An Album Of Images From My “Explorers Club 111st Annual Dinner” Weekend

Roy Chapman Andrews' Flag, which he carried on his Central Asiatic Expeditions to Mongolia in the 1920s
Roy Chapman Andrews’ Flag, which he carried on his Central Asiatic Expeditions to Mongolia in the 1920s

The weekend festivities are over and The Explorers Club Annual Dinner was everything I’d hoped it would be. It was a full schedule, starting with a New Members Reception on Friday afternoon. But first I went to the Club the day before when it wasn’t crowded and explored the building from top to bottom. You can take a virtual tour here. I wanted to find one specific item, shown above- the Flag carried by Roy Chapman Andrews to Mongolia during his Central Asiatic Expeditions in the 1920s.

Roy Chapman Andrews' photo on the wall of those who have served as President of the Explorers Club
Roy Chapman Andrews’ photo on the wall of those who have served as President of the Explorers Club or received one of the Club’s honors

I also found this photo of him. Almost all the others are studio portraits. I love that his shows him in Mongolia out in the field. The domestic nanny goat is nursing what I think is a baby Mongolian gazelle. The Explorers Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the Club. Other recipients have included Admiral Peary, Jane Goodall, Thor Heyerdahl, the crew of Apollo 8- the first men on the moon, Sir Edmund Hillary, Mary Leakey (for the Leakey family), George Schaller, Michael Fay, Edward O. Wilson, Sylvia Earle and James Cameron.

Club headquarters, particularly the staircases, is filled with art, much of it created during expeditions. Unfortunately almost everything was either under glass or there was glare from the lighting, but here are a couple of examples:


The one above was painted on location in Africa by William Robinson Leigh as a study for a diorama painting. The watercolor below is one of a series done on location in Antarctica (I couldn’t read the name of the artist).


There are many rooms, all filled with art, artifacts and objects brought back from over 100 years worth of expeditions. The “Trophy Room” has been the subject of some controversy over the years, given today’s awareness of endangered species. But at one time expeditions were sent out by major museums like the American Museum of Natural History specifically to collect specimens for display. Hunting was viewed differently in those days. The mounts and skins in the room were donated in good faith and will probably stay where they are.


Here’s a corner in one room with a bucketful of spears and a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt, who was a member of the Club.


The weather took a twist on Friday afternoon with quite a snowstorm. New York City got close to 4″ in a fairly short time. It made getting around pretty interesting for this native coastal Californian.

Friday evening the festivities officially kicked off, snow or not, with a cocktail party on the hanger deck of the USS Intrepid, a WWll-era aircraft carrier, which is now a floating museum. I was having too much fun, plus trying to find some people who I knew had been to Mongolia, to take many photos, but here’s one of an Avenger. Its wings fold up so that more would fit on the carrier.


The next day my artist friend and colleague Alison Nicholls and I had time to go visit the Salmagundi Art Club, one of the oldest art clubs in the country, having been founded in 1871. We poked around the Library, checked out the newly and beautifully renovated main gallery space and enjoyed the original art hanging on the walls. There was still plenty of snow on the ground and Central Park was really lovely.


Saturday evening finally arrived and it was time to go to the American Museum of Natural History for the 111st Annual Dinner. It was pretty chilly but we stopped long enough so that Alison could get a photo of me at the museum entrance. I made a dress to go with a vest I brought back from last year’s trip to Mongolia and wore a pair of gold-stamped red leather Buryiat Mongol boots with upturned toes. I also carried a felt purse which was a gift from Ikh Nart Is Our Future, the women’s felt craft collective which I help support. It has an embroidered patch of the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu logo on it.

EC 1

Inside, an old Explorer Club tradition was being carried on…serving what for westerners is extremely unusual and exotic food. There used to be an entire buffet, but now days it’s one dish. This year it was….tarantula meat in a kind of a casserole. No, I didn’t try it. I didn’t want to wait in line. But I did take a photo.


Also in the entry rotunda were two fossil dinosaur skeletons lit up in glowing purple. Quite a few of the attendees were wearing clothing from other countries, so I fit right in.


The before dinner gathering was in the famous African Hall. One really had to be there, but these will give you an idea of what it was like to party in one of the world’s great museums:




EC4The pre-event announcements had said that we would be “dining under the blue whale” and they weren’t kidding. Here’s the view from our table in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. The lighting on the full-size model of the whale was almost unearthly. Appropriate for an ocean creature.


One of the main orders of business for the evening was the giving of awards and honors. Mendip Singh Soin, who is a good friend of Jan Wigsten, one of the partners who owns the tour company I work with, Nomadic Journeys  (small world story), received a Citation of Merit. I had chatted with him the previous evening, so it was fun to see someone I’d met on on the podium.


The highest honor that the Explorers Club bestows, as I mentioned above, is the Explorers Medal. You can read the full list of previous recipients here. It is long and it is illustrious. And this year the honoree was *drum roll* Neil deGrasse Tyson.


We were way in the back of the room, but I managed to get a few photos of him giving his acceptance speech. And that concluded the formal program. Everyone, or at least it seemed so, adjourned back to the African hall for more merriment and visiting. We stayed to the very end and made our way out after midnight. And so ended my first-ever Annual Dinner. And I don’t plan for it to be my last!

PS- I became a Fellow of the Club in April, 2014.

A Special Announcement!

Field sketching at Orog Nuur, a Gobi lake, in 2010.
Field sketching at Orog Nuur, a Gobi lake, in 2010.

I am proud to announce that I have recently been accepted as a Fellow of The Explorers Club!

The Club, founded in 1904, has always been the premier organization for explorers and also scientists who do research in the field. Its members have included Admiral Peary, Jane Goodall, John Glenn, Dian Fossy, Lowell Thomas, Chuck Yeager, Sylvia Earle and Roy Chapman Andrews (who has been a personal inspiration to me for my travels in Mongolia and who received the Club’s highest award, The Explorers Club Medal, in 1932).

I am honored to join a number of my Society of Animal Artist friends and colleagues as a member, one of whom graciously consented to sponsor me.

I’ve posted the Exploration Resume which was part of my application and also the images of me and my art that were included.




Mongolia Monday- Explorers and Travelers: “Viper Camp”, Roy Chapman Andrews

Central Asian pit-viper (Agkistrodon halys intermedius)
Central Asian pit-viper (Echis caranatus); photographed at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, August 2010
Last week’s Mongolia Monday post was about reptiles and amphibians I’ve seen in Mongolia. It was well received on Facebookso I decided to follow up with this excerpt from Roy Chapman Andrews’ book about his Central Asiatic Expeditions “The New Conquest of Asia- a narrative of the Central Asiatic Expeditions in Mongolia and China, 1921-1930”, in which they have a pretty intense encounter with one of the four poisonous snakes that occur in Mongolia. He appears to be referring to Agkistrodon halys intermedius (now Echis carinatus) since he states earlier in the book that “…the brown pit-viper, Agkistrodon halys intermedius, which is the only poisonous snake we have encountered in the Gobi, is fairly abundant.”
Another photo from the cafe, this one showing the Expedition's camp. The tents are "maikhan" or summer tents, which are lighter and even more portable than the better known felt gers.
Here’s a photo of one of Andrews’ camps, taken at one of the cafes at the American Museum of Natural History. The tents are called “maikhan” or summer tents, which are lighter and even more portable than the better known felt gers.
Our next camp, ten miles to the north of Baron Sog-in-Sumu, was very
similar to the one we had left. The tents were pitched on a great promontory
which projected far out into the basin. Near them was an obo, or religious
monument, and shortly after our arrival two lamas came to call. They were
delegates from a temple, Tukhum-in-Sumu, four miles away, and asked us
to be particularly careful not to shoot or kill any birds or animals on the
bluff. It was a very sacred spot and the spirits would be angry if we took
life in the vicinity. Of course, I agreed to respect their wishes and gave orders
at once. But we had promised more than we could fulfill, as events proved.
In the first two hours of prospecting, three pit-vipers, Agkistrodon, were
discovered close to the tents. A few days later the temperature suddenly
dropped in the late afternoon and the camp had a busy night. The tents
were invaded by an army of vipers which sought warmth and shelter. Lovell
was lying in bed when he saw a wriggling form cross the triangular patch of
moonlight in his tent door. He was about to get up to kill the snake when
he decided to have a look about before he put his bare feet upon the ground.
Reaching for his electric flashlamp, he leaned out of bed and discovered a
viper coiled about each of the legs of his camp cot. A collector’s pickax was
within reach and with it Lovell disposed of the two snakes which had hoped
to share his bed. Then he began a still-hunt for the viper that had first
crossed the patch of moonlight in the door and which he knew was some-
where in the tent. He was hardly out of bed when an enormous serpent
crawled out from under a gasoline box near the head of his cot. Lovell was having rather a lively evening of it — but he was not alone.
Morris killed five vipers in his tent, and Wang, one of the Chinese chauffeurs,
found a snake coiled up in his shoe. Having killed it, he picked up his soft
cap which was lying on the ground and a viper fell out of that. Doctor Loucks
actually put his hand on one which was lying on a pile of shotgun cases. We
named the place “Viper Camp,” because forty-seven snakes were killed in
the tents. Fortunately, the cold had made them sluggish and they did not
strike quickly. Wolf, the police dog, was the only one of our party to be
bitten. He was struck in the leg by a very small snake, but since George
Olsen treated the wound at once, he did not die. The poor animal was very
ill and suffered great pain, but recovered in thirty-six hours.
The snake business got on our nerves and everyone became pretty
jumpy. The Chinese and Mongols deserted their tents, sleeping in the cars
and on camel boxes. The rest of us never moved after dark without a flash-
light in one hand and a pickax in the other. When I walked out of the tent
one evening, I stepped upon something soft and round. My yell brought
the whole camp out, only to find that the snake was a coil of rope ! We had
to break my promise to the lamas and kill the vipers, but our Mongols
remained firm. It was amusing to see one of them shooing a snake out of his
tent with a piece of cloth to a place where the Chinese could kill it. The
vipers were about the size of our copperheads, or perhaps a little larger.
While their fangs probably do not carry enough poison to kill a healthy man,
it would make him very ill.
The snakes inhabit bluffs throughout the desert, like the one on which
we were camped. Their great number at this particular spot was due to the
fact that it was a sacred place and the Mongols would not kill them there.
This viper appears to be the only poisonous snake in the Gobi, and we
collected but one non-poisonous species. The climate is too dry and cold to
favor reptilian life.”
The entire amazing account is available free through the Internet Archive ( in a variety of formats. It can be downloaded onto iPads through an app called Megareader or saved as a pdf, for instance. There are facsimile versions and also OCR scans, which work but can be filled with errors. Here’s a facsimile version of the book itself, which includes all the photos:

Mongolia Monday- A Visit To The American Museum Of Natural History

I spent a great morning at the American Museum of Natural History during my recent quick visit to New York to attend the Society of Animal Artists board meeting and show jury.

This time I wanted to sketch and once again see the fossils that Roy Chapman Andrews’ Central Asiatic Expeditions brought back from Mongolia. I got to chatting with one of the volunteer docents and found that she knew the location of some Mongolia items that I hadn’t found on my previous visit in 2009.

The jackpot was an American flag that flew from one of the expedition vehicles. It was in a glass case that had been mounted on the wall in one of the stairwells, not exactly a prominent, easy to find location, so I appreciated the docent’s help a lot!

Here’s a “album” of photos from the museum, filled out with a couple from my previous trip, ending with a couple of iPad sketches I did.

American flag carried to the Gobi of Mongolia by one of Roy Chapman Andrews’ Central Asiatic Expeditions.
Closeup of the photo. I’ve helped push a vehicle or two on my trips, but without a dog to supervise.
The walls in the cafe closest to the Paleontology section are lined with photos of the Central Asiatic Expeditions to Mongolia. This one is of what Andrews dubbed “The Flaming Cliffs” which are located in an area the Mongols call Bayanzag (Place of the saxaul trees). I’m pretty sure I watched the sun go down along the lengthy of this butt in September of 2006. He used large caravans of camels to transport supplies and get them into position before the rest of the expedition arrived in motor cars.
Another photo from the cafe, this one showing the Expedition’s camp. The tents are “maikhan” or summer tents, which are lighter and even more portable than the better known felt gers.
Short profile of Roy Chapman Andrews. It has been speculated that he was one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones. And if you’ve read his biography, that’s not hard to believe, although there is no proof.
One of the fossils from Mongolia, a Psittacosaurus mongoliensis
Informational sign about the above fossil
Protoceratops fossil skulls of varying sizes; the expedition’s scientists found far more of these than any other species
A pair of protoceratops (image from 2009)
Although the Expeditions failed in their original goal, which was to find evidence that “man” had originated in Asia, not Africa, the find that electrified America was the discovery of the first known fossil dinosaur eggs. Andrews’ decision to sell one created a firestorm of controversy. (image from 2009)
Besides the flag, this was the other item from Mongolia that I’d missed on my previous trip, an amazing fossil of a female dinosaur which contains a egg with a recognizable embryo, something never before seen or found.

Finally, here are a couple of quick sketches I did of protoceratops skulls using ArtRage on my iPad.