New Gift Supports Animal-Habitat Renovation

$100,000 Speer Foundation Grant Endows Enhancements

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum has just received a second substantial gift from the Roy M. Speer Foundation, a $100,000 grant to continue the extensive restoration, modernization and technological update of its Stoll Wing wild-animal habitats. The gift is a continuation of the foundation’s initial gift of $100,000 in 2012.

Vanderbilt Museum photo Stoll Wing wild-animal habitat
Vanderbilt Museum photo
Vanderbilt Stoll Wing wild-animal habitat

The new phase will include the installation of interactive, educational, touch-screen kiosks with downloadable narration for each of the eight animal dioramas; restoration of the 15 preserved animals; and building safety improvements.

The first restoration phase included installation of a heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system to ensure visitor comfort and preservation of the specimens. An artist and a taxidermist who undertake major projects for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) were hired to create three new background paintings for the dioramas and to restore and preserve 30 mounted animal heads.

The Speer Foundation made the gifts in honor of Charles H. Stoll (1887-1988) of Long Island, a museum trustee and benefactor who was a noted explorer, naturalist and big-game hunter. Stoll created and financed the strikingly detailed animal dioramas that feature wild game he and his wife Merle brought back from around the world between 1922 and 1969.

“Stoll and Vanderbilt were both members of the Explorers Club,” said Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs for the Vanderbilt, “a distinction reserved for the most adventurous among us.” That’s significant, she added, because the only addition to the museum was achieved by someone of Vanderbilt’s caliber.

Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Vanderbilt, said, “The Speer Foundation’s generous ongoing support will enable us to complete this phase of the restoration and the preservation of the specimens. Like Mr. Vanderbilt, Stoll had an educational purpose in mind when he collected animals and brought them home to Long Island. Although it is unclear whether the two men ever met, their interests and expeditions had remarkable parallels. They also shared a love of the natural world and a deep commitment to public education.”

The Stolls collected animals in Africa, Alaska, the American West, the Arctic, British Honduras (now Belize), Canada, India and Nova Scotia. Specimens range from a blue wildebeeste, polar bear, walrus and Cape buffalo, to a kudu, ostrich, jaguar, Bengal tiger and leopard.

Stoll hired Dr. James L. Clark, a renowned taxidermist for the AMNH, to supervise the creation of the Stoll Wing dioramas. Clark chose accomplished taxidermists and background artists from among his colleagues. Opened to the public in 1970, the Stoll Wing complements the natural-history collections, marine museum and Habitat animal dioramas built by William K. Vanderbilt II – all key elements of the museum’s education programs.

Stoll was also a lawyer and Nassau County judge whose boyhood dream, his granddaughter said, was to become an explorer. He realized that dream when he financed and led the famous 1928 Stoll-McCracken Siberian Arctic Expedition, undertaken under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History. Stoll joined the Vanderbilt Museum Board of Trustees in 1967, was elected chairman in 1971, and served until 1975.

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