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Taxidermy

american, natural, museums, museum, animals, mounted and arts

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TAXIDERMY is the art of stuffing and mounting the skins of animals, or their heads, so as to appear natural and lifelike. It is no longer a question of filling out a skin, but rather of making a statue of a creature long since dead, which will exactly fit the skin of that particular creature, stand erect and pose as the counterpart of life. "Taxidermy, the hand maid of said Dr. J. A. Allen, "has already become one of the fine arts, requiring the skill and other qualities of both the sculptor and the painter, and capable of yielding results comparable with the masterpieces of either.° It is, however, one of the newest of the arts. and there is serious need of a well-established school of taxidermy in connection with some one of our great museums. Prior to 1880 only one American museum (rhe National) main tained a corps of taxidermists, and the ma jority of the mounted birds and mammals which found their way into other American museums were mounted at Ward's Natural Science Establishment, by men from France and Germany. Methods were crude and results were far below the standards attained a few years later. Much of the work produced prior to 1880 has since been either dismounted and remounted or else destroyed.

In March 1880, at Ward's establishment in Rochester, N. Y., Messrs. Hornaday, Webster, Lucas, Martens, Bailly, Critchley and Fraine organized the National Society of American Taxidermists and seriously began the task of developing taxidermy up to the level of the fine arts. All jealousy and exclusiveness were swept aside and the three competitive exhibi tions that were held in Rochester, Boston and Neal York finally opened the eyes of scientific met and of the general public also to the pos sibilities of scholarly taxidermy, when prop erly encouraged and paid for. The upward impetus then gained has already carried Ameri can taxidermy beyond the original hopes of the founders of the society and the museums of America are now being filled with mounted vertebrates that in large measure are not only of real educational value but are also agreeable to the eye. No modern American museum is now complete without a well-equipped depart ment of taxidermy, in charge of a chief taxider mist on a salary, which in 1880 would have been considered unattainable.

In a modern, high-class taxidermist, the first requisite is not a knowledge of methods in mounting, but the thorough education of the eye in animal forms and expressions. This must be secured by courses in drawing, model ing, carving and painting. The skeletons and external muscles of animals must be well studied, the latter from life. Besides the mak ing of numberless sketches from life, hundreds of live-animal photographs should be collected and arranged for reference. Casts of heads and special parts of dead animals are of great importance and should be diligently collected. At all times must the natural history of the vertebrates be studied and kept in mind. When this preparatory work has been accomplished the aspirant for taxidermic honors must secure admission to the laboratory of some master taxidermist and work with him to acquire a knowledge of methods.

A comparison of American with European taxidermy is of but passing interest, chiefly for the reason that without an international ex hibition it is impossible to draw parallels of positive value. From three inspections of European zoological museums, made in 1876, 1896 and 1902, it is the opinion of the writer that the best of our museum taxidermy is now decidedly in advance of the best to be found in Europe. The groups of mammals, great and small, that now are so intensely interesting to visitors in the museums of Washington, New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Milwaukee and at the University of Kansas, have no counterparts in Europe. The British Museum of Natural History at South Kensington contains a fine series of groups of birds, mounted with natural accessories. In the museum of the Amsterdam 'Natures Artis Magistra,a there are a number of excellent groups of birds. In the museums of the American cities mentioned above the huge family groups representing the bison moose, elk, caribou, musk-ox, deer, antelope, eland, zebra and other animals, all provided with carefqlly-studied natural accessories, con stitute enduring monuments to the skill of American taxidermists.

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