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Increasing Public Exposure to RTPI’s Unique Archives

Posted on Jun 28, 2016

Throughout his remarkable career, Roger Tory Peterson educated and excited millions of people about the natural world through his art and writing, while his research into the associations between anthropogenic activities and the demise of nature was at the foundation of the modern conservation movement. As the official institutional steward of his legacy, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History (RTPI) continues Peterson’s important life work by providing a powerful synergy of art, education and conservation that is positively focused on natural history and the environment.
RTPI is the only official institutional steward of the life works of Dr. Peterson, and our archives include highlights such as:

• 1,200 original paintings from Peterson’s field guides and books.
• Personal papers, including correspondence and manuscripts spanning more than 70 years of Dr. Peterson’s career.
• More than 200,000 slides and 600 reels of documentary film, documenting almost half a century of Dr. Peterson’s worldwide travels. Each representing a unique biological record of places and species, in some cases documenting situations that no longer exist.
• More than 1,700 bird study skins representing almost every birds species found in the continental U.S.A and which formed an important resource for Dr. Peterson’s field guide art. This collection dates back to the late 1800s and all specimens are accompanied by collection data. The bird skin collection includes examples of various extinct species, such as Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Bachman’s Warbler, etc.
• Over 250 pieces of photographic and other equipment used by Roger Tory Peterson throughout his long career documenting the natural world.
• A significant portion of the personal library of Roger Tory Peterson, as well as an extensive library of contemporary natural history-focused books that includes several thousand volumes.

The RTPI archives serve as a tangible reminder of Roger Tory Petersons life work and contain the largest collection of his original art in the world—iconic images that continue to inspire awareness of and appreciation for nature in millions of people. These items not only represent a historic marker of nature as it once was, but also serve as a catalyst for future action and engagement.

passenger pigeons

Passenger Pigeon (now extinct) skins from the RTPI archives.

Natural history collections are priceless legacies that are held in trust for the use of current and future generations. Much of what we know about the world around us and how it has changed over time is based on these types of collections. The RTPI archives are no different. As attention to natural history decreases, it is even more important to ensure and expand access to these collections.

We endeavor to make widely available the unique materials present in RTPI’s special collections, share their historic, contemporary and future relevance and improve access to these collections for research and educational purposes. To do this, we resolve to develop innovative and engaging programs which will include both on site and travelling exhibits and state- of-the-art virtual expositions to showcase RTP’s lifetime achievements and emphasize their importance in today’s society.

Thanks to a recent grant from the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, based in San Francisco, RTPI is now starting the process of digitizing sections of its special collections with the intent to make its unique holdings more accessible to the public. In addition, a Community Service Grant from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation towards the purchase of industry standard museum collection and asset management software will streamline this process. The entire accessioning and digitization process will likely take upwards of two years, but will eventually allow RTPI to put traveling exhibit of original Peterson works on the road, and provide people all over the world with glimpses of the iconic art that is in the Institute’s collections, as well as raise broad environmental awareness and improve appreciation and visibility for RTPI and for Jamestown, the city where Roger Tory Peterson was born, raised and inspired.

~Melanie Smith – Communications Coordinator