Posted by: janamatusz | November 4, 2019

Second of Three Posts! Painting the Harvard “Hommages”

In July, August and September 2019, I had a special opportunity to paint in the galleries at the Harvard Natural History Museum.


Some background:

The Harvard Museum of Natural History is an AMAZING PLACE. If you have a chance, go see it for yourself! All the collections and exhibits there are incredible, but the taxidermy specimens are what I love the most.


The animals and birds are so beautiful. As I tell the Saturday visitors, they also hold still very nicely. (Sorry! But they are dead.) The animals and birds really speak to me, and I feel a real connection to them. Each animal, each bird, is a miracle, a being, a product of millions of years of evolution.

I’ve been drawing in the galleries for years, dating back to my undergraduate days (an eternity ago), and more recently I have been enthusiastically drawing and volunteering in the Museum, mostly on Saturdays.


Click here to see more drawings from the Museum.

Quite a few years ago, I became the Museum’s original “Sketching Facilitator,” a volunteer who provides drawing materials for visitors young and old. Mostly I use the Tom-Sawyer-fence-painting approach, which works great with the young visitors. They want to draw too!

I started painting “sainted” animals and birds in 2014, (which you may remember from previous blog posts: Click here to see that blog entry with the first sainted animals.) Then I was working with specimens from the Acadia National Park Archives. I continued with paintings at the Dorr Natural History Museum at the College of the Atlantic, the L.C. Bates Museum in Hinckley, Maine and the Rhode Island Natural History Museum at Roger Williams Park.

Now it was time to honor my good buddies from the Harvard Museum. I envisioned an exhibition of portraits, each one an “Hommage” paying tribute to and showing reverence and thanks for these special creatures.

So I was extremely happy to get permission to paint in the Museum. (I don’t think they’ve ever let anyone do this before.) I didn’t mind that it could only be during early morning hours before the Museum opened to the public, and only for a limited time.

I added some tarps, lighting, and mirrors to my usual plein air painting kit. Often the best view was from a low angle, so, rather than paint with my chin on the floor, I positioned a mirror in just the right spot.


Years of portraits, plein air work, and animal drawings prepared me to make the most of this opportunity. I loved painting, not just drawing, my friends at the Museum. I was very careful to protect the area where I worked, and I tried not to inconvenience the kind, hard-working early morning cleaning crew (who do a wonderful job). It was important for me to work from “life” rather than from photographs, but I confess I had to use more than one session for quite a number of the paintings, and some of the backgrounds got a touch-up at home.


Of the more than 20 paintings I consider keepers, it’s hard to decide which of the paintings are my favorites, which of my buddies I will exhibit, and which ones I will use for publicity. I hope there will be many opportunities to share and exhibit them.

Except for that amazing coelacanth, shown above, whose portrait is 16×20″, all the Hommages are 12×12″. Here are a few that I’m most happy with (and when they’re framed in an appropriately ornate hommage-y frame, I think they’ll look real fine!)


So save the date!

“Hommages” will be on exhibition at the Providence Art Club from
March 29 to April 17, 2020.
The opening reception is scheduled for
Sunday, March 29 from 2:00 to 4:00 pm.
I hope you can come!

I’m sure I’ll write more about the Hommages in months to come.

And stay tuned. An exciting third blog entry is coming soon…


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