how the democratic Athenians voted. But the gallery’s spotlight is on a statue of the goddess Athena, a mysterious creature that, in the original, stood forty feet tall inside the Parthenon and was plated with more than a ton of gold —a cunning way to safeguard part of Athens' mint. Nothing remains today except the base where Athena once stood — and a good deal ol academic argument about what she looked like. Mrs. Neda Leipen. associate curator of the Greek and Roman department, reproduced her idea of Athena in miniature for the Athens gallery and it is boldly on view' for scholars to haggle over and the public to wonder why Athena stands composed w'hile a fat snake curls between her legs and her shield.

Frequently on Sundays the customers who gather around Athena, or the dinosaurs or an early pioneer loom in the textile gallery, are joined by Dr. Swinton, a neat - looking man with straight white hair and a taste for navy-blue suits. He goes to the museum on weekends to find out w'hat the public likes about the place and what doesn’t catch its fancy.

Last year total attendance among students from grade and high schools,

art college and university was more than a hundred and seventy-five thousand. But some five hundred thousand other people entered the ROM over the same period, breaking all attendance records and encouraging Dr. Swinton to believe he can attract many more.

Although the visitors don't get a

chance to see them. Dr. Swinton's study collections, in storage behind locked doors, are far bigger than those on display. The museum houses about one hundred thousand stuffed birds in moth-proofed drawers. Three hundred thousand fish are pickled in formaldehyde, labeled and lined on floor-to-ceiling shelves. Four hundred

drawers hold many thousands of pinned insects.

Despite all the work involved in cataloguing and maintenance, parts of some collections are referred to only when a curator or visiting scholar is at work on a specific problem. Other collections are under almost constant

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study. Dr. A. Gordon Edmund, in charge of the dinosaur galleries, is currently studying thirty-five reptiles (the nearest living descendant of the dinosaur) in a ROM laboratory, charting the rate and rhythm of their tooth replacement. Since one reptile may replace each tooth five times a year and has twenty-five teeth to each of its four jaws, Edmund is studying five hundred teeth in each specimen.

Most of the other curators are working on dead animals and require two full-time technicians to stuff their new acquisitions. The technicians keep carnivorous beetles in a basement “bug room.” When the curators want only the bones of an animal, the beetles obligingly eat the carcass clean. At the moment, the beetles are working on some bats for Dr. R. L. Peterson, curator of mammalogy, who is studying them by the thousand.

Dr. Swinton’s “buyers” need brawn and brain as well as a quick eye for a bargain. Ralph Hornell, chief technician in the vertebrate paleontology department, has prospected for dinosaurs in Alberta and Saskatchewan for twenty summers. The dinosaur bones and the rock they’re embedded in are shipped back to the ROM in sixand seven-hundred-pound blocks. In 1958 Hornell went to Talara, Peru, after a University of Toronto graduate geologist, working there for an oil company, alerted the ROM about a tar pit containing bones. Hornell found fiftythousand - year - old bones of deer, skunk, llama, horse, tiger, wolf and mouse. Fourteen tons of tar and bone arrived in Toronto and when they were separated only four tons remained — but enough to give Dr. C. S. Churcher, a ROM research associate, seven years’ study so far.

Swinton’s “buyers” also need tact. Swinton is hopeful that, despite the work and problems facing them, they will observe his “department - store” rule — the “customer” always is to be served, and with courtesy. Every letter and phone call gets a reply. Well, there has been one exception: a letter that proved to be unanswerable asked, “Do caterpillars’ hairs grow long or short? Do they grow close together or not?” Another letterwriter posed a prize question, but got a patient answer. “I saw a large bird flying toward a hill,” the letter asked. “Could it have been an owl?” J. L. Baillie, assistant curator of ornithology, replied, “Yes, it certainly could have been.”

Dr. G. B. Wiggins, curator of entomology, receives about four hundred inquiries a year from Canadians who find insects in their homes. His job is to tactfully report back that they’ve usually bagged themselves common cockroaches or bedbugs.

Each spring Dr. E. J. Crossman, associate curator of ichthyology, receives phone calls asking him to settle bets. The callers ask him whether or not a trout can grow a fur coat. Some sports-equipment stores, it seems, display mounted trout wearing sporting fur hides, and a plaque beneath each claims the furry specimen was taken from Lake Superior where the water is so cold trout grow fur coats to keep warm. “It’s a joke,” Crossman patiently explains. “A taxidermist makes them up to sell to stores.” And then observing Dr. Swinton’s rule of being polite to the customer, no matter how big a fool he’s making of himself, Dr. Crossman waits until he’s off the phone before he has a good laugh, ie