Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.


How Did We Get 10 Million Specimens?

Want to hear something incredible? We house around 10 million artifacts at Sam Noble Museum. Crazy! Even though we’ve been around for over a century, you still might be wondering—where did it all come from? In Journey of the Shells, we mentioned how private collectors sometimes donate specimens and artifacts to museums. This integration is called adopting a collection, and it’s pretty common in the museum world. Take the University of Memphis mammalogy collection, for example.

 Former OU student Michael Kennedy began his relationship with the Sam Noble Museum as a PhD student of retired ornithology curator Gary Schnell. In the 80s, Kennedy became a renowned field mammalogy professor and even mentored current staff curator Janet Braun. Throughout his career, he developed an extensive collection of mammal specimens from the southeastern United States.

University of Memphis collection

The University of Memphis housed the collection, but as Kennedy neared retirement he knew his collection required a long-term home. Because of his long-standing relationship with OU, Kennedy proposed that the Sam Noble Museum adopt the collection.

“I’ve known Michael for more than 30 years,” said head curator Janet Braun. “I learned about mammals from him in class and on field trips, and the first specimens that I prepared were in the Memphis collection. This project was very personal for me, and I was committed to seeing the collection saved for the future.”

Specimens from the Memphis collection

To help accommodate the costs of acquiring 25,000 specimens, Janet Braun and director Michael Mares submitted a National Science Foundation grant. In 2011, they received three-year funding of $445,303 to catalogue and finish processing the collection.

“This is possibly one of the largest orphan mammal collections adopted by another existing collection,” said Brandi Coyner, current mammalogy collection manager. “Michael was very proactive in finding a home for these specimens, which is what makes this story so unique. It isn’t always like that.”

According to Coyner, abandoned collections are not uncommon. These orphan collections do not belong to any museum or institution and may be neglected when their caretakers pass away, retire or change jobs. Unfortunately weather, pests and other damaging forces often destroy these collections before they can be adopted.

But thanks to Kennedy’s proactive nature, we successfully acquired the University of Memphis collection in the summer of 2011. Despite record-breaking temperatures, museum staff spent 14 days loading specimens into a freezer truck for cross-country transport.  Was it worth it? Definitely.

Staff and movers take 65 boxes downstairs

“We never want to lose specimens,” Coyner said. “Natural history museums are nonrenewable resources, and if a specimen is lost, it’s as if that animal and research never existed.”

With the University of Memphis collection now almost entirely catalogued, the Sam Noble Museum’s mammalogy department contains approximately 65,000 specimens. We also now have the largest collection of Tennessee mammals anywhere in the world with 19,669 specimens. 

The acquisition of museum and personal collections is a common way museums grow and expand their collections. By adding additional or new species, researchers can cross-examine traits of individual specimens to gain insight into the lives of animals. In doing so, the museum grows one step closer to fulfilling its vision—to inspire understanding, appreciation and stewardship of the earth and all its people.

The Art of Philanthropy

If you’ve been around our staff for even a minute, then you know we’ve got talent! Olympic-level racers, canine rescue trainers, singers and musicians, romance novelists…we’ve got it all! Impressive? Absolutely. But what’s even more impressive is how these individuals use their gifts to better local, state and even global communities. Take Coral, for example.


Coral McCallister

McCallister began working as a custodian at the museum in March of 2014. As lifelong artist, her eyes are always open for inspiration. Before long she found Bom Bom, a live-mounted Western lowland gorilla acquired from the Oklahoma City Zoo.

 “I saw Bom Bom many times in various enclosures at the zoo, and like most of us, I was in awe of him and the wildness he represented to me,” McCallister recalled.

 She began sketching after her shifts while mammalogy collections manager Brandi Coyner gathered donations for one of the Oklahoma City Zoo’s annual philanthropic events. As soon as Brandi saw Coral’s work, she saw a perfect fit.

 “Teresa Randall is a friend of mine and asked if the museum could donate a family membership to one of their philanthropic events,” Coyner said. “When I saw Coral’s sketch, I called her back immediately and told her I had something even better.”


McCallister’s portrait of Bom Bom

 McCallister’s 19-inch by 24-inch pastel creation took nearly 15 hours to complete. Still, she had no reservations about donating her work to Zoobilation, a ZooFriends annual gala and fundraiser for the Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital. 


Conceptualized Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital, OKC Zoo 

Coral made sure that her portrait really captured the essence of Bom Bom, down to the reddish tuft of hair on his head. Perhaps no one appreciates these fine details more than current owner, OKC Zoo head veterinarian Jennifer D’Agostino. D’Agostino was determined to win the piece at the Zoobilation silent auction. 

“There were several other people bidding on it but none that knew Bom Bom,” D’Agostino said. “Once, at the end of a medical procedure, he crashed and almost died. I did CPR on him, and he didn’t wake up for about 13 hours. I stayed with him trying to keep him alive. Because of that, I really had a strong connection with him.” 


Bom Bom—OKC Zoo, Photo by Gillian Lang 

D’Agostino plans to hang the picture inside her new office at the hospital, as a reminder of Bom Bom’s role as a conservation ambassador for others of this critically endangered species in the wild. 

“We’re here to get people to see and care about these animals,” D’Agostino said. “Conservation is a global effort, but everything we do has an impact on conservation. We can all make a difference, even in Oklahoma.”

Of course, Coral is as humble as can be about all of her philanthropic efforts, including those with the Norman Chocolate Festival and Nature Conservancy. For her, art is a connection—both human and animalistic. In this way, McCallister hopes to continue using her art to engage with others.

 “I like feeling tied into everyone else,” McCallister said. “Art has gotten me through some of the hardest times of my life, and it makes life worthwhile. Giving back creates a kind of oneness, and it’s really a beautiful thing.”

Education 101

You’ve got a lot of choices when it comes to your child’s education – especially in the summer. It’s important for parents to do their homework before enrolling in educational programming, so grab your pencil! Class is now in session.

 Lesson 1 – Not all Education is Equal


Unlike many educational programs outside of school, our curriculum is developed by trained educators to complement the statewide plan. Additionally, our educators strive to go above and beyond the Oklahoma Science Standards, providing additional science education to students who may lack opportunities and resources.

 “We provide out of school opportunities for students to engage in science and explore the world that they can’t access in their schools,” said Jes Cole, head of education. “We are really fortunate to be a complement and to help supplement Oklahoma schools for science education.”

 By teaching Oklahoma children the joy of experiential learning, the museum has molded statewide science education. In the past year, 1,245 participants enrolled in our public education programming, and the museum has impacted 219,380 students through field trips in the past decade.

Lesson 2 – You Don’t Need a Classroom


Nothing is more terrifying to a teacher than watching his or her students discard precious information over summer vacation. But there is something you as a parent can do, and it starts with Summer Explorers.

Summer Explorers is the Sam Noble Museum’s summer educational programming for students ages 4-14. We offer a wide variety of courses throughout the summer - covering everything from baby to animals to pond scum, world cultures to paleontology. It’s a chance to see the world behind the safety of gallery walls.

“There aren’t many summer camps that have the same security that watches over priceless artifacts in the same area as my priceless kiddo,” said Amy Davenport, parent of a former Summer Explorer. “Whenever we drop Zoey off to class, we know she is in great hands.”

Lesson 3 – Learning is for Life


If you’ve ever heard the term lifelong learner, then you know that curiosity is not outgrown. Adults love digging in the sand for buried fossils just as much as their children, especially when playing for keeps.  That’s why the museum offers family and adult-only public programs.

 “Everyone is a lifelong learner, and everyone’s always wanting to learn more,” said Cole. “We try to offer what other educational institutions cannot, and that’s how we design our adult programming.”

In addition to inspiring new interests, adult education also strives to answer everyday dilemmas with specialized scientific knowledge. From preserving family heirlooms to mastering macrophotography, these programs foster learning for life.

 Exam Review

 Summer brings ample opportunity to enroll your child in educational programming - but will you make the correct choice? Every right answer begins in a book, so study up using our education website! Come see what science education is all about, and discover our school of thought.

A Mammalogist’s Homecoming


 What comes to mind when you think of summer? Melting popsicles? The smell of freshly cut grass? Lazy days by the pool? For mammalogists across the country, summer means one very important thing – the annual ASM conference.

 What’s ASM, you ask? The American Society of Mammalogists was founded in 1919 to promote interest in the study of mammals. To do so, the organization issues regular publications about upcoming news while maintaining extensive online photographic database that covers a wide variety of animals.


First ASM Conference in 1919

“The ASM fosters the next generation of mammalogists by providing small research grants, fellowships, internships and honoraria to promising students,” said Edward Heske, ASM president. “We offer a welcoming and supportive environment where young scientists can grow and move out into their new professional universe, and what could be greater ‘return on investment’ than that?” 

Every year, the members of this prestigious organization meet face-to-fact to catch up with old friends, exchange research and discuss current events in the field. If nothing else, the conference is an amazing opportunity for scientists to learn from and encourage one another as they pursue their passion.


The 2012 Conference in Reno

“Many of us see each other only once a year at the meetings and, on a personal level, it’s like a big annual homecoming,” said Eileen Lacey, ASM president elect. “Aside from the social component, it’s a very stimulating chance to talk about the science and the organisms that are of greatest interest to me, so a very rewarding professional experience as well.”

Why are we so excited? Because this year’s conference will be held in Oklahoma City from June 6-10!  Meetings are typically held in major cities like Portland, Philadelphia and Reno, so the 2014 selection comes as an honor. Many of our Sam Noble Museum mammalogists are already gearing up for the conference. Get ready! We’re attending this year’s conference and (of course) bringing you all the details! Stay tuned, friends.

From Science Education to Science Fiction

Whether racing for Team USA or scripting an award-winning screenplay, our faculty and staff has a history of making news outside of their work at the museum. Seriously, they do it all - and museum director Michael Mares wants to highlight those achievements! So when staff writer Laura (L. A.) Wilcox debuted her first novel, we knew it would be a hit. Like a hashtag creating, call your mom, blog-worthy kind of hit.


Naturally, we were right. On April 1, Renegade hit virtual stands around the world. What’s it about? We thought you’d never ask. Renegade is about a time traveler named Andrew Simmons who seems to do all the right things at exactly the wrong time. In Andrew’s world, there are just three rules to being a traveler.

1. Do not, under any circumstance, interfere with your environment during travel.

2. Do not carry other persons or large articles during travel.

3. Always keep your talisman on your person at all times.

But when Andrew loses his talisman in pre-revolutionary Boston, he must race against the clock to retrieve his only way home. Everything is on the line – family, love, freedom, honor and quite possibly the future. But as time reveals a long line of dark secrets, Andrew realizes he must save more than just his skin. He must also save his kind.

Catchy, right? Even the president thinks so.


We’re proud of our staff’s accomplishments, but we’re not the only ones! So far, local press and a handful of booky bloggers have reviewed Wilcox’s novel. Read the reviews and author page at Goodreads to see what others are saying.

Now, you’re probably wondering where you can get your copy.


Renegade is available on Kindle and Nook for $3.99, and in paperback for $9.99, so you’re really just a click away. Lucky you! Question: are you a social media socialite? You are?! Join the conversation on Renegade’s social sites for Facebook and Twitter.

 From science education to science fiction, we’ve got you covered.

SNOMNH Block Party - It’s Kind of a Big Deal

Last month, we announced that the Institute for Museums and Library Services named the Sam Noble Museum one of thirty National Medal finalists. For a quick refresher, check out our IMLS National Media Q&A. If we’re Facebook friends, then you’ve likely heard the big news – we have been officially chosen as one of ten winners! That means we are one of the five greatest museums in the country, out of 17,500. No big deal, but…


Ron Burgundy agrees, so it must be true.

Wait. It gets better. This morning at 10 a.m., museum director Michael Mares and former ExplorOlogy student Ernesto Vargas visited the White House – yes, the White House - to receive the National Medal from First Lady Michelle Obama on behalf of the museum. We broadcast the live stream of the ceremony on our website this morning, and there may have been a few teary eyes. Check out the photo below!

Starring: Ernesto Vargas, Michael Mares and First Lady Michelle Obama

As you can see, the National Media is a pretty big deal. Like, a huge deal – so huge, we’ve decided to throw the largest prehistoric party in the modern era! And, of course, you’re invited. Busy on June 1 from 1 to 5 p.m.? No? Good. Join us as we celebrate the amazing Oklahomans like you who made us the award-winning museum we are today.


We’re gonna’ party like it’s 3 million B.C.E.

On top of free admission, we’ve got cake, refreshments and great eats from your favorite food trucks. What more could you ask for? Wait, what’s that? Live music you say? Let’s not forget our amazing lineup of local melodies. Travis Linville, Tequila Songbirds, Sherree Chamberlain and Mike Hosty. These are the big leagues, folks. Could you possibly pack more talent onto a single stage? Hint: The answer is no.


 Such talent!

So bring your kids, neighbors, and friends – even your dog! Bring anyone and everyone. We’re the only institution in Oklahoma to receive this prestigious award, and we believe that’s something worth celebrating. There are just 24 days until June 1, and this party’s going to be cooler than the Ice Age. image

P.S. This is you outside the museum at our block party.

Will you join the celebration?

Feast Your Eyes

For some, culture is an acquired taste – but not when it comes to food! TIME and National Geographic photographer Peter Menzel and his wife, Faith D’Alusio, have prepared a sampler plate of world culture with their photographic exhibit Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. The best part? We’ve saved you a seat!

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

The Hungry Planet exhibit, sponsored by Love’s Travel Stop & Country Stores, follows the lives of ten families as they produce, shop for and prepare food over the course of one week. We’re talking American fast food, Mali open kitchens and everything in between – a taste of culture for visitors of all ages. 

Chinese Street Stall

The 40 deliciously intriguing photos, from Menzel and D’Alusio’s award-winning book, show the sharp contrasts and universal aspects of this essential human pursuit. Even if photography isn’t your cup of tea, Hungry Planet takes the cake with several surprising revelations about global food preparation and consumption.

Vegetable Market in India

 So eat your heart out! Hungry Planet will be at the Sam Noble Museum from May 3 until August 31. But, if you’re looking to whet your appetite beforehand, join us for an opening reception on Friday, May 2 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.! The public opening will include food tastings from these savory local vendors: 


     Caesar’s Catering

→     Sooner Legends



     Abbey Road Catering

     Simply Falafel

 You might have a lot on your plate, but this is one (mouth-watering) exhibit you won’t want to miss. So join us on May 2 for the public opening, and sink your teeth into world culture.

Bom Bom’s Story

Chapter 1 – The End of an Era 


Bom Bom - OKC Zoo, Photo by Gillian Lang

On June 25, 2012, the Oklahoma City Zoo announced the death of Bom Bom the gorilla – a local icon, beloved by many and father of three. His passing devastated zoo-lovers and was covered by nearly every major news outlet in the state – The Oklahoma Gazette, KFOR, KWTV and the Oklahoman. Now, his legacy lives on thanks to a partnership between the OKC Zoo and the Sam Noble Museum. 

Chapter 2 – The Backstory 


The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans

Bom Bom was born at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans 38 years ago and joined the OKC Zoo in 2002 as part of national breeding program. According to Robin Newby, supervisor of apes at the OKC Zoo, Bom Bom was a great silverback. He understood his role in the group and fostered peaceful relationships.

In January 2010, Bom Bom was diagnosed with heart disease – a common threat for male gorillas. Two years later he suffered a deadly ruptured aneurism in his heart that ended his life, but not his legacy.

 Chapter 3 – New Beginnings


Bom Bom in the Sam Noble Museum mammalogy collection

Bom Bom’s body was donated to our museum, and we immediately requested the help of artisan taxidermist Paul Rhymer, who has previously worked with the Smithsonian Institution. Because the specimen was so well preserved by the museum, Rhymer was able to sculpt a stunningly realistic live mount for the museum.

“To ensure this mount was identifiable as Bom Bom, I made molds of his face so we could try to capture the facial features that make him different from other gorillas, “ said Rhymer. “From that mold I was able to sculpt a form that was a portrait.”

Bom Bom’s skeleton also left insights for scientists about the way western lowland gorillas age. According to Brandi Coyner, Sam Noble Museum mammalogy curatorial associate, zoo specimens live longer than their wild counterparts and allow scientist to observe the effects of aging. The bones of Bom Bom’s hands and feet have already been studied by a Smithsonian scientists, who is an expert in primate anatomy. 

“We could tell by the way he walked he was getting older. The museum helped us understand why, and did a great job with him,” Newby said.

 Chapter 4 – The Plot Twist


Leom - Photo by Andrea Wright

Bom Bom also left the zoo staff one final surprise – a son. After nearly a decade of breeding failure, female Kelele conceived just one month before Bom Bom’s passing. Baby Leom – named after his parents - was born on Valentine’s Day of 2013.

Candice Rennels, manager of marketing and public relations for the OKC Zoo, stated that Bom Bom and his son Leom serve as “ambassadors for wild relatives” in regards to wildlife conservation as a whole, and the Sam Noble Museum has incorporated this belief into plans for Bom Bom’s future. 

Chapter 5 – Planning a Future


An Ocelot portrait from RARE

The Sam Noble Museum plans to display Bom Bom in the main lobby to help welcome Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species, a temporary photographic exhibit designed to raise awareness about endangered wildlife in America. Signs will help inform visitors of his purpose and relevance in preserving biodiversity. 

"Bom Bom is an extremely rare gorilla who will continue to influence people’s views on conservation as a part of the Sam Noble Museum’s collections and exhibits,” said museum director Michael Mares. “I decided to prepare him as a mount so that he would carry a message of the fragility of life on Earth in the face of the enormous environmental changes that gorillas, and people, face." 

Rare opens on Sept. 13, 2014. We would love to welcome all Oklahomans to discover a remarkable cause while rediscovering an old friend. We hope you will join us in becoming a part of this new and exciting chapter in Bom Bom’s legacy.

IMLS National Medal Q&A

Recently, we’ve been posting a lot about the Institute for Museum and Library Service’s (IMLS) 2014 National Medal award on our social media sites. Though if you’re not savvy to the museum or library scene, all of this news could easily become overwhelming. That’s why we’ve decided to do a little Q&A session to help our friends and fans understand what the National Media is and why we can’t stop talking about.

 Q: What is the Institute for Museum and Library Service?


A: According to the IMLS website, “the Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums.” Ultimately, this organization seeks to inspire educational institutions to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement.

Q: So what’s an IMLS National Medal?

 A: The National Media for Museum and Library Services honors outstanding institutions that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities. Basically, this award is given each year to ten libraries and/or museums that have gone above and beyond the call of duty in terms of community outreach. For a few examples, check out the 2013 National Medal video below.

Q: How does it work?

A: Each year, hundreds of nominations from all across the country are submitted to IMLS. Only thirty finalists are chosen. We are so pleased to announce that the Sam Noble Museum was recently selected as a finalist for 2014, which is also the National Medal’s 20 anniversary! Isn’t that incredible?


Q: Why is winning so important?

A: The National Medal is the nation’s highest honor for commending museum and libraries for their community service efforts. In fact, this award is so highly revered, last year the ten winners were recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House ceremony in Washington D.C. Below is a glimpse of the ceremony.


 Q: So where do I fit in?


A: Because the IMLS National Medal is founded on community outreach, we want to encourage all of our friends and fans to share their favorite experiences with our museum on the IMLS Facebook page. Without Oklahoma’s ongoing support, we would not be where we are today, and we hope that your stories will show the IMLS what a tremendous support system our great community is.

Salvaging Specimens

In the face of an emergency or natural disaster, what’s your first thought? Is it family, friends, your home or even your car? For many of our museum staff, who have dedicated their lives to the study of rare and precious artifacts, the safety of museum collections is a very real concern. After a flood, tornado or even a fire, how do collection managers and curators decide which artifacts to save? More importantly, how do they salvage the collections, their life’s work?

 On Oct. 16 and 17, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History staff attended a three-part Emergency Response and Salvage and Recovery workshop led by Barbara Moore, a senior professional instructor of emergency response for cultural institutions. Moore has been working in museum collection care since 2000 and has worked with dozens of museums before and after disasters to reduce damage. During the two-day workshop, our faculty and staff learned all about risk assessment and methods for stabilizing damaged collections after a disaster. 

Our staff is all ears

The workshop began bright and early Tuesday morning with a discussion for museum volunteers and staff about risk assessment and safety during emergency procedures. Prevention is key when it comes to these kinds of situations, so Moore listed several ways to reduce external and internal risks, such as trimming trees close to the building and never placing artifacts on the floor.

Moore followed up with a more in-depth discussion later that afternoon exclusively for collections and research staff. This phase of the workshop reviewed methods of stabilizing and drying damaged collections, conducting initial damage assessment, and material-specific salvage techniques. For example, paintings are of highest priority after receiving water damage and must be laid flat to dry. Textiles, however, can be frozen to prevent further erosion. 

The second day was spent with the collections and research staff focusing on one of the most difficult aspects of museum recovery, prioritization. Curatorial prioritization takes into account the most used and valuable items, while salvage prioritization considers the most vulnerable items. Both must be considered when ordering salvage efforts. Finally, to review techniques learned in the workshop, the staff was given real-life scenarios and asked to respond using their knowledge on salvage preparation, organization of the salvage operation and salvage practice. 

Moore discusses preventative measures

Of course, all of this is much easier said than done as emergencies can be emotionally taxing. According to Moore, the most common mistake museums make in salvage and recovery is “rushing in too fast without a plan or reason.” That’s why it’s all about preparation. So, how did the Sam Noble Museum measure up? According to Moore, the museum is doing a great job staying diligent and prepared for an emergency situation since her last workshop in 2007. Moore also commended the museums efforts at preventing disasters by reducing risks.

 While we never hope to be in situations like those of the Barnum or Intrepid Museum, both of which were severely damaged by natural disasters, the threat is ever-present. However, Moore provided the museum staff with more than just a plan; she left behind peace of mind.