Last week one of my students, Madeline Karp, told me about her family’s visit to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. She was particularly struck by the Hall of Birds, which she described as a long hallway lined with glass cases displaying the bird collection, some stuffed in poses and some displayed more as specimens, flat on their backs. One case was filled with comparisons: birds from popular culture (Tweety, Opus from Bloom County) next to their counterparts from the natural world. Here’s the photo she took of Toucan Sam:
According to Madeline, there was a lot of intense birdness in the Hall of Birds. It was maybe even a little disturbing if you weren’t used to seeing bird specimens flat on their backs like that. The experience led her mother to comment that it looked like the exhibition had been made either for or by cats.
I was thinking about Madeline’s story the next morning while I was walking my friends’ German wirehaired pointer. I was imagining cats roaming the Hall of Birds, noses pressed to the cases, and a team of cat curators making decisions about the most tantalizing specimens to display (maybe throw in some fish for variety, and open the window shades to make plenty of sunny spots on the floor).
Meanwhile, here I am walking the dog, and she’s investigating every nook and cranny of the neighborhood streets with the kind of enthusiasm and detail that I wish every city resident would display. And it hit me: cats don’t get out in the city all that much, but dogs certainly do. Has any museum ever done an exhibition depicting their city from a four-legged point of view? The urban history of things dogs care about: hydrants, parks, smelly things, leash laws, dogcatchers. Historic photographs taken from two feet off the ground. I would give a nice tasty chew toy to see that, and I don’t think I’m the only one.