Forensic Science in a “Nutshell”

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is unveiling a new exhibition on October 20th titled, “Murder is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.” This display will showcase the miniature crime dioramas created by Lee in the 1940s and ‘50s as a way to train homicide investigators.

For science centers and museums, emphasis lies on informal STEM learning. In recent years, STEM has shifted to “STEaM”—a focus that incorporates the arts and humanities. The “history of” approach is often a simple way to add in humanities to any STEM field, but art often requires more creativity and ingenuity. Appreciating the beauty of a network of neurons, a chalked blueprint, or a long formulaic equation is different than using art as an approach to solving STEM challenges. The Smithsonian’s new exhibition highlights the artistry and detail work fashioned by Lee, “the mother of forensic science.” These dollhouse-sized scenes include every complex detail, from minuscule bullet holes and intricate blood spatters, to tiny discarded hand-rolled cigarettes.

“Murder is Her Hobby” not only brings awareness to the craftwork behind science, but also to the importance of real objects. The exhibit’s organizer, Nora Atkinson, The Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, says, “The Nutshells are essentially about teaching people how to see. … So much of our culture has gone digital, and that’s where craft shines, because it’s three-dimensional. You can’t really understand it from the Internet, or from a flat page; you have to investigate it fully in the round.”

How can your science center or museum incorporate the arts and humanities to find new ways of solving the STEM challenges of today?

Open from October 20, 2017, to January 28, 2018, in the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. For more information, visit:

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