The Norman Transcript

October 30, 2010

Villemarette gets the skeletons out of the closet

By Aaron Wright Gray
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — For Jay Villemarette, a fascination with skeletons began in 1972, when he found a dog skull in the woods. Finding himself in need of a science project, the 7-year-old’s father suggested he prepare the bones. After taking the advice, Villemarette found himself the recipient of an award for his work.

“Because of my father’s encouragement, one thing led to another, and 30 years later, I started a museum,” Villemarette said.

He’s referring to the Museum of Osteology, which opened Oct. 1 at 10301 S. Sunnylane Road in Oklahoma City.

Villemarette, director, said the museum has been in the works for seven years and features some of the gems of Villemarette’s personal collection.

“Probably the prize of the museum is the humpback whale,” he said.

The whale skeleton weighs nearly 2,500 pounds and is 40 feet long. Villemarette said the skeleton came from a whale that had washed up on shore in a town near Cape Cod in 2003. It took nearly two years to clean the bones of the massive animal. Other notable skeletons include the Javan Rhinoceros, a komodo dragon and a two-faced calf skeleton.

The whale, along with other large creatures, forms the centerpiece of the museum.

Framing the walls of the two-story building are displays focusing of various species of animals such as cats, dogs and apes. There’s also a special exhibit focused on Oklahoma wildlife, featuring animal skeletons that are common to the area.

Overall, Villemarette said there are currently more than 300 skeletons in place at the museum. And for Villemarette, that number is just the beginning.

Since opening less than a month ago, Villemarette said the museum has already seen nearly 1,000 visitors, several of which were school groups.

He said he’d like to see more school groups come through, noting that his main purpose in opening the museum was for education.

Although not functioning yet, the building comes equipped with a classroom that Villemarette plans to utilize for educational studies.

He also would like to have curriculum built around the exhibits so teachers can explain facts and features to their students on tours.

While it may seem serendipitous that a skeleton-themed museum opened its doors in the same month Halloween is celebrated, Villemarette said it was just coincidence. But that’s not keeping him from having a little fun.

The Museum of Osteology is planning to celebrate Halloween 6 to 9 p.m. today with candy and prize giveaways. Admission for the event is $2.

Regular admission for visitors is $5, for both children and adults. Children under 3 enter free with one paid admission, and group rates are available. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Villemarette also owns the store next to the museum, Skulls Unlimited International, Inc., which sells skeletons to schools, colleges and museums worldwide.

Currently, the store is the sole supporter of the museum.

Eventually, Villemarette would like to see the nonprofit Museum of Osteology became self-sustainable through admission fees.

Aaron Wright Gray 366-3533