Humboldt (Virtual) Happy Hour
Discover unexpected connections between art, science, and history and learn why there is a mastodon at the Smithsonian American Art Museum!
On Tuesday, August 18, 2020, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) presented a virtual happy hour with an all-star group of Smithsonian experts. This lively discussion covered the massive mastodon skeleton featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibition “Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture.” SAAM Senior Curator Eleanor Jones Harvey was joined by National Museum of Natural History Research Associate Advait Jukar, who helped install the mastodon skeleton in SAAM’s galleries, Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives Postdoctoral Fellow Diana Marsh, and SAAM Objects Conservator Ariel O'Connor.
The exhibition Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture places American art squarely in the center of a conversation about the lasting influence of the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) with artworks that reveal how the American wilderness became emblematic of the country’s distinctive character. The exhibition includes the original “Peale Mastodon” skeleton, on loan from the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, as well as two paintings by Charles Willson Peale featuring the fossil—"Exhumation of the Mastodon" (1806–08) and "The Artist in His Museum" (1822). Featuring this important fossil, that has been in Europe since 1847, emphasizes how natural history and natural monuments bond Humboldt with the United States. The skeleton, excavated in 1801 in upstate New York, was the most complete to be unearthed at that time. Its discovery became a symbol of civic pride. In 1804, Humboldt was honored with a dinner beneath the mastodon exhibited in the Peale Museum in Philadelphia.