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Special Exhibits


“X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out” features the X-ray images Smithsonian scientists use to better understand Earth’s underwater ecosystems. Visitors will be able to share in the beauty, biology and diversity of breathtaking images. Specimens include such marvels as the winghead shark, a pancake batfish, a bulbous deep sea angler and an ox-eyed oreo as well as the mysterious coelacanth, a prehistoric fish thought to have gone extinct alongside the dinosaurs until it was rediscovered in 1938. This exhbiti is part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.x-ray fish

A year after the first X-ray machine was invented in 1895, the new technology was already being used in the medical field. This tool is imperative to the medical profession and archaeology, as well as many other research fields, because it helps scientists gather important information about the internal biology of the specimens they study. For example, an X-ray of a fish can illuminate essential aspects of their lives such as food preferences, growth patterns and evolutionary variations among species. Differences in habitat, size and adaptations can be observed through the skeleton, helping scientists determine how species survive in different environmental circumstances. These features are crucial in a world with increasing environmental changes. Before the discovery of the X-ray, scientists could only obtain these insights through dissection, which took time, energy and was ultimately destructive to the specimen. X-rays give fish experts, also known as ichthyologists, a fast, easy and nondestructive way to enhance their research. All X-rays and fish photographs were taken by Sandra Raredon, museum specialist in the Division of Fishes at the National Museum of Natural History.

"The comparative study of fish skeletons tells the story of fish evolution and diversity," said Lynne Parenti, curator of fishes and research scientist at the museum. “Sandra Raredon and I did this exhibition in part so that others could experience some of the beautiful and biologically complex images that Smithsonian ichthyologists and their colleagues worldwide are privileged to work with every day.”

Inside Out: Hidden Art in Natural History Collections

Inside Out: HIdden Art in Natural History CollectionsThis original exhibit was designed and created for the Fairbanks Museum and is now installed in one of the balcony alcoves.

Inside Out: Hidden Art in Natural History Collections lets you see beyond the surface of our taxidermy collections. This intriguing exhibit is a collaboration between the Fairbanks Museum and Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital (NVRH) that peels away our surface understanding of objects to reveal what's inside. This unusual concept combines radiographs of some of our oldest and most mysterious taxidermy with contemporary portraits of the same mount. What’s revealed are the bones, wires, pins, and human touch in mounts created by different taxidermists using different equipment to achieve life-like representations.

“We were also curious about what’s inside shells, ‘wet’ specimens preserved in formaldehyde, and some dried seahorses – what lies beneath these opaque surfaces?” says Harris. To solve the mysteries these collections hold, the Fairbanks Museum worked with the digital radiography team at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital.

“It’s really important for us to support and collaborate with community institutions such as the Fairbanks Museum,” NVRH Director of Diagnostic Imaging Jackie Zaun said. “These kinds of community partnerships are what make the Northeast Kingdom, and St. Johnsbury in particular, so unique. Plus, it was just really fun to see what was inside of a platypus from 1890!”

These x-rays show hidden patterns and designs. “The opportunity to peel away the surface gave us more than we expected,” says Anna Rubin, director of external relations. “These images would have been impossible during the Victorian era when many of the pieces were collected, and they reveal the same wonder at nature’s beauty that Franklin Fairbanks talked about when he first opened the Fairbanks Museum.”

The museum’s exhibit team worked with photographer and graphic designer Craig Harrison to create lenticular prints that allow you to see both inside and out at the same time! This exhibit is part of a statewide collaboration among 36 museums and galleries on the theme 2020 Vision: Seeing the World Through Technology, a statewide initiative of the Vermont Curators Group.

The Vermont Curators Group is a network of museums, galleries, and cultural centers specializing in fine art, history, science, and craft. 2020 Vision will push the boundaries of what it means to have conversations about technology, innovation, and culture in Vermont. This timely theme juxtaposes ideas of traditional Yankee ingenuity with investigations of visibility and expression that are relevant to our present day. Gillian Sewake of the Vermont Curators Group comments the Inside Out exhibit is “an absolutely spot-on interpretation of ‘seeing the world through technology’ theme.”

This echidna was one of the early mammal mounts created by William Balch for Franklin Fairbanks. Balch was a talented photographer and naturalist who created many of the Museum's core displays, including the full-habitat dioramas. He also brought the enormous moose from Nova Scotia to be put on display in St. Johnsbury! His careful mounts mimic life-like poses that continue to charm guests.