First Aid, Taxidermy

Picturing the Museum

11.21.08 | 6 Comments

Positioning of Timber Wolf skeleton for mounting. American Museum of Natural History. Photograph by Robert E. Logan.
...mold of wolf model completed...
...mounting of timber wolf completed and ready for installation into museum.
Mounting a Timber Wolf skeleton. American Museum of Natural History. Photographs by Robert E. Logan.

High art in the taxidermy world, the American Museum of Natural History has a remarkable, rich collection of photographs documenting the process of creating the museum’s wonderful visual displays of natural science.

I’ve been slowly poring over these photos tonight, musing about an alternate life as a science exhibit muralist or designer. I would wear a long white lab coat and have accidental paint under my nails, but I’d be carefully ironic with well-groomed eyebrows and full-on makeup. Whether I’d simultaneously have a posse of boys running around my feet is anyone’s guess but I’m pretty sure they’d be banned from this fascinating studio scene. Experience has shown anyway that a far stronger distraction lies within every museum in the museum store, full of all sorts of shiny museum stuff to buy.

Museum staff painting background and mounting animals for Tiger Group, Asian Hall
Museum staff painting background and mounting animals for Tiger Group, Asian Hall. American Museum of Natural History. Photograph by H.S. Rice.

An important process in itself, the act of documenting in pictures such an involved museum production offers a fascinating glimpse into that private, behind-the-scenes world seldom seen by the public and active, curious little boys. Dioramas are, in my mind, precious recreations of man’s love affair with his perceived world. My heart resides at this intersection of art, science and nature. So it’s thrilling to find these photographs to share with the boys. Maybe they will shed some warm light on the understandably bizarre memories of dusty dioramas that I forced them to endure when they, indeed, would rather have been running the halls, trying to find the museum store with the rummage bin full of $5 geodes and those wands with the shiny, spinning LED globes.

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