Ray deLucia

Ray deLucia working in Peabody's Rainforest diorama, June 1991

Ray deLucia was one of those unforgettable characters that one runs into working in a museum.  Sporting a handlebar mustache and goatee and always quick with a laugh, Ray worked at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York from the time he graduated from Yale art school in 1938 to when he retired in 1978.  He was a talented foreground artist who had a hand in the fabrication of a significant number of the AMNH’s extraordinary dioramas.  He had a theatrical flair for creating the three-dimensional trees, rocks, cacti, you name it, Ray could make it.  His 40 year tenure at the AMNH overlapped with James Perry Wilson’s from 1938 to 1957.  They traveled together on museum expeditions all over the United States collecting material for the Mule Deer, Coyote, Jaguar groups, to name a few.  Later, Ray continued to work with Wilson on the Peabody dioramas, coming to New Haven to collect foreground material for the Forest Margin diorama and to help paint the bog diorama on his vacations and weekends.    During my tenure, Ray came to the Peabody from 1990-1996 to clean and conserve Peabody’s 11 dioramas.  This was a great opportunity for me to work with Ray and learn everything I could about our dioramas from one of the AMNH “old-timers”.  Ralph Morrill, Peabody’s preparator, was my primary mentor with the Peabody dioramas, but Ray rounded out my training.

While working together on the Peabody bog diorama, Ray told me the secret of how to preserve the small spruce shrub in the foreground by spraying it with latex to hold the needles in place while it dried. (see yesterday’s entry for details)  Ray would pepper his conversations with funny anecdotes of working at the AMNH.  Here is the one he told me then.

All the preparators at the AMNH were underpaid and hungry to work on outside jobs to make a little extra money.  The administration drew up specific rules for doing outside work, but for the most part, condoned the extra work.  Ray received a call from a theatre company looking for a small evergreen tree as a prop in a play.   Ray had done this kind of work before in the dioramas and took the job.  Typically, these calls come in at the 11th hour and this was no exception.  Ray had to go out, cut the tree, spray it with latex and paint it in a short period of time.  While preparators grumble about the short notice, they generally also double the fee!  Ray worked all day and late the night before the tree was to be dropped off.  Everything was going well and the final job was to drill a hole in the tree trunk and screw it to a plywood base.  As Ray drilled into the trunk, the drill caught on the green wood and the whole tree spun violently in his hand.  The latex is good for drying needles, but won’t withstand a good spin.  All the needles flew off in all directions and he was left holding a bare tree!  It was midnight and the deadline for drop off was the next morning.  Ray spent the rest of the night gluing individual needles onto twigs.  He dropped off a very sorry looking tree the next morning, but as is the case with a lot of preparation work, the client was happy and Ray (who knew better!) got paid!

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