Disclaimer: This blog post will not explain how to build a diorama for the American Museum of Natural History, but if interested the American Museum of Natural History offers a course.

Either you’ve visited the American Museum of Natural History or watched the Night at the Museum movies or both. Then you’ve seen the dioramas of animals set against a background of plants, trees, grass and sky.

Atlas Obscura , the organizer of visits to offbeat sometimes creepy  places which are not always in Brooklyn intuited this and arranged a tour with Tom Doncourt who has worked at the museum since 1992. Tom was so familiar with the museum it was if the museum was talking.

Here’s the diorama elevator speech. First, you go or went on an expedition and caught then skinned your animal. You also took photos or sketched the landscape. Then you came home and recreated the animal and the  scene with paper mache, lighting and paint. And oh yes, a different eye because you had to make the drama look right from the customer facing side.  Tom had been inside the dioramas to repair them; he made the inside view sound as if you were viewing our stars from the opposite side of the Milky Way.

I’ve left so many details out of this post particularly the then and now of the construction. But here’s a detail I do remember. The backs of the animals are painted white to cast a shadow. And there is only one janitor.