Peabody Museum

First Renovation In Nearly A Century Underway At Yale Peabody Museum

Measures are being taken to protect fossils and murals during construction

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A huge project is underway at Yale. The Peabody Museum of Natural History is getting a makeover for the first time in nearly a century.

Picture yourself driving past The Peabody and seeing an enormous dinosaur fossil framed in the window. That will be one new highlight thanks to the major renovations.  

“People are going to return to see some old friends, but in a new light,” Mariana DiGiacomo, natural history conservator, said.

Construction is moving full speed ahead.

“It looks very different from what people were used to seeing,” DiGiacomo said. “For example, we had an exhibit on Egypt over there!”

After receiving a $160 million donation, the project broke ground in 2020.

“The Peabody Museum has been sitting on this corner, in New Haven since 1925,” Museum Director David Skelly said. “We're taking the whole building back to the bricks, and then we're adding on 50% more exhibition space.”

Additions will include new exhibits.

“A new gallery on the history of science, we're going to have a Native American Gallery, we’re going to have a gallery on Pacific cultures,” Skelly said.

There will also be brand new educational spaces, where Yale students and kids in grades K through 12 can enter a world of immersive learning.

“We're going to be able to share our collections way more with the community, and that is super exciting,” DiGiacomo said.

While major construction is underway, extra care needs to be taken with all the items in the exhibits.

“We have to be very careful with the millions and millions of objects that were sitting in this building, they all had to get moved out of the way,” Skelly said.

However, it’s a different story when considering colossal dinosaur bones.

“We have three fossil skeletons. One of them is attached to the wall, and the other two are too big to move out,” DiGiacomo said.

Those fossils are being sheltered in place, including the skeleton of an Edmontosaurus and a fossil fish.

Eleven dioramas are also being protected, kept safe with temperature control and filtered air.  

“Right now they no longer have their windows in place, so we can pop these up and take a look inside,” DiGiacomo said.

Two murals painted by Rudolph Salinger are major attractions at The Peabody, and also cannot be moved. One is titled “The Age Of Mammals, and the other “The Age of Reptiles.

“We are standing right next to the T-Rex that is painted on this amazing mural,” DiGiacomo said. “We are doing everything in our power and even beyond to keep it in good shape during construction.”

Preserving a piece of art that was finished back in 1947 requires daily walk-throughs.

“We are looking at all of the images in this mural and making sure that everything is where it's supposed to be,” DiGiacomo said. “Some things are harder than others. For example, when there is any demolition happening, there's vibration. And so we come up here, and we're constantly monitoring those vibrations to make sure that we're keeping it in place.”

The project has revealed some pleasant surprises. Museum staff found a forgotten mural, painted in 1994, but hidden for years behind a wall.

“This was one of those funny things that we discovered, and we're kind of amazed by it,” Tim White, director of collections and research, said. “It kind of brought back a lot of excitement.”

They are also re-discovering iconic original architecture.  

“It’s things like the double arches. That is a signature part of The Peabody lobby,” White said. “We started to uncover these arches that had been covered up for the last 50 or 60 years.”

It is a transformation in the making.

When the museum reopens in 2024, visitors will also enjoy a pleasant surprise.

“One of the things that we’re really excited about is the free admission,” DiGiacomo said.

Admission will be free going forward. The museum, a beacon, inviting anyone to wander in and marvel in its halls.

“We hope that what we offer is going to be a fantastic experience,” Skelly said. “So people can better understand the world around them.”

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