February 23, 2004
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.-The Pratt Museum, the geology and natural history museum of Amherst College, will host a party on Saturday, Feb. 28, from 1 until 3 p.m. The Pratt Museum will close on March 1, and the Amherst College Museum of Natural History will reopen in a new building that will also be home to the Department of Geology in spring 2006. Refreshments will be served at the Pratt Museum on Feb. 28, and all are invited.
Saturday's party will be a final opportunity for the public to see the natural history collections of Amherst College in the Pratt building-and visitors may see rarities, long buried in the building's cellars, for the first time. The well known, but seldom seen, dinosaur tracks in the Hitchcock Ichnology Collection will be shown to the public.
The building that currently houses Amherst's natural history collections was built as the Pratt Gymnasium in 1885. It was the first college building endowed by an alumnus, Charles M. Pratt of the Class of 1879. The conversion of the gym into a museum was completed in 1951.
The outstanding recourses of the natural history museum at Amherst include vertebrate and invertebrate paleontology, minerals and other geologic specimens, and anthropological material, acquired through expeditions, exchanges, donations and purchases from the 1830s to the present. The collection mirrors the shifting interests of the Amherst faculty, as well as the history of scientific inquiry. Much comes from the Connecticut Valley, but also from Africa, Asia and South and Central America, where early Amherst graduates traveled as missionaries or explorers.
Before moving to the Pratt in the mid-20th century, Amherst College's treasures had been collected in Appleton Cabinet, now a dormitory, and later in the Woods Cabinet, now a multi-purpose building known as the Octagon. The Pratt Museum building, which will be remodeled and renamed the Charles M. Pratt dormitory, is scheduled to reopen in 2007. The new geology building and natural history museum at Amherst College will open in 2006.
The building is closing now, according to Peter Crowley, museum director and professor of geology at Amherst, to prepare for moving its 50,000 items, ranging from the largest, the skeleton of a wooly mammoth, to the smallest, rodent teeth. ("The Pratt has an unusually fine collection of rodent teeth," he says.) "The time is now," Crowley says, "only two minutes per item remains between now and the move." The transfer of the collection is being coordinated by Museum Design Associates of Boston, the firm that is designing the new geology museum.
The Pratt Museum of Natural History will continue to serve researchers and school groups for as long as possible during the packing and moving of the collections. Scholars and teachers should consult the Website at www.amherst.edu/%7Epratt/education/.