Practice of creating lifelike representations of animals by using their prepared skins and various supporting structures. Taxidermy began with the ancient custom of keeping trophies of the hunt. Beginning in the 18th century, a growing interest in natural history resulted in collections and exhibits of birds, beasts, and curiosities. Chemically preserving skins, hair, and feathers made it possible to recreate the appearance of live animals by stuffing the sewed-up skin with straw or hay. Constructing and sculpting anatomically correct manikins of clay and plaster are the basis of modern taxidermy.
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Taxidermy (Greek for "skin arrangement") is the art of mounting or reproducing animals for display (e.g. as hunting trophies) or for other sources of study. Taxidermy can be done on all species of animals including humans. The methods that taxidermists practice have been improved over the last century, heightening taxidermic quality. After cleaning out the organs and blood and eyes, they replace them with substances to preserve them and replace the eyes.
Taxidermists may practice professionally, for museums or as a business catering to hunters and fishermen, or as amateurs, such as hobbyists, hunters, and fishermen. To practice taxidermy, one must be extremely familiar with anatomy, dissection, sculpture, and painting, as well as tanning.
As the demand for quality leather and hides grew, the methods became more and more sophisticated. By the 1700s, almost every small town had a prosperous tannery business. In the 1800s, hunters began bringing their trophies to upholstery shops where the upholsterers would actually sew up the animal skins and stuff them with rags and cotton. The term "stuffing" or a "stuffed animal" evolved from this crude form of taxidermy. Professional taxidermists prefer the term "mounting" to "stuffing". More sophisticated cotton wrapped wire bodies supporting sewn on cured skins soon followed.In France Louis Dufresne, taxidermist at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle from 1793, popularized arsenical soap in an article in Nouveau dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle (1803–1804). This technique enabled the Muséum to build the greatest collection of birds in the world.
In the early 20th century, taxidermy began to evolve into its modern form under the leadership of artists such as Carl Akeley, James L. Clark, William T. Hornaday, Coleman Jonas, Fredrick and William Kaempfer, and Leon Pray. These and other taxidermists developed anatomically accurate figures which incorporated every detail in artistically interesting poses, with mounts in realistic settings and poses that were considered more appropriate for the species. This was quite a change from the caricatures that were popularly offered as hunting trophies.
Taxidermists seek to continually maintain their skills to ensure attractive, life-like results.
Taxidermy specimens can be saved for later use by freezing. The taxidermist then removes the skin, to be tanned and treated for later use. The remaining muscle fibers and bones are measured and posed. The carcass is then molded in plaster. The carcass is then removed and the mold is used to produce a cast of the animal called a mannequin. Mannequins can also be made by sculpting the animal first in clay. There are many companies that produce stock forms in many sizes that can be used. Glass eyes are then usually added to the display, and possibly also artificial teeth, depending on the subject's original dental condition.
An increasingly popular trend is to freeze dry the animal. This can be done with reptiles, birds, and small mammals such as cats, large mice and some types of dogs. Freeze drying is expensive and time consuming. The equipment is expensive and requires much upkeep. Large specimens can be required to spend as long as 6 months in the freeze dryer, although it is the preferred technique for pets.
Another new trend is the creation of entirely artificial fish mounts from photographs for catch-and-release fishermen. This technique, called reproduction Taxidermy, is gaining favor with both fishermen and animal-rights organizations.
Rogue taxidermy is the creation of stuffed animals which do not have real, live counterparts, such as the jackalope and the skvader. They may have mythical counterparts (e.g. dragons), be of the taxidermist's imagination, or be endangered or extinct species. They can be made from the supposed parts of mythical animals (e.g. chimeras, griffins, unicorns) or they may be artificially created. Rogue taxidermy is often seen in sideshows and dime museums among genuine freak animals.
The term "Rogue Taxidermy" was introduced by the Minneapolis, MN based group, The Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists (or M.A.R.T.) in October of 2004. It was first coined by M.A.R.T. founders Sarina Brewer, Scott Bibus, and Robert Marbury. The term first appeared in print in a New York Times article about the group's debut exhibition on January 3rd, 2005. Since that time its definition has become more general, referring to many types of taxidermy that do not fall under the trade of it.
Art taxidermists such as David Blyth and Polly Morgan use taxidermy to create art either as its sole content or as part of an installation.
The most famous practitioner was English taxidermist Walter Potter. His most famous work includes The Upper Ten or Squirrels’ Club featuring 18 European red squirrels socialising at their 'club', and Death of Cock Robin, a setting of the nursery rhyme.