Celebrating 100 Years
Taxidermist at the Museum for More Than 40 Years
Francis M., “Frank,” Greenwell's fascination with animals and nature began as a child growing up in St. Mary's County, Maryland. He made his first taxidermy mount, of a common mole, when he was about eleven years old. (Use the player on the right to listen to Greenwell talk about the first animal he prepared.) He joined the staff of the Smithsonian in 1957, and soon found himself part of the team that prepared the Fénykövi Elephant for exhibition.
It was an exciting time to join the Smithsonian, as the institution was embarking on a large-scale Exhibits Modernization Program. At the National Museum of Natural History, a number of the halls, including the mammal hall, underwent complete renovations. Greenwell worked with other taxidermists, including William L. Brown, Watson M. Perrygo, and others, on restoring many historic mounts, including the Roosevelt specimens, for the new dioramas that were built at this time. Greenwell's sister, Sybil Costanzo, worked as a taxidermist at the Museum alongside her brother in the 1960s. Taxidermists must combine knowledge of natural history with artistic ability and technical skills to produce museum quality displays. (Use the player on the right to listen to Greenwell talk about his first years at the Museum and his sister.)
Greenwell took care of the Elephant, restoring it on several occasions. He also learned to prepare and care for the rest of the Museum's research collection of more than a half-million mammal specimens, for many decades, until his retirement from the Smithsonian in 1999.
His work did not keep him solely in the taxidermy studio. Greenwell went on scientific expeditions all over the world—collecting everything from a tiny shrew to the skulls of twelve gray whales. He developed a particular interest in the study of bats with Curator Charles Handley. His trips have taken him to Panama several times, Australia in 1989, and Nepal in 1994. (Use the player on the right to listen to Frank Greenwell talk about collecting a whale skull and the fact that not all collection expeditions are exotic.) His trips have not been without excitement. (Use the player on the right to listen to Greenwell talk about his near miss with a deadly bushmaster snake.) And not all the dangers were out in the field! One day Greenwell discovered a poisonous brown recluse spider in the Museum (Use the player on the right to listen to Frank Greenwell talk about the brown recluse spider.)
Although he hunted as a boy and to collect specimens for the Museum, Greenwell found that he preferred to capture the natural world with a camera. He developed his skills as a nature photographer, and his photographs have been published in numerous magazines, both nationally and internationally. They have also been exhibited in galleries throughout the D.C. area, including an exhibition called “Revelations of Nature” at the National Museum of Natural History in 1981, which featured photos of wildflowers, insects, birds and mammals of the Washington region.
Since his retirement in 1999, Greenwell has remained active as a consultant to Museums and as a photographer. Greenwell and his wife Pat have also long been making appearances as various 18th- and 19th-century figures at local historic sites and events, preserving and sharing stories from the past.
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