The most common question state historian Bill Convery hears about the new History Colorado Center is, "Where is the Denver diorama going to be?" That huge diorama depicts the Mile High City in 1860, complete with the old Rocky Mountain News building, an Arapaho Indian camp and, Convery says, "fantastic tiny little cats on fences." But like the seventeen other dioramas on display at the old museum, it needs some TLC.
"We had a lot of those dioramas pretty much on perpetual exhibit since the '30s and '40s," Convery explains. They were made by artists employed by three different federal relief agencies, including the Works Progress Administration. Many of them include natural materials, such as cloth and even mouse hides, which were used as tiny stand-ins for buffalo hides. The materials have disintegrated over time, Convery says, and "to restore them is going to take some serious funding." However, he adds, "We certainly love them and are looking for opportunities to get them back in."
Our favorite diorama is officially called "Arapaho Indians Preparing Buffalo Meat." But we lovingly refer to it as the bloody eyeball diorama for its depiction of two children playing catch with what appears to be a wayward eyeball. And that's only one reason this diorama is so incredible. Others include: spilled entrails, dogs guarding picked-over bones, and men dangling raw flesh above their mouths like bunches of grapes.
Sadly, Convery says there are no immediate plans to restore that gruesome diorama. (A sign displayed beneath each diorama at the old museum read, "The scenes depicted in these dioramas are accurate in detail, but the artists chose their subject matter primarily for dramatic effect rather than as a systematic representation of tribal or frontier life.")
But there are long-term plans. Convery says the museum hopes to create a space in the lobby to display a rotating sample of its more than fifty dioramas, starting with the Denver diorama, which was the first one built for the museum during the Great Depression. Convery says the museum hopes to set it up this fall under special protective glass so that museum-goers and curious onlookers alike can marvel at those fantastic tiny cats.
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From our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Colorful Colorado sign lives on at History Colorado."