A Career Bringing Natural History to Life

Stephen Quinn, the senior diorama artist at the American Museum of Natural History, is retiring after nearly 40 years at the museum.

Stephen Quinn, the senior diorama artist at the American Museum of Natural History, is retiring after nearly 40 years at the museum.

By JAMES BARRON

“I’m in my work clothes,” Stephen Christopher Quinn said as he smoothed a dark blue apron splotched with paint. “I’ve got to finish two murals by Friday.”

Standing in front of the buffalo diorama that he had restored, he meant to sound apologetic, but he sounded busy. He is the da Vinci of dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, its Botticelli of birds, its Renoir of rhinoceroses. As the museum’s senior diorama artist, he has masterminded the scenes that make the crowds ooh and ahhh: the big blue whale, the huge coral reef, the gorillas beating their chests, the archaeopteryx, the acanthostega.

Those last two are in one of the fourth-floor dinosaur halls. You cannot mention the museum’s dioramas without mentioning its dinosaurs — in this case the archaeopteryx, a bird that bridged the evolutionary gap between dinosaurs that had feathers and latter-day birds. Or the acanthostega, an extinct creature that must have looked like a small alligator. It was one of the first to have distinct, recognizable limbs and hands with eight digits, if you counted them. Mr. Quinn, who is nothing if not precise, did.

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Note: Stephen Quinn is my uncle and I’m very proud of the work he has done! Kudos and Happy Retirement Uncle Deet Deet!

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