CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Lifestyle

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
Lifestyle
  • BRIA Pet of the week: Bria needs a forever home

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • HP historic schools 1 Holly Pond’s historic schools

    Anyone who has ever traveled through the countryside in and around Holly Pond knows why a settlement was built there.

    April 13, 2014 5 Photos

  • SOUTHERN STYLE: City kid walking

    I may sound like a farm kid, and in truth, I did spend a lot of time on my grandparents’ Landersville farm, but I wasn’t a farm kid — I was a city kid.

    April 13, 2014

  • HUCKABEE Pet of the week: Huckabee needs a forever home

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Stepping forward: The real Colbert

    Letterman changed the late-night TV game between his run on NBC's "Late Night" and starting the "Late Show" franchise in 1993. And while it's tough to replace a pop-culture icon, Colbert, in terms of pedigree and sense of humor, makes the most sense.

    April 11, 2014

  • VIDEO: CBS taps Colbert as Letterman’s Late Show successor

    Bloomberg’s Jon Erlichman reports that CBS has announced Stephen Colbert as its choice to replace the retiring David Letterman as host of “The Late Show” on Bloomberg Television’s “Lunch Money.”

     

    April 10, 2014

  • 2 pics.jpg Accomplished vocalists to perform at Wallace State April 22

    Two amazing vocalists will perform on Tuesday, April 22 at Wallace State Community College as part of the college’s annual Arts in April celebration.
    Mezzo-soprano Maggie Gill and Tenor Shane Bloemetjie will each sing a selection of operatic and/or musical theater tunes as they perform, accompanied on piano by Mike Sparks, chair of the WSCC’s humanities department and a music instructor at the college. They will be performing arias by Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, and songs by George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim and others.
     

    April 10, 2014 2 Photos

  • Food page EASTER DINING: Decorating for the Easter table

    Easter is just around the corner and just happens to be one of my favorite holidays.

    April 10, 2014 2 Photos

  • WSCC Vest to perform.jpg Award-winning pianist to perform April 15 at Wallace State

    Lovers of classical piano can hear one of the best pianists in the state on Tuesday, April 15, as Katherine Vest is set to perform at Wallace State Community College.
    Vest is a junior piano performance major at Samford University and studies with Ron Shinn. She recently earned first place in the Alabama Federated Music Clubs Auditions and she previously won first prize in the Alabama Music Teacher’s Association and Birmingham Music Club auditions. At Samford, she is a recipient of the Miller-Shepherd scholarship for outstanding piano students.
     

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • CANDYLAND Pet of the week: Candyland needs a forever home

    Cullman County Animal Shelter Adoption hours are 9 – 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the shelter.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo