North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

Community News Network

September 19, 2013

7,000 skulls and skeletons make up 'bone palace'

SAN FRANCISCO — Raymond Bandar is an artist, retired teacher, naturalist and a member of the California Academy of Sciences. He also created what he calls a "bone palace," a collection of close to 7,000 skulls and skeletons at his home in San Francisco. I visited him and his wife, Alkmene, also an artist, and spent days videotaping and photographing him and his collection. He collected many of the skulls and skeletons himself on trips to everywhere from Alaska to Australia. The bulk of his collection is from the shores of Northern California. Others specimens were donated to him from museums, veterinarians, or people who just know he is into such stuff.

The California Academy of Sciences often asks him to collect specimens and record measurements when they get a report of a dead sea mammal. I accompanied Bandar on one trip to find and collect the carcass of a sea otter. That day we found three carcasses, the otter and two male California sea lions. Bandar removed the skull and penis bone from each carcass.

Beyond the value collected specimens have for visual displays in natural history museums, they also hold a wealth of scientific information. Many researchers have studied the specimens in Bandar's collection, including dentists: teeth tell a lot about an animal's age and health and can sometimes reveal the cause of death. Scientists also study bones to figure out how changes in the environment are affecting animals.

Bandar is often asked why he collects bones. He says they're masterpieces. "Pelvises and vertebrae have fascinating imagery. The structural engineering of a skull serves as a blueprint, and like a book, can be read to understand the lifestyle of different animals. They make great teaching tools for biology and art classes." Bandar's bone palace has the spirit of earlier centuries' cabinets of curiosities. These collections, made possible by the age of exploration and inspired by the desire to understand science by classifying and identifying, became the building blocks of prominent museums throughout the world.



Bandar's home is like an art installation. He maintains a rock garden with succulent plants in the yard. Alkmene let him take over most of their living quarters to house his collections of art, rocks, shells, and bones that don't fit in his palace. Her own studio is one of the few areas not filled with his discoveries. She draws a line in the kitchen, too, stopping Bandar from storing unfinished specimens in the freezer. (He has a designated freezer in a separate room.)

The bone palace has no bells and whistles like modern natural history museums, just the specimens themselves with all their intrinsic wonder. Every bone and skull seems to be in a perfect place. http://slate.me/16DJ9XO

Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Her recent work has been published by the Atlantic, Truthout, the Guardian, the Progressive and Slate. She focuses on natural history, environmental issues, and social justice. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

  • linda-ronstadt.jpg Obama had crush on First Lady of Rock

    Linda Ronstadt remained composed as she walked up to claim her National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony Monday afternoon.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can black women have it all?

    In a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation.

    July 29, 2014

  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • 'Rebel' mascot rising from the dead

    Students and alumni from a Richmond, Va.-area high school are seeking to revive the school's historic mascot, a Confederate soldier known as the "Rebel Man," spurring debate about the appropriateness of public school connections to the Civil War and its icons.

    July 28, 2014

  • Fast food comes to standstill in China

    The shortage of meat is the result of China's latest food scandal, in which a Shanghai supplier allegedly tackled the problem of expired meat by putting it in new packaging and shipping it to fast-food restaurants around the country

    July 28, 2014

  • wd saturday tobias .jpg Stranger’s generosity stuns Ohio veteran

    Vietnam War veteran David A. Tobias was overwhelmed recently when a fellow customer at an OfficeMax store near Ashtabula, Ohio paid for a computer he was purchasing.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo