Per Wikipedia, taxidermy is the preserving of an animal’s body via mounting (over an armature) or stuffing, for the purpose of display or study. Animals are often, but not always, portrayed in a lifelike state. The word taxidermy describes the process of preserving the animal but the word is also used to describe the end product, which are called taxidermy mounts, or referred to simply as “taxidermy”. The word taxidermy is derived from the Greek words “taxis” and “derma”. Taxis means “to move”, and “derma” means “skin” (the dermis). The word taxidermy translates to “arrangement of skin”. Taxidermy takes on a number of forms and purposes including, but not limited to, hunting trophies and natural history museum displays. Museums use taxidermy as a method to record species, including those that are extinct and threatened, in the form of study skins and life-size mounts. Preserving animal skins has been practiced for a long time. Embalmed animals have been found with Egyptian mummies. Although embalming incorporates the use of lifelike poses, it is not considered taxidermy. In the Middle Ages, crude examples of taxidermy were displayed by astrologers and apothecaries. The earliest methods of preservation of birds for natural history cabinets were published in 1748 by Reaumur in France. Techniques for mounting were described in 1752 by M. B. Stollas. There were several pioneers of taxidermy in France, Germany, Denmark and England around this time. For a while, clay was used to shape some of the soft parts, but this made specimens heavy. By the 19th century, almost every town had a tannery business. In the 19th century, 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. However, the art of taxidermy remained relatively undeveloped, and the specimens that were created remained stiff and unconvincing. The golden age of taxidermy was during the Victorian era, when mounted animals became a popular part of interior design and décor. English ornithologist John Hancock is considered to be the father of modern taxidermy, an avid collector of birds, which he would shoot himself, he began modeling them with clay and casting in plaster. For the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, he mounted a series of stuffed birds as an exhibit. They generated much interest among the public and scientists alike who considered them as superior to earlier models and were regarded as the first lifelike and artistic specimens on display. A judge remarked that Hancock’s exhibit “… will go far towards raising the art of taxidermy to a level with other arts which have hitherto held higher pretensions.” Hancock’s display sparked great national interest in taxidermy, and amateur and professional collections for public view proliferated rapidly. Displays of birds were particularly common in middle-class Victorian homes – even Queen Victoria amassed an impressive bird collection.
Story by Merideth Grinnell.