Eyeballs and Glass, Cleaned and Polished

The burly crew attached special giant suction cups to the moose, beaver and pigeon’s windows into the museum and gingerly did a heave-ho.

“Each glass plate weighs hundreds of pounds and had to be manually lifted out and onto the carpet,” said Jennifer Sontchi, senior director of exhibits and public spaces. “I held my breath the whole time.” 

In late June the exhibits team and their hired hands removed the glass sheets entombing the Academy’s iconic moose diorama, installed in 1939, passenger pigeon, from 1949, and beaver diorama from 1955.

They cleaned and polished the thick glass and spruced up whatever animals, plants and scenery they could reach without stepping into the fragile exposed nature habitats. Eyeballs got the most thorough treatment. 

“While it’s natural for animals to get dirty, it’s not natural to have dusty eyeballs. Their eyes sparkle with life now,” said Sontchi, tossing the cleaning rags to a pile. 

How did they choose which three dioramas to clean the glass of out of more than 30 realistic nature scenes throughout the museum? 

“The staff got to choose their favorites. And the beaver diorama was chosen because kids love it; they recognize the Pennsylvania animals in there,” said Sontchi. 

Removing the glass plate sealing a diorama costs thousands of dollars in labor and time. Staff is already picking their next favorite dioramas to get the treatment, once funds become available. 

The museum features 37 dioramas, most created from the 1930s to the 1950s. A distinctive fusion of art and science, the diorama has provided a window to the wilderness for generations of museum visitors. Despite the advent of television and the Internet, the dioramas still provide an excellent opportunity to experience magnificent animals and recreated natural habitats up close.

To read about our major renovations to the Takin and Gorilla dioramas in 2018, visit the diorama renovation page.

By Carolyn Belardo. Images by John Hutelmyer and Bruce Tepper

Give Now: button

Please consider a donation to support the Academy’s efforts to ensure a healthy, sustainable and equitable planet.


  1. North American Hall is my favorite place at the Academy. There is so much to see in each scene. I am so happy to hear that the moose and beaver have been spruced up. The kids do love these two.
    Where are the carrier pidgeons? I’m embarrassed to confess that I don’t know!

    PS: I hope the desert diorama is next …or maybe the kodiak bears.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *