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New York Zoological Society. Department of Tropical Research expedition illustrations and related visual materials

Identifier: 1039

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of visual materials created between 1916 and 1964 including specimen illustrations created by Department of Tropical Research field artists during DTR expeditions as well as other visual DTR-related materials used in publications and exhibitions. See the Scope and Contents notes under each series and subseries for further information.


  • circa 1916-1964
  • Majority of material found within 1916 - 1964


Access Restrictions

Please consult the WCS Archives regarding possible access restrictions.

Usage Restrictions

Please contact the WCS Archives regarding possible usage restrictions.

Historical Note

Between 1916 and 1964, the New York Zoological Society’s Department of Tropical Research (DTR), led by William Beebe (1877-1962), conducted dozens of pioneering ecological expeditions across tropical terrestrial and marine locales. For general information on the DTR’s history, see the Historical Note for WCS Archives Collection 1005A.

Central to its profound influence with both popular and technical audiences was the DTR’s use of art as a tool for exploring and documenting ecology. Within the DTR, artists were not simply decorators of the scientists’ writings; instead, they were essential communicators of information about ecological relationships. DTR staff artists produced over 3,300 illustrations—nearly 2,000 of which are present in this collection—ranging from depictions of single specimens to complex narrative images that show where and how animals lived. At a time when photography could not adequately capture movement and morphological details, DTR artists constructed visualizations of natural environments that had been difficult or impossible to access, let alone record.

DTR artists often worked from collected specimens, painstakingly illustrating the minutiae of shape, color, and patterning. They also worked out in the field, perching among tropical forests with their drawing paper in their laps or donning diving helmets and strapping zinc tablets to their swimsuits in order to draw underwater. In some cases, DTR artists had to rely on Beebe’s verbal descriptions and notes to visually reconstruct environments and animals. During the Bathysphere descents in the 1930s, for instance, Beebe spent his time in the sphere describing as much as he could into the telephone transmitter that ran to the ship above him, where DTR researcher Gloria Hollister transcribed Beebe’s dictation; in turn, DTR artist Else Bostelmann relied on these notes as well as additional description from Beebe to create illustrations of deep-sea creatures she had not observed herself.

During its nearly fifty-year existence, the DTR employed over a dozen artists. They include Toshio Asaeda, Harriet Bennett, Else Bostelmann, Douglas Boyden, Gilbert Broking, John Cody, Isabel Cooper, Donald Dickerman, Julie C. Emsley, Dwight Franklin, Frances Waite Gibson, E. J. Geske, Ken Gosner, Rachel Hartley, Llewellyn Miller, Laura Schlageter, George Swanson, Anna Taylor, and Helen Damrosch Tee-Van. (The majority of these artists are represented in this collection; see the Series 1 Scope and Content notes for more on this.)

Dozens of the illustrations were used in technical publications, but they reached a wider audience through their inclusion in popular publications, including articles in National Geographic, the Bulletin of the New York Zoological Society (and its successor, Animal Kingdom), and the New York Times, as well as many of Beebe’s bestselling books. In fact, Beebe and the DTR made extraordinary efforts to reach audiences beyond the scientific academy. In addition to publishing popular articles and books, they wowed audiences across the country with depictions of their jungle research and marine encounters in live lectures and exhibitions at such venues as the Bronx Zoo and the American Museum of Natural History. In these popular forms, from articles to exhibitions, the illustrations were central to shaping viewers' understandings of tropical regions and the wildlife that inhabit them.


21.9 Cubic Feet (45 flat boxes )

1 Linear Feet (2 Hollinger boxes, 1 half-Hollinger box)

7 Items (Oversize items in map case drawers)

Language of Materials



Throughout its history, the New York Zoological Society’s Department of Tropical Research employed artists to illustrate the specimens they observed and collected during their expeditions. Artists participated in the expeditions and collaborated closely with DTR scientists to create their illustrations. This collection includes around 2,000 color and black-and-white illustrations of living and non-living specimens created by these field artists between 1916 and 1953. Among the artists are Toshio Asaeda, Else Bostelmann, Douglas Boyden, Isabel Cooper, Donald Dickerman, Dwight Franklin, E. J. Geske, Ken Gosner, Llewellyn Miller, Laura Schlageter, George Swanson, and Helen Damrosch Tee-Van. Also present are approximately 500 illustrations created by various unidentified artists between 1919 and 1946 of bird syrinxes. Additionally, this collection includes other visual materials that were likely created for publications or exhibitions by or about the DTR between the 1920s and 1964.


The collection is arranged in three series. The first has nine subseries, and the second has none, and the third has five. The subseries of Series 1 and 3 are arranged chronologically. The expedition illustrations within the Series 1 subseries are arranged numerically by numbers assigned by the Department of Tropical Research, with unnumbered illustrations placed at the beginning of each subseries. Unnumbered illustrations have been placed within subseries based on a variety of factors, including artist, date, style, or adjacency in original location to several other illustrations from the same expedition. Series 2 is also arranged chronologically; within the illustrations created in British Guiana between 1919 and 1922, the arrangement is by species according to Bradbourne and Chubb’s checklist of the birds of South America.

Series 1
Expedition illustrations, circa 1916-1953
Subseries 1A
British Guiana expedition illustrations, 1916-1922, 1924 [bulk 1920-1924]
Subseries 1B
Noma Expedition illustrations, 1923
Subseries 1C
Arcturus Expedition illustrations, 1925
Subseries 1D
Haiti Expedition illustrations, 1927
Subseries 1E
Bermuda expeditions illustrations, 1929-1937
Subseries 1F
Zaca expeditions illustrations, 1936-1938
Subseries 1G
Caripito Expedition illustrations, 1942
Subseries 1H
Rancho Grande expeditions illustrations, 1945-1949
Subseries 1I
Simla expeditions illustrations, 1950-1953
Series 2
Bird syrinx illustrations, 1919-1946 [bulk 1919-1922]
Series 3
Other Department of Tropical Research-related visual materials, 1920s-1964
Subseries 3A
British Guiana expeditions related visual materials, 1920s
Subseries 3B
Bermuda expeditions related visual materials, 1930s
Subseries 3C
Caripito Expedition related visual materials, 1940s
Subseries 3D
Rancho Grande and Simla expeditions related visual materials, 1940s-1964
Subseries 3E
Visual materials related to various or unidentified expeditions, 1910s-1950s

Other Finding Aids

The Wildlife Conservation Society Archives holds additional descriptive information pertaining to this collection; please contact the archivist for more detail.

Accession Information

Internal transfer (Acc. 1979.062, 1979.069, 1979.078, 1980.126, 1998.010, 2014.057, 2014.136, 2016.182)

Digital Copies

The illustrations in Series 1 of this collection have been digitized and can be accessed at

Related Materials

Collections 1005A-J, WCS Archives. Department of Tropical Research records, circa 1900-1971.

Collection 1008, WCS Archives. William Beebe records, circa 1894-1932.

Collection 1016, WCS Archives. Department of Tropical Research additional records, circa 1878-1961.

Collection C0661, Princeton Library. William Beebe papers, 1830-1961.

Separated Materials


Processing and Finding Aid By

Madeleine Thompson, WCS Archives, May 2017

Guide to the New York Zoological Society Department of Tropical Research Expedition Illustrations and Related Visual Materials, circa 1916-1964
Madeleine Thompson
June 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Collection processing and finding aid creation for this collection was made possible through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission Access to Historical Records grant program.

Repository Details

Part of the Wildlife Conservation Society Archives Repository

WCS Library/Archives
2300 Southern Blvd
Bronx New York 10460 United States