MUSEUM CAMPUS — For as a little as $10, you can take a bit of the Field Museum home to your living room.
Although geared toward educators, the little-known N.W. Harris Learning Collection at the lakefront museum can be rented by anyone who signs up at the center's out-of-the-way home in the back corner of the museum's lower level.
The 400 glass-and-wood-encased 3-D dioramas available feature real artifacts, like taxidermy animal specimens in natural settings with hand-painted backdrops that resemble portable versions of the well-known displays on the first level of the museum.
Or there are 70 "experience boxes" stocked with multiple specimens surrounding a theme and including animal furs, skulls and explanatory material. Themes include "Ancient Egypt," "Native American Games," and "Canines and Felines," which explores the differences between the canidae and felinae families with casts of animal skulls and supplemental information," program administrator Lindsey Snyder said.
The collection dates to 1911. Snyder said the cases used to be sent mainly to Chicago Public Schools, but are now available to other school districts, as well as to the public.
"The Field Museum had drivers back in the 1910s, when cars were a really big deal, that would deliver these to CPS," she said. "They would hang on the wall, often outside the principal's office, so a lot of these are really quite old," like the industrial-focused "How to Make a Spoon" and "How Tin Becomes a Toothpaste Tube" created before World War I.
But today many of the people taking advantage of the take-home exhibits are families with multiple kids, home-schooling parents, and even some Field Museum scientists who rotate display cases in their offices each month, Snyder said.
The learning center recently closed for a few months and reopened in September with updated and streamlined materials. All were reviewed by Field Museum scientists and are now available for perusal online.
Memberships run for as little as $10 to rent one case for a month, to as much as $100, allowing checkout of 40 items, or for up to a month each over the course of a year.
Among teachers, a popular item is a case featuring a large eastern wild turkey that is frequently reserved around Thanksgiving, Snyder said.
Check out our video above for a tour of the N.W. Harris Learning Collection at the Field Museum.