Multimedia presentation on taxidermy–and an aside on women in natural history

It’s not a museum site, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has put together a nice slide show, with a voice over by self-described “taxidermologist” and Carnegie Museum of Natural History collections manager Stephen Rogers, on “The Art of Taxidermy.”

This multimedia piece is marked by lovely photography and Rogers’s clear passion for his subject.

That said, I must take issue with one of Rogers’s assertions: he claims it’s only in the past 50 or 100 years that taxidermists began mounting habitat groups–that is, groups of animals represented in their environments. In fact, Colorado resident Martha Maxwell was crafting habitat groups in the third quarter of the 19th century; she exhibited a large habitat group of flora and fauna at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. Rogers’s statement is just another example of how women “get disappeared” from the history of natural history in the U.S.

I’d like to see more museums make transparent the processes by which they produce their exhibits and conduct research. Doing so, of course, garners the attention of foundations and big donors, but it also can make visible those workers who tend to be rendered invisible by the ways we talk about science: technicians, assistants, and women (even those of some stature, such as the early 20th-century curators I’m writing about in my dissertation).

An elephant in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
(Photo by Leslie Madsen-Brooks.)

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