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Eric Rickart, A True Natural Historian
Posted May 26, 2017
Photos by Jerimiah Watt ©NHMU
By Shannen Robson
Dr. Eric Rickart is the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Natural History Museum of Utah, a position he was offered in the mid-1980s after the bulk of the biological collections were transferred from the University of Utah Biology Department to the Museum. While he oversees the curation of the mammal, herpetile and bird collections, his specialty is in mammalogy. Eric has spent more than 30 years expanding the museum’s collections and our knowledge of mammals both in the Great Basin of the United States and the Islands of the Philippines.
Eric’s folks were from Kansas, and met while Charles Rickart was pursuing an academic degree in Mathematics at the University of Kansas. After he completed a PhD at the University of Michigan, the newly-wed Rickarts moved to New England where Charles spent the remainder of his career on faculty at Yale.
Eric and his two brothers were born in New Haven and Eric’s interest in natural history, and specifically mammalogy, started at an early age when he began hanging out with his childhood friend and co-conspirator, Eric Remington. This other Eric was the son of naturalist Charles Remington, a zoology professor at Yale and an entomology curator at the Peabody Museum. At the Peabody, the young Erics received some professional museum tutelage and access to a lot of traps and collecting equipment which encouraged these two curious youngsters to begin curating their own collections of pinned insects, pickled reptiles and many a dead mammal they dragged home.
During the period of his tweens, Eric earnestly took a taxidermy course by mail to learn how to prepare natural history specimens. When he was about 15 years old, Eric’s father Charles wrote to a friend, ruefully hoping that his son’s “taxidermy phase is nearly over” and requesting advice for how to continue to nurture his son’s budding interest in natural history. In reply, this colleague encouraged Eric to join the American Society of Mammalogists - which he did. Eric has now been a member in good standing at ASM for more than 50 years. Luckily for us, Eric’s youthful “taxidermy phase” shows no signs of slowing.
In the more than 30 years since Eric completed his PhD at the University of Utah and became our Museum’s first curator, he has authored or co-authored more than 85 academic papers, articles and chapters on the subjects of mammal diversity, distribution, and ecology. Eric’s work in the Philippines has been the focus of a few blog posts, but it’s just one part of his scholarly accomplishments and contributions – in large part a result of museums and the museum professionals who nurtured an eager young naturalist. As academia becomes ever more specialized, Eric is a valuable and critically endangered representative of the classically trained natural historian. It has been my great pleasure to have spent nearly 20 years working with and learning from him as a colleague, friend and mentor.
Shannen Robson is the collections manger of vertebrate zoology at the Natural History Museum of Utah a part of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Our mission is to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it. In addition to housing outstanding exhibits for the public, NHMU is a research museum. Learn more.
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