200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 181: “Under the Sun ”

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box containing a jumble of bones from and Inuit sled dog
Skull and bones of an Inuit dog brought back from Greenland by the Academy’s Peary Relief Expedition in 1892. Mammalogy Collection ANSP 78046. © Rosamond Purcell.

Under the Sun

Normally, the gaping skulls, jarred rats, flightless birds, and delicate insects repose in climate-controlled cabinets high above Logan Square where they are available to researchers and protected from the damaging effects of sunlight. Rosamond Purcell had other ideas.

The Boston photographer envisioned the world-renowned research specimens at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University bathed in natural light, their oddities, beauty and secrets revealed—literally warts and all. An exhibit of Purcell’s stunning color photographs called Everything Under the Sun: New Photographs of Academy Specimens by Rosamond Purcell opens Saturday, March 3, in the Academy’s Art of Science Gallery (free with museum admission).

Setting up the shots last year was a feat in itself. Once Purcell selected the animals, fossils, plants, and artifacts that inspired her from a pool of 18 million candidates, Academy curators and collection managers hauled them up to the roof of the six-story museum. But only on those days when the light was just right and it wasn’t raining. It took three week-long visits to capture what she wanted, and the results are worth it.

On view March 3 through May 20, the exhibit consists of about 20 photographs that have never been put on display before. Some will appear in the newly published first complete history of the Academy called A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science, by Academy Senior Fellow Robert Peck and historian Patricia Tyson Stroud. Purcell was the official photographer for the book, published on the occasion of the Academy’s Bicentennial this year.

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