This permanent exhibition about the history—and the future—of citizen science is housed in the Eleanor and Jerome Navarra Special Collections Gallery, which was opened to the public in summer 2016 after the Museum transformed a space that was once back-of-house into an exhibition space open to all. To protect the integrity of the featured objects, the pages of the rare books are turned and artworks are rotated periodically, making it a new experience each time visitors come to enjoy the space.
Extraordinary Ideas from Ordinary People: A History of Citizen Science highlights naturalists—both past and present—and the impact their work and observations has had on science as we know it today. Rare books, art, photographs, and historical documents from our Research Library’s 56,000-volume collection are displayed alongside plant and animal specimens and brought to life through touchable objects and multimedia experiences that allow deeper access to the works on display. The overarching theme of Extraordinary Ideas is a simple one: you do not need to be a scientist to participate in science.
Some of the locally known citizen scientists featured in the exhibition are Laurence Klauber, Joe Sefton, Charles Orcutt, Laurence Huey, and Ethel Bailey Higgins. They dedicated their life’s work to documenting their observations on an array of species in San Diego County. Check out the exhibition highlights to learn more about what you'll see in this beautiful space.
The upper-level mezzanine features two smaller galleries. The A.R. Valentien gallery displays approximately 10 paintings at one time from the 1,094 works the Museum has in its collection. These paintings had been languishing in storage for many years and were conserved and restored with support from Eleanor and Jerome Navarra. The Museum rotates the works on a regular basis, ensuring there's always something new to see.
The second gallery features a children's book nook and a small exhibition that rotates each year. Currently on view: Dragon's Den. Visitors will see images from antiquarian books in our collection, ranging from the 1600s to the 1800s. They display illustrations of fantastic beasts such as dragons, sea serpents, griffins, and more, depicting bizarre anatomy of multiple heads or stitched-together animal parts. Why did natural history books feature mythical creatures alongside engravings of common animals like horses, dogs, cows, and mice? One possible explanation: Where fossils were naturally intermingled, such as tar pits, people may have reconstructed one imaginary animal from several sources. Also, early European explorers who documented the natural world often returned from expeditions with tales of beasts like nothing they had ever seen. It's quite possible the stories of these foreign creatures took on a life of their own through story-telling and documentation.