Taxidermy in Modern Society

In the 1970s taxidermy was floundering because of ecological awareness. Taxidermy posts, workshops, and displays were shut down” (Milgrom). With modern social movements such as PETA and the Body World exhibit, people began to question whether taxidermy was humane or not. Melissa Milgrom descirbes in her book Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy a time when “taxidermy was in one of it reviled phases, the height of the antifur campaigns of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Lynx Educational Trust for animal Welfare. Advertisements showed beautiful women with flayed dogs draped around their shoulders. People paint-bombed fur coats”. For many, it became impossible to differentiate between taxidermy and animal abuse, while or others taxidermy is the greatest love possible for animals.

One example of such outcry is over the issue of taxidermied polar bears. “Just as canaries were once used to detect toxic gases in coal mines, the changing lives of polar bears now serve as an early warning of global climate change” (New Scientist). Because of this important and unfortunate role that polat bears are playing in modern culture, many people feel guilty about their situation. For this reason, polar bear displays are dying out.”Many museums, eager to snag the ‘iCarly’ demographic, are ditching their taxidermy collections in favor of Imax movies and robotic beasties. A lot of dusty, moth-eaten stuffed animals have piled up in a lot of half-forgotten museum closets” (Garner). Specifically, a polar bear, Knut, who died in 2011, sparked a controversy over whether it was proper to have him mounted or not. “When someone dies”, critic Jochen Kolbe argues, “I think that you don’t want him stuffed in a museum. Knut is not only a polar bear for people. He is a friend, a family member” (Slackman). Due to the intense connection that many share with animals, they tend to feel uncomfortable with these permanent displays. In this situation, over 100 protestors publically went to the zoo, and even more joined the Facebook page. This entire case may be argued against, however, with the tradition of human preservation. “One preserved human, Ms. Milgrom writes, is the British economist and philosopher eremy Bentham (1884-1932), whose body is seated in a chair in a glass case at University College London. His head is now a wax reproduction. ‘His real head is taken out only for ceremonial dinners,’ she writes, ‘to satisfy the clause in the economist’s will requiting his presence at such events” (Garner). With human preservation dating back to the ancient Egyptians, people continue to struggle with the idea of the humanity of taxidermy, and thus its popularity fluxeuates.

The media has grabbed onto this controversy and poked fun at all aspects of it through newspapers and television. The harsh turmoil over it has (whether intentionally or not) renewed and interest in taxidermy. Due to these events, taxidermists all around the world formed the World Taxidermy Championships – a guild. These people who loved their art saw it floundering and decided that they needed to act in order to save it. Because of this action, taxidermy has regained its position in society.

Today, taxidermy is experiencing one of its biggest revivals of all time. Over seven million people visit the National Museum of Natural History each year (a more than $31 million industry). In this way, people still want to see taxidermy and it is still a valid and vital medium for education. Even though it is often thought of as mysterious and unknown, taxidermy is a “thriving subculture” with over 100,000 taxidermists (mostly commercial practitioners). They have magazines, groups, and conventions where they can gather. To the modern game and scientific taxidermist, anatomical accuracy is most important. To accomplish this, taxidermists much be shrewd observers of nature in the wild. Their unofficial motto is “First comes anatomical accuracy, then art” (Garner). In contrast to these taxidermists, however, many are focusing on the art aspect. To them, anatomical accuracy may mean very little. Damien Hurst, for example, is a modern day Walter Potter, creating anthromorphic and artistic interpretations of animals.

Since its inception, taxidermy has been the source of major controversy. Due to this, it has made its way through many crests and valleys in popularity. The entire process of when “an animal starts out looking like the animal, gets mangled beyond recognition, and then ends up looking like an animal again” (Milgrom) can be gruesome for some and enchanting for others. This somewhat counter-productive process leaves us with an ever present memorial of a creature. Even though overall public opinion of taxidermy will continue to vary, one thing is certain; those truly faithful to taxidermy will forever keep the tradition alive.

-C

PS: Sorry that this is a day late!! And sorry that I cannot find the names of the sources that I cited in this…I wrote this and then could not find them =P

Pictures:

http://frontpagemag.com/2010/03/11/animal-wrongs-2/

http://atlasobscura.com/blog/atlas-obscura-visits-the-explorers-club

http://2coolfishing.com/ttmbforum/showthread.php?t=238416

http://www.whosjack.org/damien-hirst-to-open-gallery/

William Bishop Ford

A common form of art in the 16th-19th century was portrait miniatures. Women would keep them of their husbands who were in the army or away and men would carry ones to remind them of their families. Another popular use was to celebrate the life of a deceased loved one.

Because of the enormous sentimental value and personal attachment to portrait miniatures I was determined to find myself one. Even though I cannot express how much I adore these tiny masterpieces, I was a bit nervous about acquiring one. For the same reasons I love them (their personal value), I also feel that it is difficult to possess something that meant so much to someone.

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It took me about a year to find the perfect one, but eventually I did. The one I found was of three whippets. Perfect, I thought, because animals have a very close connection with their owners, but it is not like I am carrying someone’s husband around on my collar.

(this one’s mine!! =D)

When I first purchased my portrait miniature, I was unaware of who had painted it or how old it was. The back on it had been replaced at some point in time (probably very early 20th century), and was sealed. Being too afraid to remove the backing, for fear of damaging the piece, I decided to research it solely on its technique, medium, and subject.

I was genuinely shocked when I found who I was definite is the artist. I never expected to be able to come up with a definite answer, but there is no doubt about it…my miniature was painted by William Bishop Ford.

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Ford was a British artist who lived between the years of 1832 and 1922. He was a specialist painter of miniature enamels. He apprenticed under William Essex (who perfected the technique of reverse essex glass painting, which is how mine if done). His subjects included many animals as well as people, and the framing used is unmistakable.

This piece has become one of my most prized possessions. I feel such a personal connection to it and am proud to wear it frequently.

-C

Photo Credits:

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery & my collection

The Gaza Zoo

 

I have always thought that opening up a zoo of taxidermy would be a wonderful idea. Getting to touch dangerous or exotic animals would be such a mesmerizing experience! However, I recently came across a taxidermy zoo that isn’t quite as enchanting as I expected…

At the Khan Younis Zoo in the Gaza Strip, animals that die are stuffed and then put back on display. Normally, I would cringe at the usage of the word “stuffed” when discussing taxidermy; however in this case that is exactly what is done. Professional taxidermists as well as supplies are scarce here, so the animals are preserved using sawdust and formaldehyde. This grotesque method has led to the animals missing chunks of skin, eyes, and even limbs. This crude method was learned online.

This abundance of decaying animals can be in part due to the lack of veterinary attention (medical advice is given over the phone from a vet in Egypt), hunger, and the dangerous conditions associated with the Gaza Strip.

Conditions don’t improve much for the living animals. In an attempt to create a zebra display, donkeys were painted with stripes. The cages are assembled from fences that surrounded a Jewish settlement in Israel that was dismantled in 2005.

Anti-Israeli propaganda disguised as humorous human interest?

The only animals on display native to the area are the birds. All of the other animals were smuggled in.

Although it is somewhat morbid and macabre, this zoo does provide an otherwise unattainable experience for local children. Many of them would otherwise never get to experience these animals, and even in their despicable state, they are a treat to see.

-C

Photos:

http://exchangegoldforcash.com/money/u-s-government/president/2012-election/breitbart/stuffed-animals-join-live-ones-in-gaza-zoo/

http://www.3news.co.nz/Gaza-zoo-Stuffed-animals-join-live-ones/tabid/1160/articleID/251436/Default.aspx

http://www.youtube.com/blogs/id/n5Zre9kI3CQ

http://undhimmi.com/2009/10/09/friday-photo-those-evil-zebra-denying-jooz/

http://circusnospin.blogspot.com/2012/04/gaza-zoo-puts-stuffed-animals-in-cages.html

Walter Potter’s Whimsical World

A few weeks ago, I posted about rogue taxidermy and featured a photograph of kittens having tea (Kittens Having Tea and Squirrels Dueling). Recently, from some random internet browsing, I discovered who created this piece. It is actually much older than I expected and is not the only unusual piece that this artist created…

Walter Potter started to experiment with taxidermy in 1854 (at the age of 19). Although his profession was traditional taxidermy, he is famous for his anthropomorphic dioramas. These were displayed in his family’s pub, The White Lion.

Some of my favorites:

The Rabbits’ Village School – 1888

Features 48 rabbits performing multiple tasks from math to sewing.

The Upper Ten or Squirrels Club – unknown date

18 European Red Squirrels in a gentlemen’s club.

The Lower Five or Rats Den – unknown date

Companion to The Upper Ten. Made up of 15 Brown Rats in a much more rambunctious setting than the squirrels.

The Kitten Wedding – 1890’s

Potter’s only display with clothed animals.

After the Victorian Era, however, interest in taxidermy wavered. Unfortunately, in 2003 the collection was broken up in an auction. All together, the collection (consisting of 13 pieces) sold for £97,700. It is such a pity that the pieces could not stay together.

A very happy Easter or Passover to everyone!!! =)

-C

Many thanks for the pictures:

http://www.acaseofcuriosities.com/pages/01_2_00potter.html