I am seeking information on Leon Luther Pray a taxidermist that worked for the Field Museum in Chicago during the early half of the 20th century. I am conducting research on ealry taxidermists who worked in museums and published books on the art and technique of taxidermy. If anyone has information regarding Pray's life, education, professional life, or have information regarding who he might have trained in the art of taxidermy please respons to my e:mail at Melinda_Herzog@ baylor.edu. Thank you for your assistance.
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The first thing you should do, and you may already know him, is to contact Dr. Stephen Williams at the Museum/Zoology Department at Baylor. Dr. Williams is a mammalogist and conservationist (one who is trained in conservation of scientific specimens ˝ a zoological conservator) who has worked at Texas Tech, Carnegie Museum, and now Baylor. Ditto, as I affectionately call him, (We were two Stephens at the Carnegie at the same time) has a great knowledge about historical preparation and some about taxidermists. He has done some historical work tracing use of chemicals in preparation and taxidermy back several Hundred Years.
The second angle, besides a very thorough library search, would be to contact the individual Museums themselves. Unfortunately most no longer have Taxidermy departments and you probably should contact the archivist at each of the institutions. While there are a large number of very noted taxidermists who made great inroads into improving the art of Taxidermy, very few actually published books specific to the topic. More often small improvements were published in ýScientific, Semi-scientific, or Popular Magazinesţ such as Museum Graphic, Museum News, Mentor, Scientific Monthly, etc. such as Homer Dill, John Rowley, Jonas, Santens, Pray, etc. Some published popular books containing popular stories of collecting trips (Carl Akeley, Robert Rockwell, James Lippit Clark, Stoddard, Sutton, etc). A third angle would be to read books about taxidermists, Lewis Lyndsay Dyche, William T. Hornaday (there is a Ph.D. dissertation on his early years that I have a copy of), Carl Akeley a recent book and about 8 written after his untimely death by his wives, and others.
The biographies of the individual taxidermists could be supplemented by articles either about them or by them in the Taxidermist Trade Journals, which also span the last 100 years. About the most complete library holding most of these journals would be perhaps the Field Museum where Pray Worked combined with the Milwaukee MuseumÝs Floyd EastermansÝ Personal Library. If you are serious about a thorough search you probably should take a trip to these two localities.
The only long time American Museum Taxidermists I am aware of who actually were good taxidermists and wrote books on HOW to do taxidermy would be Pray, Rowley, Frank Tose, Hornaday, John Moyer, Penny Daigre. A number of Taxidermists worked briefly for a Large Natural History Museum and then wrote books on the subject, the most notable being Joe Kish. Waddy McFall worked very briefly as a Taxidermist at the AMNH, and also wrote a book, but was not a great taxidermist and wrote a poor book. Many Commercial Taxidermists did taxidermy jobs for Museums and also wrote on the subject, most notable Coleman Jonas.
Presently, most Large Natural History Museums no longer have a bevy of Taxidermists working on site, and actually contract out the work. Unfortunately, the exact methods used in this Taxidermy is often not up to the old standards of years gone bye when learned taxidermists based at the museums did all the work. The techniques though are constantly improving.
Good Luck on your study, and contact me if you wish, after you talk with ditto ˝ I can perhaps give you some references to look up ˝ what are you doing for the next five years?
i knew mr. pray for about 7 yrs. before his death.he only lived about 20 mi. from my home at the time.he was quite old i was quite young,we were friends.i used to bring him my early work to critique and he certainly did that/ he could be quite harsh at times but i had so much respect for him i just took his advice and tried over again.he once told me i had great promise and i never forgot that. J.f.K