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The art of Taxidermy Header

The Art of Taxidermy

Taxidermy has a history reaching back to the Victorian era and remains an undeniable part of cultures around the world to this day. The practice of mounting dead animals for display, taxidermists can skin and mount any vertebrate animal, and they do so for a variety of purposes according to their needs or the needs of their clients. The fields in which taxidermists may find employment are museums, hunting and fishing, and independent business.

Stuffed Badger Taxidermy Speciman

History of Taxidermy

A Greek word for the arrangement of skin, taxidermy has a rich history which is rooted in both the human idea of superiority over animals, interior design, and the practice of hide tanning. While initial methods were crude, it was not until 19th century French taxidermist Louis Dufresne, who worked at the Museum d�۪Histoire Naturelle popularized the use of arsenical soap in the craft that taxidermy began to truly resemble common contemporary practice. Other major figures in the history of taxidermy include 20th century artists like James L. Clark, Coleman Jonas, and Carl Akeley among others.

Methods

As mentioned above, the initial taxidermy methods were crude compared to today�۪s standards. In fact, adhering to the popular thoughts of human superiority over animals, people of the 18th century began taking the animals they had killed and, wanting to display their trophies in more substantial manner than the mere hide hanging on the wall, asked upholsterers to stuff the skins and make the animals look as lifelike as possible. In an effort to do so, these upholsterers would take the freshly tanned skins and simply stuff them with rags and cotton until the animal looked vaguely lifelike.

Antique Photo of Victorian Taxidermy Laboratory
Museum Diorama of Taxidermy Lions

Eventually the methods became more refined, with the popularization of cotton-wrapped wire bodies allowing the profession of taxidermy to extricate itself from that of tanning and upholstery to become its own art. The modern taxidermist removes the skin of the animal and either sends it to be tanned or does the work himself, saving the skin for later use. The remaining parts of the animal, especially the skull and legs, are then measured, making the construction of a wooden mannequin less a guessing game and more an effort at preservation of form and proportion.

There are other methods of taxidermy commonly in use today, one of the most popular being the use of plaster to make a mold of the carcass. The taxidermist then creates a copy of the animal using various methods. Polyester resin and glass cloth is then used to create a final mold. The carcass is then removed and the taxidermist uses the mold to create a model of the animal, called a ���form.�۝ To avoid the time and cost of this method, there are companies which make forms of varying sizes which can be ordered and brought into the taxidermy shop. Artificial teeth and other features of the mouth are then added to increase the appearance of realism.


Rogue Taxidermy

Stuffed Bear with Hat and Glasses

Taxidermy, as much as it is a scientific practice, and as much as it is a business, is also an art, and some taxidermists take this idea to the extreme with rogue taxidermy. This form of taxidermy is essentially the act of making new animals out of the hides of others. Because these creatures do not have to resemble any real-life counterpart, the taxidermist can truly take on the role of the artist, with the parallel often made to being a sculptor. Such creatures as dragons, chimeras, and griffins have been made over the years usually for the sake of art or pure curiosity, though there have been instances of taxidermists trying to pass off the hide of a rogue animal as that of a real one. In fact, one famous example of rogue taxidermy is the Fiji mermaid. This macabre combination consisted of the top half of a juvenile monkey hide and the back half of a fish. Fiji Mermaid IllustrationMany people who had paid their money to see the mermaid corpse to P.T. Barnum or, eventually, Robert Ripley, were told that the corpse was legitimate.

Another example of famous rogue taxidermy is the jackalope. A combination of jackrabbit and antelope, this mythical creature has become over the years something of a joke among localities, with mostly sarcastic legends of the ���killer rabbit�۝ being told to tourists and other visitors. A particularly famous incident of the jackalope being used in this fashion is by Ronald Reagan, who had a jackalope mounted on his wall at his ranch. He told reporters he had caught the creature himself.


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