Empty Skies: Behind-the-Scenes - Recreating Passenger Pigeon Habitat

Posted: September 5, 2014 - 00:08 , by ROM
ROM Artist Georgia Guenther gives a passenger pigeon mount a final check before installing it into the exhibit

Guest blog post by environmental visual communication student Justine DiCesare, with photos by Vincent Luk


During my summer placement as an environmental visual communication student with ROM Biodiversity, I had the opportunity to meet with the talented ROM technician Georgia Guenther. Georgia is the museum's Exhibit Artist, and her latest project was to recreate a scene from the historical natural habitat of the passenger pigeon in Southern Ontario for the Empty Skies: The Passenger Pigeon Legacy exhibit. 


a closeup of an artifical wildflower being trimmed by a ROM artist


The three flowers that Georgia created by hand are species that were displayed in the original Passenger Pigeon diorama at the ROM between 1935 and 1980. The three species are the trout lily, hepatica (liverwort), and bloodroot, all of which are typical wildflowers found in the spring throughout Southern Ontario. 

ROM Exhibit Artist Georgia Guenther shows some trout lily model wildflowers that still need leaves added to their stems


A lot of research, skill, and precision are involved in creating all the delicate components of these flower models, while also making sure they are accurate representations of the real species we can see in the forests and woods around us every spring. Each flower part gets the same level of detailed attention.

For example, to create the leaves, Georgia must:

1. Collect, measure, and photograph living specimens in the field
2. Take the collected leaves and place them on a tray of wet sand. She then pours plaster over the leaf to capture its shape and contours as an impression cast.
3. When the plaster is hardened, pour hot plastic sheeting around the plaster cast and cut the final leaf shape out of the plastic.

ROM Exhibit Artist Georgia Guenther holds up a mold for a bloodroot wildflower leaf in front of a collection of finished model flowers

These beautiful detailed model wildflowers are made from a variety of material:

  1. Flocking: polyester dust in different colours used for pollen
  2. Wax: used to create the structure of the flower model
  3. Plastic Monofilament: used to make the stamens
  4. Paper: white paper is colours to create flower petals

The extinct Passenger Pigeon taxidermy specimen sits behind Trout Lily flowers made by ROM Exhibit Artist Georgia Guenther


a model trout lily is inserted into the Empty Skies Passenger Pigeon Exhibit


Want to see a bit more of Georgia's workshop? Take a peek inside her world in the following video: