Author: Kara McVey
Museums as we know them today may be a fairly modern invention, but they are rooted in antiquity. From the ancient Library at Alexandria to the private collections of Royals, museums have developed over the millennia into more than opulent displays of grandeur and nobility.
Naturalist Charles Peale re-imagined the concept of the museum in the 18th century, creating what is now the Municpal Museum of Baltimore, focused on the idea of sparking the public’s curiosity and broadening the peoples’ knowledge base. He collected fossils, botanical specimens, artwork, an extensive collection of avian skeletons and more, and ground-breakingly opened this extraordinary collection to the public.
Since his time, museums around the world have gathered and displayed some of the history’s most extraordinary works. Taking inspiration from Peale’s museum, Culver City’s Museum of Jurassic Technology seeks to educate visitors by slowly leading them from the familiar into the unknown, and forcing them to explore strange forgotten areas of human history.
In 1988, David Wilson founded the museum, known commonly as MJT, with the hope that his institution would broaden the minds of patrons and encourage people to learn about and recognize the technological advances of the pre-modern era. The goal seems simple enough, but the museum houses curios far beyond the realm of this original objective. Exhibits range from commonplace to bizarre, often with seemingly little connection to one another.
The museum’s founder hoped that the museum’s eccentric and sometimes humorous collections would attract visitors looking for an unusual experience, as well as those who wished to learn about bygone cultures. The first of the museum’s many eccentricities is in the contradiction of its name. The Jurassic Era occurred hundreds of millions of years ago, and therefore possessed neither human life nor “technology.” The museum’s name, however, is only the start of the its oddity.
Among MJT’s exhibits you’ll find: a room of letters to the Mt. Wilson Observatory, holographic dioramas illustrating the writings of Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher, working miniatures of Baroque moving stage scenery, a collection of decaying dice from magician Ricky Jay, a display of objects found in various Los Angeles mobile homes and a large exhibit of superstitions illustrated with pictures, diagrams and taxidermy.
All this and more is arrayed in seemingly unconnected halls which are decorated in a style reminiscent of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. One of the museum’s defining characteristics is its enigmatic presence, which is surrounded by a protective shield of eeriness. The unsettling feeling the museum produces is magnified by its treatment of natural history. Just outside the museum shop entrance, an array of mounted antlers greets visitors and close by, dozens of monarchs stretch their fluttery wings within the confines of a glass viewing case.
One of the museum’s most popular exhibits is the simultaneously beautiful and vaguely discomfiting work of Henry “Harold” Dalton. The exhibit features a long line of microscopes displaying “micromosaics”- ornately detailed pictures which Dalton created by arranging individual scales plucked from butterfly wings into patterns.
However one views its use of animal products, it is apparent that the museum curators retain a deep interest in the natural world – illustrated the best, perhaps, by the collection of Albert Richard’s floral radiography. In these exquisite three-dimensional X-rays, various common species of flowers are examined, further highlighting MJT’s fascination with nature.
Upstairs, the museum reveals another oddity: Soviet Russia. The Tula Tea Room and Borzoi Kabinet Theater, as well as the adjacent gallery of photographs from the Soviet Space program, are all dedicated to representing various pieces of the culture of the U.S.S.R. The museum’s fascination with the Soviet Union may seem unexpected, but the museum’s idiosyncratic interests are what makes it so distinctive.
It may be that the museum is less concerned with the developments of the prehistoric era than with the recognition and preservation of under-recognized developments, be they forgotten superstitions, ancient religious texts or the technological accomplishments of the now vilified communist Russia.
Ultimately, though the Museum of Jurassic Technology may at times be inconsistent, ambiguous and downright uncanny, it is certainly well-deserving of a visit. It may not be the best place to learn about the Jurassic period, but it is a place that will expand your understanding of times past and fuel your curiosity.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology is located at 9341 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, CA. Admission is free with donation.
This article has been archived, for more requests please contact us via the support system.