Carl Akeley was born on May 19th,1864 on a farm in Clarendon NY. Imagine if he were alive today and was a guest on the Larry King or Barbara Walter's show.I could visualize their faces as they would know nothing about taxidermy. But I could see 'Ol Ake himself sitting there amazed at all the high tech camera equipment and that 'new thing' called a video recorder. After his initial shock at it all,he'd be ready to answer their questions. It would've taken Akeley only minutes to realize that he was talking to yet another group of people with an untold amount of disposable income that he would just love to get his hands on for a fresh lifetime of ideas and visions. The concept of foam mannikins would bring a sparkle to his eyes. The onslaught of the Animal Rights Activists would make his temper flare and a walk down any contemporary taxidermy competition isle would leave him breathless! The details,the techniques,the accuracy and the imagination would make him want to leave the the Gates of Heaven at once. New names (to him that is)like Kish,Boyce,Meder,Behns,Walker and Martin,just off the top of my head,would intrigue him beyond belief.
Finally, a stroll down memory lane as he realizes for the first time,that the Board of Trustees at the AMNH re-named the Roosevelt African Hall after him,The Akeley African Hall! What an honor for such a man who took taxidermy and put it on the same level that any other art would enjoy. I could hear him say with an air of urgency in his voice,"Where are they?! Where are they?!" As the hand of time would gently point to the diorama on the right,he would jump with... "There they are! The Mountain Gorilla Group,just as they were in the Virungas. Look,there's the Old Man of Mikeno,and over here in the center is the Lone Male of Karisimbi,they beat their chests like that you know. Ah,and there's Clarence,he was just like me when I was at his age. See how his mother still looks quite the lady."
Backing up he would stand under the enormous mass of the Charging Herd of elephants. He never lived to see it complete.Now is the first time for him. "I knew they would last,I just knew it." Patting the rear guard like a long lost freind,he needed his handkerchief once again. As he pulled it out of his very crumpled suit,a piece of paper fell to the floor. He picked it up,read it to himself and smiled as his voice echoed off every pane of glass in the museum itself. It was a line of a favorite poem carried by him all his professional life. Only now he could enjoy its irony now..." Death Wins! Bravo! But I laugh in his face as he noses me out at the wire." He leaves to go back where he was born to be. Only this time he needn't worry who was paying his passage or the long boaring voyage of 19th century ocean travel. He's going back to Mikeno now,but with him,is the appreciation of every taxidermist who ever lived since his time to the present,tucked deep in his soul for all eternity. One day,we'll all be there with him,but until then,let's lift a glass up to Carl Akeley today and remember him as the Grand Master that he was and always will be to the industry,the family and the brotherhood of taxidermy.
Happy Birthday Ake!
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I bet a lot of old timers could put there bird work beside the same today...and It would look just as good If not better then anything done today
I don't doubt that, but Carl didn't have all the whiz bang technology that we have today and if you'd ever seen his work, you'd know that like Babe Ruth or Cy Young or even Theodore Roosevelt, his ideas were far ahead of his times and his accomplishments for the period HE LIVED IN are still noteworthy in comparison with what we have today. I can only imagine how his work might have looked had he had the availabilty of polyurethane foam, RTV, casting resin, or a good fleshing machine. By ridiculing your history, you dishonor what made life easier for you. No matter who comes along, Carl was the first. I'm reminded of what Reggie Jackson said when he was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I'm paraphrasing but he remarked that how humbled he was to be there and that even with his own self worth, he knew that he probably wasn't among the greatest ballplayers that ever lived. Still, he now knew that when someone read off the list of names there, that HIS name would be included in the list. I think that's all any of us can hope for in any field of endeavor. Some of us won't ever be on that list, but it's still a source of pride to tell someone that I personally KNOW someone on that list. But you won't be able to do that, will you? After all, you're ANONYMOUS.
Nice write up. Made for nice lunch hour reading. George, how true, people should never forget where they came from and who preceeded them as they set the initial ground work that you work with everyday!
Recognition by your peers & others is always a nice benefit to ones own self satisfaction, but always satisfy yourself before anything else!
And I share your great respect for the man. I think his contribution was a great one, but as we talked at the PA meeting, I think numerous taxidermists of the time were just as skilled but did not get the publicity. Maybe I just favor the underdog a bit too much.
Did Jay Kirk ever get in touch with you Mr. Janelli?
I can not thank you enough for putting Mr.Kirk and I together when you did. Although I think I have him shaken up a bit with my passion,and it's not just for Akeley,believe me. It's been burning inside of me ever since I was a kid. I not only collect old taxidermy books,I read every one of them. Even the ones that are in the bibliography. Every book I saw in your collection that I did not have only a few months ago,I now own. They are the only windows I have to our past,our history and heritage. On the History Channel,one can learn about the history of anything you can name except taxidermy. If we don't pursue,record and interpret our history,do you really see anyone else doing it for us? Akeley has been acclaimed not just by me,but by everyone who was anybody when he lived in his time and after. Sure there were others. But how can I mention names like Lewis Dyche,Martha Maxwell and John Bell when most people have never cared or heard of Carl Akeley? It's all about educating those who wish to learn. Yet all three of those individuals I mentioned were earth shakers in our industry. I can roll off the dates of births and deaths of just about every taxidermist I have studied. I can give out information about things like the conception of the Federal Migratory Bird Laws when they were started in 1912. But did any one know that they were aimed at Black people,Italian imigrants and poor class southern whites? Did you know that Wm.T.Hornaday was the biggest instigator of such laws claiming that a man should all but be tried for (get this) "MURDER" for breaking the bird laws. Even Akeley himself was made out to be this guardian of wild life when in fact he thought nothing of killing a bull elephant and just leaving him there unskinned because the tusks weren't even. Oh he took the ivory and sold it,but he wrote about it and owned up to it in his book. That's just one of the things I love about him,his honesty. No phony stories about shooting only when he had to or only for the perfect specimen. He was ONE OF US first,everything else second. For those who may not know, Jay Kirk is writing a book on Akeley. This book will be from the taxidermists perspective and am happy to assist him in any way I can. He is not a taxidermist but then it always seems that taxidermists make their biggest impression on authors who are not. Some one once said "Give me a place to stand and I'll move the world." Akeley had his feet planted solid on the industry of taxidermy and he did in fact move our world.
Enjoyed the reading, JJ. It's a shame that all the history of taxidermy sometimes gets swept under the floor. I'll be looking forward to reading Jay Kirk's book.
Johns passion for this stuff is real and genuine. John, thanks for the Clark form and the book. I collect old taxidermy books as well, nothing as extensive as Johns, but it became one book bigger courtesy of a generous gift from John Janelli...