The Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, Vermont is a place for the curious, eccentric and more-than-easily amused. So that’s where my students and I went for our field trip today, over hill and dale for 27 miles east until we arrived at the museum, which is like a museum piece itself with its monster-sized red bricks and garlanded stone lions.
Step from one display to another, and you’ll see three-inch long Chinese slippers for women, mummified dog legs, snow flake prints contrasting what happens between -14 degrees and 30 degrees, and miniature Victorian living rooms. There are also birds: many, many, many birds, taxidermized within an inch of their deaths, and gleaming in their display cases that sort them out by continent.
Nothing blows the mind as much, however, as the bug art. We’re talking about 10,592 colorful beetles arranged into stars, a portrait of Lincoln and quilt-like art. Or this design composed of thousands and thousands of butterfly wings. “Where did people find the time to do this?” one of my students asked. But the greatest fun was watching some of our Goddardites look at the art, read the description, and then yell out, “Whoa!” when they realized just what (and who) went into each portrait.
A lot also went into the stuffed animals, some of great size and texture. The bears — polar, grizzly and the like — greet you upon arrival. Besides being greatly imposing and obviously dead. they’re just gigantic talismans of the wild, reminding us of what’s beyond our usual view. Here, you can look closely at the size of claws (huge) and the composition of Indigo Bunting feathers (vivid). There was also a gorgeous gallery featuring photos of lightning over varied landscapes, and a giant globe that, if you touched the controls, you would turn into Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon, or the Earth at night, during hurricane system, if and when the water levels rise, and in ancient maps.
By the time we finished padding around upstairs and down, around the corners and down the halls, I felt refreshed by the unusual and unusual juxtapositions. Kind of like what we study, explore and investigate here: like with unlike, and between the fields and traditions, all kinds of sparks that make for greater warmth and light in the world.