Peabody exhibit casts net over all parts of fly fishing

A young child, gushing with excitement as he ran through the newest temporary exhibition at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, pointed at a display case.

“Daddy! Daddy!” he screamed. “There’s a fish with teeth on the wall!”

Featuring excited children, shiny feathers and tons of tiny insects, “Seeing Wonders: The Nature of Fly Fishing” comes to Yale from the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vt., and is complemented by displays from the Peabody collection. An opening celebration was held at the museum Saturday to kick off the exhibition, which runs until February 24.

The exhibition lays out a comprehensive history of the sport, including a timeline that reaches back to the first known reference to fly fishing practices — in third-century Macedonia. Other display highlights include celebrity equipment — such as Herbert Hoover’s flies, George Bush’s fly box and Ernest Hemingway’s rod — and a room decorated with cases of rods and reels.

In addition to the artifacts, the exhibition attempts to convey the character of the sport with an opening film produced exclusively for Yale. The film features famed anglers discussing the appeal of fly fishing and its relationship to art and literature. Gardner Grant ’49, a trustee at the AMFF and avid fly fisher for the past 60 years, put together the video to convey both anglers’ “fanaticism” and “intellectual passion.”

“We had to do something to explain ourselves — why we’re crazy,” he said.

The anglers’ enthusiasm for their sport is mirrored by the vibrancy of the equipment and fish, which are of colors from across the spectrum. One display, put together by Dr. Raymond Pupedis, the Peabody Collections manager in entomology, showcases bright feathers and glittering spools of thread used to create the artificial insects that anglers tie to their rods.

Drawing upon items from the Peabody collection, the exhibition also emphasizes the science behind fly fishing and includes displays on insect life cycles, the anatomy of bamboo rods, bird feathers, non-insect invertebrates and the ways in which fish see and eat. In addition, the exhibition highlights anglers’ catch-and-release policy and ongoing conservation efforts.

Grant, who came up with the idea for the collaboration and was instrumental in its implementation, said he hoped to increase exposure to the AMFF collection by bringing the exhibition to Yale. Over 50,000 people are estimated to walk through the exhibition over the next few months, Jane Pickering, the Peabody’s deputy director, said.

Pickering said the exhibition lines up with the Peabody’s efforts to make life sciences more accessible to the general public.

“The mission of the Peabody as a natural history museum is advancing the understanding of culture and life sciences,” Pickering said. “This is a combination of those things. It brings a human activity spanning centuries together with nature.”

Many museum-goers said they found the exhibit entertaining.

Mei Tan, a research assistant in Yale’s psychology department, said she found the exhibition innovative and interesting, but she said she thinks the displays could have done more to help non-anglers understand the fly fishing process.

“It would have been nice if they had shown some flies in water because we can’t see what they look like to fish,” she said.

Despite their interest in fly fishing, many Yalies said they have not made the trek up to the Peabody for the event.

Aaron Alter ’09, the editor in chief of the Yale Anglers’ Journal, said he has not seen the exhibition but is optimistic that it will be successful at bringing greater attention to fly fishing. He said it is an important event to hold at Yale because there is a large undergraduate community interested in the sport.

“From what I understand about the exhibition, it provides a medium to learn about why many people have a passion for fly fishing,” Alter said. “This is really interesting to consider because Yale is one of the only places to have an undergraduate anglers’ publication and an active anglers’ club.”

The Peabody Museum is sponsoring other events in conjunction with “Seeing Wonders: The Nature of Fly Fishing.” The opening on Saturday featured a puppet show, Roxi’s Incredible Insect Adventure, and casting and tying demonstrations, which will continue most Sundays while the exhibit is open.

An opening reception for the exhibition will be held Tuesday, which several celebrity anglers, such as Joan Wulffk are planning to attend.

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