Perhaps the coolest job ever. This is one for all of us who marveled as kids at those dioramas, whether at the American Museum of Natural History itself or, in my case, from far away in Indiana, a land where dinosaurs still roam.
“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.
Mr. Quinn, who arrived at the museum as an intern artist in 1974, went on to write the book on the museum’s dioramas — literally. “Windows on Nature” is a full-color volume that says dioramas are relics. They are not as old as their subjects, perhaps, but they are an art form that predates television and movies. “They were powerful forms of virtual reality” before 3-D glasses and DVRs, Mr. Quinn said.