Showcases Hidden Masterworks in the American Museum of Natural History’s Rare Book Collection


Featuring scientific illustrations portraying the astonishing diversity of ocean life from colorful mollusks to deep sea fishes to a stout dolphin, the exhibition Opulent Oceans: Extraordinary Scientific Illustrations at the Coastal Discovery Museum explores the integral role illustration has played in undersea exploration and discovery. It features 22 exquisite, large-format reproductions from rare and beautifully illustrated scientific works in the American Museum of Natural History Library’s Rare Book collection.

Opening July 16, 2018 the exhibition was inspired by the book Opulent Oceans: Extraordinary Rare Book Selections from the American Museum of Natural History, and is curated by the author, Melanie L.J. Stiassny., Axelrod Research Curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Ichythology, in collaboration with Tom Baione, Harold Boeschenstien Director of the Museum’s Research Library.

The world’s oceans abound with a truly astonishing diversity of life forms. Beginning some 400 years ago, European voyages of discovery began mapping the globe, and knowledge of ocean life flourished as never before. By sketching specimens or collaborating with artists and engravers, explorers documented their discoveries in illustrated books featuring images that communicate the anatomy, life cycles, habits—and sheer beauty—of newfound marine species.

“We really are still in the midst of the great age of ocean discovery and, as an active researcher in the field, I have found it truly inspirational to delve into the past of that discipline,” said Curator Melanie L.J. Stiassny. “This exhibition takes a look back at the lives and contributions of some of those who helped lay the foundations of ocean science and bravely led the way on this continuing journey of discovery.”

In addition to displaying captivating images created in pursuit of scientific knowledge, Opulent Oceans also touches on the work of such pioneering researchers as Charles Darwin, who spent eight years studying barnacles in his home laboratory, work that established his credentials as a taxonomic expert; zoologist Carl Chun, whose German Deep-Sea Expedition of 1898–1899 discovered thousands of new species, some from depths greater than 13,000 feet; and the influential U.S. ichthyologist David Starr Jordan and his 1902 expedition to American Samoa to assess the country’s marine resources.

Examples of reproductions on display in Opulent Oceans include:

● A woodcut of a dolphin based on real-life observation, not fanciful stories, from noted French explorer, physician, and naturalist Pierre Belon’s La nature & diversité des poissons, avec leurs pourtraicts, representez au plus près du naturel (The nature and diversity of fish, with their portraits represented close to nature), published in 1555, and considered the beginning of modern ichthyology.

● An image of acorn barnacles (Megabalanus tintinnabulum) from naturalist Charles Darwin’s four-volume treatise A monograph on the sub-class Cirripedia, with figures of all the species (1851–1854). The treatise contains the first classification of any organism based on the evolutionary principle of common descent.

● Illustrations of intricate single-celled marine organisms known as radiolarians by German biologist Ernst Haeckel, who described and illustrated such specimens in the thousands. Many of those images were used to create Report on the Radiolaria collected by H.M.S. Challenger during the years 1873–1876, published in 1887. His beautiful illustrations and his writings championing evolution inspired both artists and scientists.

● A colorful Bahamian land crab illustrated by English naturalist Mark Catesby for his The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama island: …(1729–1747), the first book to illustrate North America’s natural wonders.

● A frightening image of a vampire squid from hell (Vampyroteuthis infernalis) from French zoologist Louis Joubin’s Résultats des Campagnes Scientifiques accomplies sur son yacht par Albert 1er Prince Souverain de Monaco (Results of the scientific expeditions of Albert 1st, Sovereign Prince of Monaco on his yacht) from 1920. Despite its ominous name, the vampire squid is only about six inches long and is the only known octopod that is not a predator.

● An image of the swift shortfin mako shark, one of the 214 shark and ray species illustrated in Systematische Beschreibung der Plagiostomen (Systematic description of the plagiostomes) written by German zoologist Johannes Müller and published in 1841.

Opulent Oceans: Extraordinary Scientific Illustrations is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (amnh.org).

A Sense of Place – Presented by the Camera Club of Hilton Head

May 2 – June 29, 2018

The Coastal Discovery Museum and the Camera Club of Hilton Head Island co-sponsored the exhibition “A Sense of Place” hosted at the Museum during May and June.  Since moving to Honey Horn in 2007, the Museum has had an ongoing relationship with the Camera Club with many of its annual member exhibits presented on site. In addition, CCHHI members have assisted the museum with other history and natural history exhibits over the years. This year, the CDM and CCHHI have created an exhibit that focuses directly on the people, places, and things that make our Lowcountry region unique and beloved by residents and visitors alike.

“A Sense of Place” included over 80 images from 31 different photographers. The entries were juried into the show and images were selected that connected to the mission of the Coastal Discovery Museum, “to inspire people to care for the Lowcountry.” CCHHI members submitted a beautiful collection of images that depict a variety of subject matters including historic buildings and cemeteries, the area’s natural history, Gullah culture, the seafood industry, and our various stunning landscapes.












March 2 – April 29

Hilton Head Island, SC – The Coastal Discovery Museum is pleased to announce its latest temporary exhibition “The Locals: Twelve Artists From One Special Place.”  Featuring 12 artists in a variety of mediums, this is a one of a kind show!  The exhibition is open from March 2nd through April 29th with an Artists’ Reception planned for 5-7 PM on Thursday, March 8th.

Exhibiting together for the first time, this group of artists may work in various styles, mediums, and scale – but they all have one thing in common, a long-standing affection and connection to our local community. Several of the exhibiting artists have lived locally for close to 40 years, with the most recent arrival coming in the early 2000s. Each of these artists is inspired by the natural beauty, culture, and history of this special place that we call home.

“A whimsical twist with a dreamlike quality,” “bold and expressive,” “a colorful and eclectic community,” and “a sense of place,” are just a few ways that these artists works have been described.

Meet the artists on Thursday afternoons during the exhibition – 12-2 PM.


Pirates, Privateers, and Buccaneers

November 2017 – February 2018

Pirates, Privateers and Buccaneers the South Carolina State Museum’s traveling exhibit will make patrons avast (that’s stop in pirate lingo) and gasp as the world of pirates comes alive in, opening in early November.

The story of Blackbeard, who blockaded Charleston Harbor in 1718 prior to his death in North Carolina can be found in this traveling exhibit, along with the stories of many other pirates.

The exhibit will thrill those who have always been fascinated by these desperadoes of the seas and dispel a number of popular myths about pirates, such as that they made their victims walk the plank, and used phrases such as ‘arrr,’ and ‘matey,’ which are fictions of Hollywood. Find out more about the problem of modern piracy dispelling another popular myth that pirates disappeared a long time ago.

This exhibit was developed by the South Carolina State Museum with research, collaboration, and assistance from the North Carolina Museum of History, the Queen Anne’s Revenge Project of the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology, and the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Pirates, Privateers, and Buccaneers of the Carolinas is a part of the South Carolina State Museum’s Traveling Exhibitions Program.


Escape Artists – Presented by Art Beyond Tradition

September – October 2017

Summer Images – Presented by Les Bonnes Artistes

July 1 – August 28 , 2017

“Les Bonnes Artistes”, or The Good Artists, was founded in 2007 by Doris Shay. The name is something that all artists aspire to, to become a really good artist. Her idea was to get a group of women artists together once a month to discuss art, share ideas and techniques, support each other, and improve our art. Soon after, the idea for a group show of their works was discussed and they have been showing at various venues on Hilton Head for the last ten years.


The members of this group of ten has changed little, however a new artist is added whenever needed. This year Barbara Grubba has joined the group and will display her oil paintings that range from the abstract to the realistic. Her work is full of color and surprise, representing her years of travel and study. She is currently also a member of La Petite Gallerie in Bluffton.

In this show, the group wanted it to be a celebration of images, inspired by the summer. Local scenes, flights of fancy, and colorful images celebrate the diversions of summer. “We always want color to be one of the basic expressions of our art” says Joanna Chalson. Other artists in this group show not mentioned, are Annie Coughlin, Jo Dye, Evie Kowtko, Joyce Nagel, Barbara Spencer, Dorothy Steelman, and Emily Wilson.

American Gullah

Featuring Sonja Griffin Evans

May 3 – June 28th, 2017

The American Gullah Collection’ depicted the unsung pioneers of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor and of America. The story behind this culture’s creation is compelling. The Gullahs are descendants of West Africans who were forced to the colony through the trans-Atlantic slave trade. They were brought to South Carolina because of their knowledge about the process of cultivating rice. However, they also possessed other intellectual prowess. West African people brought their culture, art food and music, with many valuable assets that have influenced American culture

The American Gullah Collection communicated the Gullah culture and Lowcountry living with its viewers. Each piece lures viewers into the paintings and leaves them with a desire to learn more about this captivating Pan African American cultural treasure. Sonja Griffin Evans’ American Gullah Collection reflects compassion and redeeming love. It gives a visual example of one’s humanity. It immortalizes the divinity, an expression of the soul. It brings to life, through art, the Gullah story; while instilling in the viewer’s heart a yearning to visit the amazingly beautiful, historical and spiritual destinations which encompasses the Gullah culture.

Where Nature Meets Art

Featuring the artists of Spring Island

March 1st – April 30th 2017


The preservation of the cultural and artistic history of Spring Island is as important as the preservation of its stunning environmental beauty. Both are woven into the fabric of Spring Island, and are foundational to its vibrant Art community.

This exhibition featured works from Spring Island Member Artists in all mediums inspired by the natural beauty and cultural heritage of this Beaufort county island.