New Smithsonian Mammal Exhibit

Submitted by George on 05/25/2004 at 09:59. ( )

I went to Washington D.C. yesterday to take videos of the new World War II memorial for my octagenarian dad who couldn't make the formal opening this coming Monday. (After seeing the throngs of people there YESTERDAY and knowing that 40,000 people will be on that mall on Monday, I wouldn't WANT him to be there). The memorial is beautiful and I'm glad that it was completed before we've lost all our WWII veterans. I always pay my respects to the Vietnam Memorial and I visited the newer Korea War memorial which was pretty inspiring in itself. Then I went to visit fun things.

I visited the new wing of the Smithsonian and I have to admit to some mixed feelings.

First and foremost, the work was exquisite. John Matthews and Ken Walker did some exceptional work on the new stuff. There are still a few of the older BEST mounts (like the hippo for example)but the exhibit itself was a little disappointing.

I have no idea who the curator is who came up with such a boneheaded idea, but these beautiful mounts are presented to the public much like you'd expect from an insect collection. The facility is ultra-modern, well lighted and spacious. All mounts are displayed behind one inch thick glass to keep hands off, yet the panels are opened at the top so the don't look encased. My biggest gripe is they are just MOUNTS. No dioramas. No effort has been made to hide the bolts supporting the mounts and many are just bolted to studs sticking out of the wall. There are a couple mounts with simplistic dioramas like the huge bull giraffe eating acacia leaves and the okapi or the bull Cape buffalo being attacked by two lions, but the majority of the mounts seem "clinical" in their presentation.

The modern taxidermist will quickly recognize forms that he or she uses on a daily basis. I know for expediency and cost this was the best way to go, but with the Smithsonian, I guess I was expecting custom workmanship on the mannikins. The room has several optic panels where video of live plains animals are used, but again, I guess I wasn't prepared to have quality taxidermy without supporting dioramas.

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what a shame

This response submitted by Bill Yox on 05/25/2004 at 11:03. ( )

It makes me mad, actually. I know that John Matthews had his heart into that project, as I recall conversations with him many years ago on just that subject. I also know that it meant alot to Ken Walker too. I believe there were many other taxidermists as "guests" that contributed as well. I wish I had been involved, but as I always say...

I think that what they proposed to do would have showcased Matthews, Walker, Paul Rymer and so many others true talents, but sadly, instead Im willing to bet the funding was shut down and reduced it to the level of any other short term project.

Anyway, heres to hoping those guys, very deserving so, got as much out of it personally as they could. Even though the viewer may not, by the sounds of it.

Mammal Hall

This response submitted by Ken R. Walker on 05/25/2004 at 16:10. ( () )

The decision to pull all habitat broke Johns heart and taxidermists were considered very low on the totem pole.I came into the project late and had to work with very specific parameters from the contracted design firms.My job was to make mannikens for those specimens that were rare or in poor condition.We were under a deadline and towards the end were pushed very hard.I could go on about such things as politics,suits,liberals,and treachery but I`m home now and still very grateful for the experience.

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