New York Zoological Society. Department of Tropical Research expedition illustrations and related visual materials
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
- Asaeda, Toshio, 1893-1968 (Person)
Please consult the WCS Archives regarding possible access restrictions.
Please contact the WCS Archives regarding possible usage restrictions.
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.
Internal transfer (Acc. 1979.062, 1979.069, 1979.078, 1980.126, 1998.010, 2014.057, 2014.136, 2016.182)
The illustrations in Series 1 of this collection have been digitized and can be accessed at https://library.wcs.org/Archives/DigitalCollections.aspx
Processing and Finding Aid By
Madeleine Thompson, WCS Archives, May 2017
- Asaeda, Toshio, 1893-1968 (Person)
- Beebe, William, 1877-1962 (Person)
- Bostelmann, Else (Else Winkler von Röder), 1882-1961 (Person)
- Boyden, Douglas (Person)
- Cooper, Isabel, 1892-1984 (Person)
- Dickerman, Donald Horace, 1893- (Person)
- Franklin, Dwight (Person)
- Geske, E. J. (Erich John), 1873-1934 (Person)
- Gosner, Kenneth L., 1925- (Person)
- Hartley, Rachel M. (Person)
- Miller, Llewellyn (Person)
- Schlageter, Laura, 1922-2000 (Person)
- Swanson, George Alan, 1908-1968 (Person)
- Taylor, Anna Heyward, 1879-1956 (Person)
- Tee-Van, Helen Damrosch, 1893-1976 (Person)
- New York Zoological Society. Department of Tropical Research (Organization)
- Howes, Paul Griswold, 1892-1983 (Person)
- 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.
Part of the Wildlife Conservation Society Archives Repository
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