The Art of Animals

Many people associate taxidermy with deer heads mounted on walls, or the hunter Gaston using antlers in all of his decorating. Maybe you yourself grew up under the glassy gaze of a mule deer or a mountain goat. But taxidermy is an art form, and a science, that held a place of honor in both disciplines. Today, this discipline is far less popular than it was.

Imagine the world before color photography, and certainly before documentaries. Imagine growing up in Spokane in the 1920’s, and going to the Campbell House to see the natural history exhibit, and coming face to face with a snarling tiger. You would see each of its whiskers, its muscles tensed, the beautiful pattern of its carefully preserved coat. Very few people in the museum would ever travel to a continent with a tiger in it, let alone see a live wild one, and certainly not up close.

Creating a taxidermy specimen requires extensive knowledge of animal anatomy. A good specimen has weight, grace, and accuracy to capture the spirit of the animal in its natural habitat.

Mourning Dove, John James Audubon. 

Again, before photography, preserved specimens were the only way for artists and scientists to get accurate references. Without them, Audubon’s carefully studied and beautifully executed paintings would not have been possible.

Carolina Parakeet, John James Audubon. This print is on display at the Fangs, Fur & Feathers exhibit!

Today, as species go extinct and focus shifts to zoos, many museums are discarding their taxidermy collections. As older specimens were generally made from a single animal, with all its imperfections, newer specimens focus on re-creating a “perfect” specimen for study.

This show is very possibly a last chance to see specimens like this, some of which are over 100 years old.


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