September 29, 2003

Museum Celebrates Opening

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Ithaca’s new Museum of the Earth held its ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony on Thursday.

In his opening remarks at the ceremony, Warren D. Allmon, Ph.D., director of the museum and adjunct associate professor at Cornell, cited Ezra Cornell’s purchase of a fossil collection as the first step in the chain of events that eventually led to the opening of the museum. The museum’s purpose is, among other things, to showcase the enormous collection of objects that belong to the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), of which Allmon is also the director.

“I would often wonder what PRI was and what went on in that building,” said New York State Sen. James Seward (R-50th), with the modern, environmentally friendly new facility as a backdrop. “Thanks to Warren Allmon, those fossils came to life.”

Due to Cornell’s role as PRI’s unofficial partner and collaborator, Kraig Adler, vice provost for life sciences, was also present and noted that the museum will provide research, volunteer and internship opportunities to Cornellians.

Moments before the ribbon was cut, Christopher Maples, president of the PRI Board of Trustees, motioned toward the 44-foot skeleton of a north Atlantic right whale inside the building and joked, “If you agree that ‘Ithaca is gorges,’ you’ll agree that this is a whale of a museum as well.”

The ribbon was then cut by Raymond Von Houtte, former president of the Tompkins Trust Company and one of the first people to advocate for the PRI’s collections to be made publicly accessible.

On a tour of the facility given to The Sun, it was apparent that art plays an important role in the museum’s design. The building itself, with a unique angular roof and floor-to-ceiling windows, seems to blend in with its natural surroundings. Furthermore, a 500 – foot mural by local artist Barbara Page MFA ’75 and five original murals by renowned Earth history artist Douglas Henderson help to blur the line between art and science.

Robert M. Ross, director of education and exhibits for the museum, explained other benefits of the museum that will be enjoyed by its visitors.

The interactive nature of many of the exhibits allows visitors to “do all the kinds of things that people do in the actual sciences,” Ross said, including using computers and digital photography to inspect artifacts. Thanks to these innovative exhibits, he explains, “Every time you come [to the museum] you have a different experience and take [your] knowledge a step further.”

Thanks to its proximity to both Cornell and Ithaca College, combined with its accessibility via TCAT, the museum hopes to attract many students. The museum has also planned special promotional days which are designed to motivate Cornellians to visit.

PRI will be hosting a symposium on campus on Oct. 6, entitled, “The Future of the Past: Frontiers in Paleontology.” On Oct. 11, museum admission will be free to all members of the community. On Oct. 25, Cornell alumni, staff and faculty will enjoy half-price admission, and on Nov. 1, Cornell students and their families receive the same incentive, in recognition of Family Weekend.

Archived article by Andrew Beckwith