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(right) Von Fuehrer paints the diorama for an exhibit of Stone's sheep in the Hall of North American Wildlife.










The artist's charcoal sketch of Jill Allerton, age ten, 1962





















A Museum Artist Remembered

Recently, CARNEGIE magazine received a letter from a woman named Jill Allerton, requesting information about an artist who once, unexpectedly, sketched her portrait when she was just a girl visiting the Museum of Natural History with her family. “Many years ago when I was a girl of 10, my parents took my brother and me for our first visit to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Though 1962 seems like a long time ago, my memory of that day has not diminished (much),” states Allerton in her letter.

“While having lunch in the cafeteria a man who had been staring at our table for a bit came over, introduced himself, and asked if he might make a sketch of me. Needless to say we were caught a little off-guard but decided that it would be a unique experience. My mother stayed with me while I sat very still as Mr. von Feuhrer rendered my likeness in charcoal,” Allerton continues.

In 1962, when von Fuehrer (1896-1965) sketched Allerton, he was the chief artist of Carnegie Museum of Natural History and one of the best painters of museum dioramas in the country. He lectured on the subject in the United States and abroad, usually with photographs and films that he himself had taken at the sites he had visited before making museum murals.

Born in Sarajevo, Austria, the son of a museum curator, von Fuehrer immigrated to the United States in 1922, and enrolled at Carnegie Tech, where his interest in art was developed. When he joined the museum in 1926 he had just married, and his wife Hanne became his partner in making the foreground displays that blended so well with the background murals that he painted for the museum’s displays.

Von Fuehrer worked in many ways not only as a painter but also as a sculptor, photographer, writer, inventor, lecturer, and teacher. In 1944 the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh featured his work and exhibited his portraits and paintings beyond what he produced for the museum. In fact, his “Pittsburgh Series” of paintings were turned into popular colored postcards.

A Lasting Impression
For years, Allerton has cherished the charcoal portrait von Fuerher gave her, and, during a recent visit to the Museum of Natural History—once again with her brother—Allerton was motivated to learn more about the artist who impressed her with his rich, detailed scenes and inspired her love of charcoal drawings.
“In our trek around the museum my brother and I were in constant amazement of the artistic talent behind the scenes. Such great care had been given to detail not only in the background paintings but also in the mannequins and other sculptures recreating the feel of that particular moment in time,” writes Allerton.

Today, many of Von Fuehrer’s dioramas can still be enjoyed. One of his most impressive works is the view of Mt. Rainier in the Hall of Botany, where the seamless connection between the foreground and the mural captures a view of an alpine meadow in the state of Washington. This work and his excellent murals in the Hall of North American Mammals have stood the test of time—with one big exception.

Now gone is von Fuehrer’s gigantic Tyrannosaurus rex in the Dinosaur Hall, which became a Pittsburgh icon, although the science upon which the mural was based belonged to a bygone era. His static, vertical T. rex—posed dragging its tail like Godzilla in the movies of the 1950s—was later proven by modern science to be anatomically incorrect. Scientists now believe that such bipedal dinosaurs moved more horizontally and quickly on two feet, like the birds that evolved after them. The new exhibit of Dinosaurs in Their World being prepared by the museum will display the correct postures.

Like other dedicated artists, von Fuehrer believed strongly in the importance of his work. Once, while tracing a 60-million-year-old horse for a museum display, he told a reporter: “I believe if people would stop long enough to think of the tiny bit of time we are here, there would be no wars. We’d try to make that brief span in the whole scheme as happy as possible for ourselves and others.”
No doubt he was having lunch in the museum’s lower level cafeteria with friends (a favorite mid-day gathering place for museum staff in those years) when he noticed Jill Allerton, and since he had his charcoal, spontaneously offered to do her portrait and give it to her.

Of such brief visits to the museum are lifelong impressions made.

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