Studio: international art — 2.1894

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Taxidermy as an Art

It is only within the last twenty-five
years that Taxidermy has been treated
as an art. Up to that time there were a certain
number of " stuffers " in the world, who thought that
their work was ended when the object was skinned,
prepared, and " stuffed." The mounting, or " dress-
ing " as it was termed, was left to the caprice of the
stuffer, and most of us can remember those cases
of mounted specimens in which some gorgeously
coloured tropical birds were surrounded by our
own more soberly coloured ones, the chief object
sought to be attained appearing to be the crowding
in the case of as many different species as possible.
I daresay many readers remember when the natural
history department was in the upper galleries of the
British Museum, with its shelves of specimens in
two or three conventional attitudes, either perched
upon the "hat peg" or standing on the "letter-
weight." I have a vivid recollection of wandering
down those long rooms bewildered by the rows of
these, and unable to fix my attention on any one
object by reason of the number and sameness of
the collection. Who could take an intelligent
interest in such a gathering of " fowl" when there
was an entire absence of individuality ? Nor is any
object served by such an arrangement. Specimens
preserved merely for reference by students and
naturalists are probably better kept as skins in
drawers where the light does not act injuriously
upon the colouring of the plumage, and where they
can be handled with impunity. On the other
hand, a museum should present to the crowd a
series of object lessons instructing through the eye;
for, if the attention is not fixed in some way, the
people pass along paying little heed to what is
displayed. I take it that the reason museums are
of so little vital interest to the majority of visitors,
is that there are too many objects on view and no
attempt is made to give actuality to the exhibits.
The effect in consequence is very much what is
produced on the mind by looking through a
dictionary of quotations. Without their context or
setting they are a mere string of words ; the quo-
tation is only actual when it is discovered by the
reader for himself, in its author's own environ-

The merit of having made a systematic attempt
to give "actuality" to stuffed specimens in a collec-
tion of birds, rests with those sporting naturalists
who, to adorn their own halls and smoking-rooms,
had cases of the rarer birds stuffed and mounted

under their own supervision, and who, keeping an
eye on the workman, got him out of his groove and
bade him place the specimens in appropriate sur-
roundings, instead of among the usual dried grasses
and ferns; with the birds themselves disposed in
more or less characteristic attitudes, in place of
each being made to look as though it were fixed to
be photographed. In short, it was not until each
case was arranged to give objectively the history of
the bird by showing us its natural environment, and
something of its habits, that any great advance was


evident in the art of Taxidermy. But to do this
adequately is beyond the resources of most
stuffers. It requires an intimate acquaintance with
the objects in their wild state, if each specimen is
to be given a characteristic attitude, and such know-
ledge is rarely possessed by the workman; besides
this, the modelling of leaves, plants, flowers, rocks
and other objects usually associated with each
specimen, present practical difficulties which can-
not be said to be altogether overcome even now.
No method has been discovered for drying leaves
or preserving them so that their colour and form are
retained, and the consequence is that all foliage
has to be modelled either in coloured wax or
coloured linen, work requiring considerable mani-
pulative skill, necessitating the employment of spe-
cialists and greatly increasing the cost of a case.
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