The Gilboa Forest Comes to Albany

Gilboa Forest Exhibit- Black and White Print

Goldring sent this print to her colleagues, to the Gilboa dam engineers, and to her friends at Wellesley and other places. Courtesy of the New York State Museum.


Though Goldring had reservations about women's opportunities in her field, she still loved her work, and she was well-respected by her colleagues. In the 1920s, she was tasked with studying fossils from Gilboa and sharing her results with the public.  To that end, she guided the construction of a breathtaking exhibit that made the New York State Museum's displays stand out for decades to come.



Devonian Stump Specimens

Stumps like these were used in Goldring's exhibit.  Photo courtesy of the New York State Museum.

 In 1917, workers began construction on a large dam in Gilboa, with the intention of creating a reservoir to serve greater New York City as a source of drinking water. The imminent flooding of the town and its surroundings upset not only the local residents but New York's paleontologists.  The subsequent rush of fieldwork was an early form of salvage geology.  

Goldring and others corresponded regularly with the Hugh Nawn contracting company and other engineers involved in dam construction to have fossils set aside to be picked up rather than destroyed or tossed.  The museum ended up with 40 fossils from three different elevations - more than enough to create a grand display.


 Goldring drew this iconic image of the Gilboa "seed fern" based on her interpretation of the fossils.  Courtesy of the New York State Museum.






To create an exhibit, Goldring needed to know what the Gilboa stumps had once looked like.  Goldring worked tirelessly to work out what kind of tree the stumps had been attached to.  Using associated fossils and knowing the Devonian had been a time of great change for plant life, Goldring concluded that the Eospermatopteris, as she classified it, was a "seed fern" - a plant transitioning from using spores for reproduction to producing seeds instead.  Her rendering is soft and willowy, with a straight trunk and a bulbous shallow root system.

Modern Gilboa Fossil Display - Slice of Goldring

2012 Gilboa Fossil display, portraying a small selection of Goldring's exhibit. Can you find this spot on the original above?



Jules Henri Marchand and his sons worked with Goldring's guidance to create the immense display, and the results outshone their work on previous dioramas.  

The black and white print above shows the Gilboa forest exhibit's overall shape and where the fossils were placed, but it does not convey the rich colors infused in the artwork.  The sound of running water, immense size, and the colorful depictions of foliage in the background combined to create a fascinating museum experience.  

Through the monochrome prints Goldring sent out, long-distance colleagues could see that the exhibit was well done in its detail and scale, but only by visiting could people truly take in the impressive blend of science and art.   Visitors flocked to the museum, and many people still remember seeing it before it was taken down in the 1970s.  Now it is preserved only in photographs and prints.  However, there is still a place that visitors can go to look at Gilboa fossils.

Continue onto the next page to learn how Goldring secured the future of these fossilized stumps for the public.

The Devonian Forest
The Gilboa Forest Comes to Albany