Beyond

Backstage: Exploring the Unseen World of the Field Museum

 

Sometimes it’s a sandwich with extra bread and bacon. Sometimes it’s a smart leather jacket, or a key to get into that sweet teak sauna.  As they say, membership has its benefits.  So when we got invited to check out Member’s Night at the Field Museum,  I jumped at the chance to sneak a peek. On a daily basis, the Field Museum exposes members and nonmembers to a massive collection of priceless artifacts from every part of the world, from our toothy T-Rex tour guide Sue to the dazzling diamonds, rubies and sapphires of the Grainger gem room and deep into the tombs of ancient Egyptian mummies. It made me wonder what else could possibly be in store.

Member’s Night did not disappoint. As soon as I hit Stanley Hall I knew I was in for something special. The main floor had a fully stocked cash bar, and tables full of information on the museum and different interests its members could pursue.  Larger than life, colorful and detailed puppets danced around us, and the Field Bistro was buzzing with life. There was even a special guidebook with a detailed schedule of what was happening on each floor when.

You may feel like you have a concept of how large the Field Museum is, but until all the doors have been flung open, it’s hard to tell.  Four floors were fully open for exploration, and the complete transparency of the museum on this night was what made the entire experience unforgettable.  There is so much science being done every day here, representing almost every specialization, from biology to chemistry to botany and beyond. Researchers from all over the world seek out the Field Museum for its massive stores of information, specimens and expert scientists.  Some 23 million artifacts and scientific objects exist within the 640,000 square foot space, but only a fraction are out on display. The rest are in places like the 186,000 foot underground storehouse known as the Collections Resource Center, which on this night was also where we got to see beautiful stained specimens from under the sea and incredible invertebrate specimens to boot.

The upper floors, which house offices and workshops galore, gave a glimpse into the work that goes into each and every exhibit. There were workshops where wood carvings were being made, drafting areas with exhibit layouts, a sign workshop where we met the artist responsible for all of the Field’s signage, from the tiny numbers in each exhibit’s glass cases to the caution signs in the areas that are usually off limits. I saw items that were new to the museum, including some incredibly vibrant Mexican wood carvings created by a children’s book author just for her stories, and watched one of the Field’s experts discuss what they’re doing with 3D printing, including making exact copies of animal skulls that everyone can handle. Every floor had something new, from scavenger hunts to lectures and even dissections.  It seemed like there was nowhere you couldn’t explore and no one you couldn’t talk to.  Everyone from PR to security was there, active and enthusiastic, and it made the whole experience that much more fun.

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I rounded out my  night with a glass of wine and a stroll through some of the exhibits, including my childhood favorite, Ancient Egypt, and one of the Field’s newest, featuring the Terra Cotta Warriors of China. A night at the museum, free to roam, with every exhibit available for the wandering, would already be worth it, but by the time I’d left, I felt almost overwhelmed at everything I’d seen. Upcoming exhibits, unseen artifacts, and face time with the scientists that keep the Field at the forefr

ont of science made this member’s night an absolute blast, and at least for me, a good reason to think about becoming a member.

Check out my gallery from the event above, and then check out the Field Museum’s website to see what’s up and coming for the summer months, and how to become a member, if you’re interested in events like these.

All photos by Marielle Shaw.

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