You may not know this, but there are actually two American Museums of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. There is the one hiding in plain sight at the corner of 79th and Central Park West.
And then, there is the second AMNH, the one buried deep in the earth directly beneath the museum – an extensive collection of mosaics and reliefs that cover the walls, stairwells, and floors in the 81st Street Subway Station. For Want of a Nail (2000) was a collaborative effort between MTA Arts for Transit and AMNH designed to mimic the key disciplines explored in the museum above. The title refers to an old proverb that speaks to how small actions can have large consequences – like the loss of a species.
with the shadow of a pigeon (passenger pigeon?) behind it,
We contacted GrrlScientist, who characterizes herself as an evolutionary biologist, ornithologist and writer, to find out more about the project. She very kindly answered all of our questions and gave us permission to repost her photos and captions for you here.
Of course. There’s always something to photograph, especially in NYC. Besides, carrying a camera also carries the obligation to actually look around for something to photograph, so it makes me actually pay attention to the world around me instead of just rushing around.
Which is one of the reasons why we are addicted to our new mobile phone.
Ladybugs, Coleoptera species
These ladybugs are an excellent example of how the artists (Arts for Transit Collaborative) turned a design problem – integrating oddly shaped mosaics into a gridded field of white tiles – into an asset. The andamento of the tiles surrounding these insects is designed not just to fill space, but to indicate the movement and connectedness that one sees in a swarm of ladybugs in real life. (And yes, it is a “swarm” These mosaics made us get our science on!)
GrrlScientist points out that several of the animals have question marks worked into the designs. It is curious.
Our guess is that the question marks may allude to the fact that these species are on the endangered list – their fate still uncertain.
Another design element in For Want of A Nail is that subjects are often found in likely places, like this garden spider placed up in a corner.
And this snake (some kind of boa?) hanging from a signage ledge.
For Want of A Nail also includes areas devoted to geology and earth sciences. Here, you see a stairwell that GrllScientist calls “A journey to the center of the earth.”
When asked which mosaic was her favorite, GrrlScientist told us it is the first one she published, the coealanth. “I think it is just stunning.”
Huge thanks to GrrlScientist for allowing us to publish her photos and captions. We highly recommend that you follow her blog at The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/grrlscientist. She’s got a spunky voice that makes science approachable and birds, in particular, fascinating.
Enjoy – Nancie
- GrrlScientist’s “A Brief History of the Subway Tile Art at 81st and CPW (AMNH Station)” post here
- Jeremy Cox’ (aka “Subway Nut”) extensive photo catalog of the AMNH station and more MTA art here
- MTA’s description of For Want of a Nail here
- American Museum of Natural History here
- “For Want of a Nail” Wikipedia analysis here