The sun was setting behind Centennial Library as local artists slowly meandered into The University of New Mexico’s Natural History Science Center recently for a truly unique event hosted by The Museum of Southwestern Biology (MSB).

An American Badger was one of many specimens available for artists to sketch as part of the Museum of Southwestern Biology's Studio Night.

As an internationally recognized museum, the MSB houses millions of plant and animal specimens. While the external public is generally invited to the MSB on a scheduled basis, the inaugural Studio Night provided attendees with an inside look at the research space. On Studio Night, attendees were invited to draw some of these specimens which ranged from plants, to carefully pinned bugs, to a taxidermized badger, to a preserved monitor lizard’s head.

Artists came with notebooks and drawing tablets and were tasked with a special project by the MSB’s Museum Program Assistant, Bre Kappel, to make a new drawing for the next event’s poster. This poster will be used for future marketing efforts of the museum’s studio nights.

Kappel, who is also an undergraduate student studying science communication and museum studies, created the event to serve as a resource for local artists. What she didn’t expect was the launch of the event to attract so many participants. Interest in the museum’s studio night resulted in an astonishing 80-person waitlist just days before the event.

The MSB is connected to the Fine Arts building by a walkway which inspired Kappel to take advantage of the shared space. Even though the event’s registration filled quickly, Kappel did her best to ensure that a chunk of the waiting list did not miss out. In cooperation with Assistant Professor of Art Raychael Stine, she has also helped set up a separate event for UNM’s Drawing I class so that students can get dedicated time with the specimens.

During the event, Kappel helped the artists by moving specimens and talking them through the labels. While soft tones were used to allow for concentration during the evening’s festivities, there was not a shortage of comradery.

“I think all the specimens have their own personalities. It’s a really cool event and I can’t wait for the next one,” said Danielle Genero, a local artist and UNM student.

“My…opinion is that museums should be an educational resource as their main goal. MSB does incredible research and it’s important to get people excited about what we are doing here,” Kappel said.

Sketch Pad
A student shows off a sketch pad based off specimens in the Museum of Southwestern Biology.

This event was intended to promote the museum’s collections which ranks among the three largest collections of mammals in the world. The MSB hosts over 500,000 frozen tissue samples used for genetic research. All of these resources are available online, searchable by scientific researchers and artists alike, through the MSB’s online database.

The Museum of Southwestern Biology was started in 1928 by Edward F. Castetter. It is home to eight divisions and one special program to serve the national and international scientific community. The collection serves as an incredible resource for researchers who are focused on a wide range of impacts on our Earth and its inhabitants, including climate change and evolution.

“You have two different scopes and it's great when you combine them,” said Ezra Duree, a local artist and Environmental Science major. “We live in a digital age now. It’s important to know what's going on and to bring more people into the great scientific community.”

The next Studio Night is scheduled for Friday, March 24 from 6-9 p.m. To be informed when sign-ups open later this month, add your info to the Studio Night list here.