HMNS Weekly Happenings

Spirits and Skeletons!

Sponsored by Audi Central Houston

Calling all ghosts and ghouls, monsters and mummies, witches and werewolves: Houston’s favorite Halloween party — the one and only Spirits & Skeletons — is back at HMNS! With the entire Museum open you can shake your stuff with a stegosaurus, grab a drink with a skink and get spellbound by bewitching gems, all to live music and your favorite hits played by The Space Rockers with fantastic food trucks parked right outside. Whether you go with scary and spooky or fab and kooky — dress up, party the night away at HMNS and we’ll put a spell on you!


Lecture – Future Humans by Scott Solomon

evolution astronaut

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at 6:30pm

Tickets $18, Members $12

Drawing on fields from genomics to medicine and the study of our microbiome, evolutionary biologist Dr. Scott Solomon draws on the explosion of discoveries in recent years to examine the future evolution of our species. But how will modernization—including longer lifespans, changing diets, global travel and widespread use of medicine and contraceptives—affect our evolutionary future? Surprising insights, on topics ranging from the rise of online dating and Cesarean sections to the spread of diseases such as HIV and Ebola, suggest that we are entering a new phase in human evolutionary history—one that makes the future less predictable and more interesting than ever before.


Solomon of Rice University will present an entertaining review of the latest evidence of human evolution in modern times. Join us at HMNS this evening which is the book launch event for the new book is “Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution.”

This event is co-sponsored by the Baker Institute’s Civic Scientist Program.


Lecture – Update in Egyptology by Mostafa Waziri and Salah El-Masekh


Wednesday, October 25, 2016 at 6:30pm

Tickets $27, Members $19

In the Valley of the Kings recent excavations and CT scanning by Japanese investigators on the Tomb of King Tut have revealed evidence of another burial chamber next to the tomb of king. Dr. Mostafa Waziri will overview the extensive work by international teams at the site and also explain the theory that this is the tomb of the famed queen Nefertiti, Tutankhamun’s mother.


Reflecting the whims and ideas of many architects and kings over 2,000 years, the colorful history of the Temples of Karnak—the largest temple complex ever built—will be told through examining old and new excavations. Salah El-Masekh’s extensive research brings a new understanding to the function of the temple complex. El-Masekh will also discuss the most recent excavations at Karnak, including a public Roman bath and harbor that is said was used for the boat of the god Amun for traveling across the Nile to bless the souls of the pharaohs who were buried on the west bank.


Both of these distinguished speakers are with the Egyptian Antiquities Authority. Mostafa Waziri is director of excavations at the Valley of the Kings. Salah El-Masekh’s is director of excavations at the Karnak temple complex.


And be sure to check out these events happening at HMNS Sugarland!


Museum of Madness and Mayhem Haunted House – ages 15 and up only.
Friday, October 21st and Friday October 28th, 7- 11 pm  

Keep checking this page for ghoulish details as they emerge.

Universal symbol for a dead pirate.

Universal symbol for a dead pirate.

Any zombie apocalypse expert knows that prisons are a prime spot to take refuge…if you dare! Don’t miss our new take on the scary side of science as we present Fort Bend’s only teen/adult haunted house, on two consecutive Friday nights. Step into the darkened museum after hours to experience the Museum of Madness and Mayhem Haunted House, presented in collaboration with Houston Zombie Walk. This interactive haunted house features zombies, strolling characters, Wilbur’s Mine of Madness, the Dollhouse of Death, Night of the Living Dead, and the Paleontology Hall of Horror exhibits.  Join us for bone chilling fun at Sugar Land’s only adult haunt – ages 15 and up only


Magical Maze and Goose Bumps Haunted House  – Family Event
Saturday, October 22nd and Saturday, October 29th, 10 a.m. to Noon  

Sugar Land 118

Bring the whole family for Spooky Saturdays at HMNS Sugar Land! Explore our magical Butterfly Garden Maze where you can play the pumpkin toss game, snap a photo, get your face painted and do a little early trick or treating. Calling all witches, ghosts and ghouls, will your costume be the one that rules? Be sure to wear your best costume for the Grand Costume Parade – we’ll have prizes to be won! Don’t forget to visit the family friendly Goose Bumps Haunted House too, it’s fun for monsters of all ages. New tricks and treats await around each corner for every pirate and princess – it’ll be a boo bash to remember!


Marvel at the Mythic Motion of our Movie Monster Makers!

At the Houston Museum of Natural Science, we had an amazing first week of Movie Monster Maker, our newest Xplorations Summer camp. In this camp, the kids learn to do stop-motion animation, apply movie monster makeup and prosthetics, and learn a little bit about the origins and myths of these monsters. Check out the awesome videos the campers made the week of May 31 through June 3, posted below! Stay tuned next week for more to come!



Behind the Scenes: Retablos Fit for an Icon

When you walk into the museum store, you may notice the elaborate display wall at the entrance. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look with our Creative Merchandising Director on how it all comes together.

This season’s display is a tribute to Mexican arts and culture and features a life-sized retablo complete with a Catrina figurine. My inspiration were the detailed nichos, or retablos, that are such a central part of Latin American folk art. These retablos are usually under 12 or 18 inches in height but I wanted to create a seven-foot-tall reproduction. 

Starting with a metal wedding arch I found at the local party supply, I wired a support cage along the back and sides of the arch. Foam core cut to size was wired onto the side to create the retablo doors. Then the real work began: covering the structure with a few hundred giant paper flowers!


Each of these flowers was made by hand, and I gave countless lessons to curious patrons on how to make them. Here’s what you do:

Take five sheets of tissue paper. Starting from the short side, accordion pleat into three to four-inch folds down the length of the tissue. Fold the pleated paper in half and twist a pipe cleaner around the center to hold the folds in place. Cut each end of the folded paper in a rounded shape to create your petals. Open up the folds and very gently, starting from the top sheet, pull each sheet of tissue toward the center pipe cleaner.

flower pile

The flowers were tied onto the arch, inside and out, and paper roses hot-glued to the doors. Next, I had to create our Catrina.


La Catrina is a popular figure on El Día de los Muertos. Originally a turn-of-the-century political cartoon by illustrator José Guadalupe Posada, La Catrina was popularized by artist Diego Rivera. Rivera’s famous mural Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central prominently features La Catrina between Posada, a young Rivera, and Rivera’s wife Frida Kahlo. The mural is a visual commentary on the history of Mexico with La Catrina representing that all are equal in the face of death.

Using an old mannequin from our Exhibits department, I spray-painted it bright red and then painted on a traditional calavera face.



 I wanted our Catrina to reference artist and cultural icon Frida Kahlo and acknowledge her contributions to La Catrina’s popularity as well as Kahlo’s dedication to Mexican heritage. A rose headdress and Oaxacan blouse, similar to the huipil Kahlo was known for wearing, were added along with a white petticoat that resembles the Tehuana skirts she favored.


The final piece of clothing is a very special item. This ornate, heavy overskirt belongs to a local los matachines dancer. With roots in both Medieval Europe and Native American dance, los matachines dance on important feast days with Dec. 12, the feast day of La Virgen de Guadalupe, being one of the most important. Our dancer was not able to perform this holiday and generously loaned us her costume.

los matachines

Finishing up the display wall involved climbing up 20 feet to hang more flower pompoms from the ceiling and adding folk art pieces to the wall.



Our six-foot-tall papier maché skeleton guards the jewelry and retablos in the wall cases.



Though a challenging project, this display is one of my favorites. Thank you to everyone who stopped by to ask questions while I was working out there. I enjoyed getting the chance to talk about our beautiful and moving exhibit on the Virgin. And it’s the proceeds from the museum store that make it possible for the Houston Museum of Natural Science to develop these exhibits, so we are always grateful for your support and patronage.


Halloween How-to: Make a Spooky Skeleton Out of Recycled Milk Jugs!

Halloween requires skeletons. (And so does El Dia de los Muertos, for that matter…) If you’re on a budget but like to decorate, or you’re crazy about recycling, or you’re the crafty type who loves to add custom flair to everything, or you just want to see if you can do it, we’ve got a project for you!

Using recycled gallon and half-gallon milk jugs and some other simple materials, you can make your own reusable skeleton decoration to hang in your tree or around the house for spook season. Read through this easy procedure and watch our how-to videos for a clear example. Make one or make several, depending on how much milk your family drinks…


This homemade decoration is almost like the real thing! Photo by: Jason Schaefer


A minimum of nine plastic jugs – at least three of them gallon-sized


Hole punch

String, brads or pipe cleaners

Sharpie permanent markers or paint

Decorative bits (glitter, sequins, buttons, etc.)

Optional – High-temperature glue gun for punching holes


Three notes before you get started:

  • If you are making a second skeleton, you can probably use your jugs more efficiently than listed here and therefore need less.  If you are making this skeleton for the first time, I have asked you to provide 9 jugs (at least three of them being gallon-sized) so that you don’t have to work quite so hard to get a completed product.
  • The high-temperature glue gun works FABULOUSLY for punching the holes in the milk carton plastic, but I don’t recommend this method if you are a) working with younger children or are b) me because I absolutely burned myself. If you can get a volunteer in, they can sit and make the holes for the students pretty quickly.
  • If you are nervous about what you are doing, you can always sketch out your pieces with a Sharpie. Once you have them the way you want them, use rubbing alcohol to remove the Sharpie lines.
  1. Lay your hand or a template of a hand over the handle of one milk jug and trace.  Reverse the template or use your other hand for the second milk jug. Carefully cut the hands out. Save the extra bits.
  2. Repeat step one for the feet.
  3. Using a fifth and sixth jug, cut an extended oval out of jug around the handle, being as generous as you can with the oval. You can always trim it later! These will be the shoulder bones or scapulae. If you are clever, you can use the leftover bits to make your rib cage in step 9 as well.
  4. At this point, you should have two hands, two feet and two shoulder bones and a pile of left over bits.

    Where on the family tree would you place this skeleton? Photo by: Jason Schaefer

  5. Punch holes near the wrist portion of the hands and the ankle portion of the feet. Punch a hole in each end of the shoulder pieces.
  6. Using the leftover bits of your first six jugs, sketch out some bones. These should be basic stick shapes with lumps at each end. You will eventually need eight bones (four longer pieces for leg bones – two for each leg – and four shorter pieces for arms – two for each arm). Make them as long as possible. Once again, you can always trim them! In the example, my long leg bones crossed the jug diagonally to give them some extra length. With careful placement, I cut two long leg bones (and two knee caps) out of one of the leftover jugs.
  7. On a seventh jug, sketch out a skull (should consist of two large round eye sockets, an upside down heart or triangle for a nose and squares or ovals all lined up and touching for teeth). Use the two surfaces opposite the handle, and the jug should be upside-down. The neck of the jug will end up being the neck of your skull as well. You can add details as you see fit. It is also optional to cut the face out.
  8. Punch a hole in each side of the “neck” of your skull jug.
  9. Use your eighth jug to make a rib cage. You need to leave the neck of the jug as this will be the attachment point between the “hips” and the “ribs.”  That being said, cut out the handle of your jug so that there is a pretty big hole on one side of the jug.  This will be the front side of the rib cage. The neck and opposite side will represent the spine.
  10. To make the rib cage vaguely more accurate, cut some mostly horizontal strips out of the sides of the jug to leave the impression of ribs. The strips you cut out will become the empty spaces between the ribs. You will have to imagine that you are leaving a two inch vertical strip from the neck of the jug up the back to the bottom and down the front to the hole. This will act like the spine and the sternum. The horizontal strips you cut out should leave the two inch vertical strip intact.
  11. To make connection spots for the ribcage portion, cut two slits in the bottom of the jug on each side of the center. Then punch a hole on either side of each slit (for four holes total). Then punch two holes in the neck of the jug. If you are looking into the hole you created when you removed the handle, you will punch the one hole on the left of the neck and one hole on the right of the neck.
  12. To make hips, cut off the bottom of a ninth jug about two or three inches up. The example has a reinforced ring of plastic around the bottom and that was used to approximate the cuts. Round the corners of the jug and make the sides dip closer to the bottom of the jug.
  13. Punch holes in two opposite corners of the “hips.” 
  14. Cut a slit in the bottom of the “hip” piece and then punch two holes on either side of each slit (for four holes total). This is where you will attach your rib cage.
  15. Cut out two rounded corner squares from whatever leftover bits you have. These will be the kneecaps of your skeleton. Punch two holes in each that are opposite of each other.
  16. After you have everything cut out, you can make the parts interesting by drawing designs on all the bones in glow in the dark paint or Sharpie. Feel free to decorate your skeleton in either traditional Halloween or in the lighter and more decorative Dia de Los Muertos calacas style.
  17. Using a flat surface, align all the parts, making sure that you have the right connection holes punched out. Then connect all the parts together using the string, yarn or wire. Poke two holes in the top of the head and tie a loop that you can hang your skeleton from. From the top down, you should connect the pieces as such:
    • One shoulder piece to each side of the skull jug neck. Make sure they are facing the same way.
    • Tucking the ribs under the shoulder pieces so they stick out a bit, use the same skull jug neck holes to attach the rib cage. You will use the holes you created in the bottom of the rib cage jug to do this.
    • Connect your arm bones to each other and then to the shoulder.
    • Connect your hand to the end of the arm. Make sure they are facing the correct direction.
    • Connect the hip jug (bottom only) to the neck of the rib cage jug. You will use the four holes in the hip jug to connect to the two holes in the neck of the rib cage jug.
    • Connect the upper leg bones to the knee caps. 
    • Connect the knee caps to the lower leg bones.
    • Making sure they match, connect the legs to the holes in the side of the hip jug.
    • Connect the feet to the lower leg bones. Make sure they are facing the correct direction.