View of the cougar (Puma concolor cougar) diorama.

Mammal Gallery

Canada's wilderness: dioramas of real places with mounted mammal specimens (grizzly bears, bison, cougars, more). Children can play with puzzles, costumes, puppets and books.

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Canadian Museum of Nature Remembers a Master Diorama Artist

Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature

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Clarence Tillenius in front of his thinhorn sheep diorama (Dall's sheep; Ovis dalli) during a visit in 2004.

Martin Lipman © Canadian Museum of Nature

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The grizzly (Ursus arctos) diorama in our Mammal Gallery.

Ottawa, January 25, 2012—The Canadian Museum of Nature notes with sadness the recent passing of esteemed Canadian wildlife artist Clarence Tillenius at the age of 98 (1913–2012).

Eight of his treasured dioramas, which date from the 1950s and 1960s, are on display in the museum's Mammal Gallery. Each of these recreated wildlife settings depicts an iconic Canadian mammal in a specific habitat, using a painted backdrop with mounted animal specimens in the foreground. The largest shows a herd of bison fending off a group of aggressive wolves, in a scene from Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories.

All told, about 20 of Tillenius's large-scale dioramas are in museums across Canada and the United States. They include five at the Manitoba Museum, which houses an impressive diorama that depicts a bison hunt.

Tillenius remained active well into his 90s. During the Canadian Museum of Nature's recent renovations, he consulted with staff as his decades-old dioramas were painstakingly preserved, moved and re-created in the new gallery.

"He was very generous with his time and we are grateful that his creations will continue to inspire Canadians as they visit the museum," says Canadian Museum of Nature President and CEO Meg Beckel. "Our staff benefitted greatly from his detailed field notes and the vivid stories he shared about the history and creation of each diorama. He's a link to our past and he will be missed."

Tillenius was a Manitoba native and retained a soft spot for the province. "He was an extraordinary man and an extraordinary artist, and the Manitoba Museum is honoured to have so much of his legacy on display for future generations," says Claudette Leclerc, the museum's CEO. "He was a great man—so easy to talk to, and so accessible. When I last spoke to him, he was still painting every day."

As the victim of a construction accident in 1936 that cost him his right arm, Tillenius once thought he would have to abandon his passion for painting. But a determined nurse convinced him to try drawing with his left hand. His triumph over physical disability and his artistic accomplishments are highlighted in the documentary Tillenius: The Art of Nature, produced by Karvonen Films.

A renowned wildlife artist by the 1950s, Tillenius was commissioned by the Canadian Museum of Nature (then the National Museum of Natural Sciences) to paint dioramas for its public exhibition site. Visits with the diorama artists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, U.S.A., gave him the confidence to undertake the job in Canada.

Tillenius' detailed landscapes are based on real sites in Canada that he trekked to, often spending weeks in the wild. His grizzly diorama, for example, depicts a rocky scene in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta.

He would then re-create these experiences with his large-scale paintings, which formed the backdrop for realistic diorama recreations. Decades later, the museum's dioramas continue to educate thousands of visitors each year about Canada's natural environments, offering many their first up-close glimpse of a bison, moose, caribou, cougar, or grizzly.

For more information about the Canadian Museum of Nature and its dioramas, visit nature.ca.

The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada's national museum of natural history and natural science. It promotes awareness of Canada's natural heritage through signature and travelling exhibitions, public education programmes, ongoing scientific research, a dynamic web site and the maintenance of a 10.5-million-specimen collection.

A founding member of the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada, the museum is working with partners to expand its national service and to develop national programmes about the natural environment.

Information for Media

Dan Smythe
Senior Media Relations Officer
613.566.4781
dsmythe@mus-nature.ca