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OHIO’S NATURAL HISTORY: Introducing Our New Natural History Curator

Introducing Our New Natural History Curator

This Blog is an introduction and a welcome to the Ohio Historical Society for our new curator of natural history, David L. Dyer. Dave brings to our museum an enthusiasm and energy for natural history, museums and wild, natural landscapes such as the natural history sites OHS operates.

Most recently, Dave was curator of the zoology collections and herbarium at the museum of the University of Montana in Missoula, where he worked with their collections for twenty years. He has a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska in museum studies, with an emphasis in natural history. Prior to working on his MS, Dave spent four years working as a museum preparator for the Ice Age Exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Somewhat serendipitously, prior to that Dave spent 12 years right here at the Ohio Historical Society, first as a high school student intern and part-time while working on his BS at Ohio State, then full time as our Collections Manager. While Dave, his wife and two sons loved the wilderness hiking opportunities of Montana, roots in Ohio and family still living here motivated Dave to apply for the position here at OHS.  I am excited about “turning over the reins” to such a passionate and dedicated natural history museum person. You’ll get a small sense of Dave’s commitment to this sort of work as you read his own introduction below. As you get the opportunity, welcome Dave back to Ohio and to the Ohio Historical Society.

Bob Glotzhober, Senior Curator of Natural History

David Dyer: In His Own Words.

As a school child I loved museums. The most anticipated days of the year were the annual spring tours to various Columbus museums.  It was a chance to get out of the classroom, to see exciting objects on exhibit, and to have new experiences. Most memorable were the trips to COSI, when they were at their old location on East Broadway, and of course the “Ohio State Museum” in Sullivant Hall at 15th and High. That, as you may know, was the home of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society before it changed its name to the Ohio Historical Society and then moved to 17thAvenue.

The exhibits were fascinating of course. Who doesn’t want get out of school and get to see the huge swinging Foucault’s Pendulum at COSI or the grizzly bear diorama and rooms full of artifacts at OHS!? Yet it was the doors from the exhibit halls to the unknown back rooms that fascinated me. What was going on behind those doors?!  What were those people doing who came and went through those “Staff Only” doors? What amazing things were back there that we could not see? I knew there were large rooms that we could not access and that they MUST have held the coolest stuff in the world!  I would stray from my group and sneak a look through the crack between the doors…what would I see? Dinosaur bones? Mummies? All manner of stuffed animals peering back at me?  You guessed it; I saw filing cabinets, cinder block walls, and cement floors!

Fast-forward about a decade. As a junior in high school I had the chance to get a behind-the-scenes tour at one of my favorite museums: the Ohio Historical Society! (I still like that phrase: “behind-the scenes”! Who doesn’t want to get to see behind the scenes of almost anything!? I still enjoy watching the how-it’s-made short videos that come with feature film DVDs, usually more than the actual films themselves!). Finally, I was going to see what went on in those long halls and rooms behind the exhibits. As the door swung open from the exhibit hall it was just a little disappointing at first; indeed it was a typical office environment… filing cabinets and all. However I held out hope for more when I saw the endless rooms that lined the long hallway. Our small group met with Dr. Carl Albrecht, the Curator of Natural History at the time. After a short orientation we started off down the hall (and as it were, toward my future). We approached a set of dark wooden doors with the intriguing room title on the wall “Synoptic Room”*! I had NO idea what that meant, but with a title like that –sounding all scientific yet a bit mysterious – it HAD to be awesome! Sure enough it was a jaw-dropping experience:  row after row of cabinets with signs that hinted at amazing things within:  Minerals, Insects, Birds, Mammals, Skeletons, and Fossils. And on top of the cabinets large, fascinating objects loomed overhead… huge skulls, giant bones, and long tusks that I knew must be from Ice Age mastodons or mammoths.

One glimpse into a museum collection and I knew then and there that this was to be my life’s work. Growing up I had always collected various natural history objects, and my brothers and I even operated a small “museum” in our basement for the neighborhood kids. So on this day, when I realized that working in a museum was an actual career possibility, I knew that I had to do it. I quickly begged to be allowed to work on any task that needed doing, and ended up volunteering in natural history during my senior year of high school. I was then privileged to continue part-time during my college years.

I am now honored to be given the opportunity to follow the previous natural history curators; Carl Albrecht, William Schultz, and Bob Glotzhober. They had faith in me when I started in museum work, shared their amazing knowledge, and opened those doors for me, both literally and figuratively.

*Want to know what Synoptic Room means!? Email me!

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