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Zebra Mount Mystery Solved!

Discussion in 'Taxidermy History' started by LordRusty, Jun 18, 2010.

  1. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    About 12 years or so ago, I won this photo from an eBay auction ...
    ... and I was wondering what museum these Zebra mannikins were created for. I had no clue ... zero ... nada ... until today!

    The reason I even bought it in the first place was because I recognized it had to be from some museum ... somewhere ... and I have a real penchant for all historical aspects of this field. Recognizing it as a museum "publicity" photo, I just had to have it. As it turned out, no one else did, and I got it for a song!

    Today, as I was going through my files I came across this photo ...
    Of course our own PA - Stephen Rogers - recognizes this diorama from the Carnegie Museum! Stephen, can you enlighten us with who the Sculptor/Taxidermist was who created the beauties?

    At any rate, it took me a just seconds to recognize the big Mare in the front of this photo ... it's in the old photo I bought!
    I always liked the Grant's Stallion in this diorama, and here was his mannikin ... in a different position from the photo of the mounts, but it is him all the same! And personally ... I would LOVE to have a copy of that mannikin! It is GORGEOUS!!!

    The whole Grant's Zebra "Family" is here in mannikin form ... even the Foal. Why is the little mannikin darker than those of the adults? It has been sealed with Orange Shellac. Remember these are paper forms, and they needed to be sealed and waterproofed before mounting, and Orange Shellac was - and is still - the best material for the job. Notice too the little ones skin has been soaked up in preparation for mounting. You can see the mane hairs are quite damp.

    Realizing I had just solved a 12-year old mystery ... well for me at any rate ... I immediately set about looking closely at all the individuals in this diorama, and matched them to my "no longer a mystery photo!"

    The two that stumped me for a few seconds are the mannikins for the Grevy's pair ... Mare and Stallion. But ... their mannikins as the others ... are no longer a mystery!
    Notice the teeth in the mouth of the Mare! How cool.

    You have to readily admit, the detail in these mannikins is outstanding!

    I hope you all enjoy these images as much as I have through the years. Thanks for looking!

  2. Wayne R

    Wayne R NRA and B&C Life Member

    I think that's pretty cool, John.

  3. 7-Point

    7-Point Active Member

    That is pretty cool to find an old picture like that and match it to a museum piece today. Thanks for sharing, and i really like the whole mount and scene.
  4. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    The sculptor was one of the Santens brothers, FAR superior taxidermists than people ever gave them credit for. Few people will agree but my view of the brothers is that they were actually better taxidermists than Akeley. If you look at taxidermy pieces done in the period 1910 to 1917 or so, no museum has specimens currently in as good a shape as these mounts are. John, you have seen the series of taxidermy pieces published after Akeley's death :

    Osgood, Wilfred H., editor. 1927. The Work of Carl E. Akeley in the Field Museum of Natural History. Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago. 48 Photogravures + 1-page introduction.

    The pieces that Akeley did were accurate but they generally have absolutely no personality. They were perhaps mounted for simple display but there was no "Art" in the pieces. When at the Field Museum he hadn't really figured it all out.

    There were two Santens brothers, Remi and Joseph Santens. Both started at Wards' Natural Science Establishement, and Remi spent more time there than any 'graduate' that left for another job - 18 total years before he came to the Carnegie Museum. By the time he got here, he already knew what side the bread was buttered on. Remi trained Rockwell when he was at Wards, and I beleive Rockwell looked upon Remi as one of the greats. Joseph Santens started working at Wards when he was 14 years old. In the 1890's Joseph as a Taxidermist apprentice worked 6 ten hour days a week and was paid the grand sum of $2.50. Just before Remi came to the Carnegie Museum in 1903 he was only making $18.00 a week, and he was forced to mass produce mounts in rapid manner to make money for the business. Museums were about quality and he very much liked his position here over that at Wards. Joseph came in here in 1907.

    I sometimes wonder why various pictures end up on Ebay. I lucked into a set that came out about 2006 or so that were actually ones that were purchased at an auction 30 miles south of Pittsburgh and then sold on ebay. I bought about 8 pictures or so or the 20 out for sale and some and spent a bit of money. They had to have been from Santens relatives or who knows where, but some pictures were from Wards and some were of mounts this museum owns. One picture of a small chimpanzee is that of a current mount that sits in my office which sits next to the former Large Mammal Taxidermy Room which currently is the Curator of Birds office. Above the Prep Lab is the room they tanned the hides.

    The original case with the two family groups was a four sided case finished in 1912 and can be seen in Hornaday's publication Masterpieces of American Taxidermy. The glass hadn't been put in place when the picture was taken. see this link:
    Google Books link.

    I am going to attempt to add a picture here - if it is too large I will add it below in another post (I'm not that computer savy).
  5. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    picture/ Joseph is the one on the right.

    Attached Files:

  6. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    Stephen, I'm not as attuned to history as some of you guys, but I've seen Akeley's work and when I saw these pictures, I was astonished at the superb quality and lifelike poses actually animated. Taking all things into consideration, I could certainly never argue your point that they were better than Akeley (geez, I know JJ will have a coronary when he reads that). I suspect that Akeley being a showman and self promoting as he was played a bigger role in his fame than his taxidermy obviously. I still can't get over the details in work done over 100 years ago and it, at the very least would equal the best work we have available today. Thank you BOTH for sharing.
  7. Bill Yox

    Bill Yox Well-Known Member

    Im always humbled by our history. I love this.
  8. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    Thank you, Stephen! I knew if anyone had some answers as to the Sculptor/Taxidermists it would be you!

    What's very cool about the photo you posted, is the fact that they incorporated the leg bones into the hollow mannikins!

    At first I thought they were "direct built" mannikins, as illustrated in John Rowley's 1898 "The Art Of Taxidermy".
    "Mannikin For Zebra, First Stage."

    "Mannikin For Zebra, Second Stage."

    "Mannikin For Zebra, Completed, Ready For The Skin."

    "The Specimen Completed."​

    When you consider the publication date of this book - 1898 - this mount is even more astounding! This was pre-Akeley's clay mannikins ... or at least this is what was being done around the same time as Carl Akeley was developing his system ... as were other Taxidermists. He was not the only one sculpting models in clay to make molds from. Akeley perfected Elephant Taxidermy like none before, but others were sculpting and molding big game specimens as well. He took it to another level that others later emulated, but he was not alone! ;)

    It is amazing sometimes the real treasures one can find on eBay! I gotten other old photos, books, catalogs, and such that are long out of print, and some things I didn't even know existed! Also, among the books I've acquired through eBay from the early days of Taxidermy, I have found quite in-depth descriptions in the instructions for creating each type of specimen. Whether it be Birds, Small Mammals, Game Heads, Large Mammals or Fish, John Rowley's Books contained more information than any later publication that followed.

    For instance, in Rowley's 1925 "Taxidermy And Museum Exhibition", he describes how to build a sculpting platform - or as he called it a modeling pedestal - in detail, giving the lumber and cutting list, then explaining how to build it, then begin to set up a clay model!

    So many books that came later, only touched on certain aspects of this field, and always left me wanting to fill in the blanks. These old masterpieces were the inspiration for the in-depth treatment I gave my book. Like Rowley, I wanted to leave no stone unturned.

    At any rate, to see how the Santens incorporated the leg bones into the mannikin is very cool indeed! What better way to get the exact size of those fine features. Not to mention the other details I am seeing ... bone structure of the head, shape of the nostrils. I see no Zebra mannikin or headform today that has facial features as these men put into their mannikins ... not even the throat definition ... as seen in these photos.

    These are truly found treasures! Thanks for sharing that great old photo with us!

  9. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    This post from the past gives a few opinions I have held on how the whole field of sculpting manikins had evolved from a LARGE group of people, not just Akeley. It is a post JJ wrote on Clark but I added a few of my opinions.


    No one person develops a whole new way of mounting specimens. There was a huge European influence of techniques that had evolved there for centuries and the immigrants brought that knowledge to the US. Akeley got 'credit' for the technique but he certainly wasn't the only one involved in the evolution of the techniques. I still credit the Wards' Taxidermists and the lines all draw back to someone who worked there. For example, Jeness Richardson, (I believe worked for Wards for a while) then came to the Smithsonian and worked for Hornaday when he was mounting his bison groups. From there, the AMNH snagged him and he became Chief Taxidermist at the American Museum from 1886-1891 (1893?). Richardson was credited by many as a major player in the Habitat Groups at the AMNH. However, the Assistant to Richardson was none other than John Rowley. Rowley wrote his two books, pictures of which you posted.

    The world was small back then and all the major players knew each other. You can find information so easy now on the web. For example, I was searching on Richardson and found a link where Charles Knight, the artist, mentions Rowley - see
    this Google Books link.

    If you read a few pages here, there is stories about anatomy study of Knight with Rowley and a gentleman named Wortman who actually discovered a dinosaur ultimately named Diplodocus carnegii which Andrew Carnegie bought for Pittsburgh. Knight's work exists at AMNH and the Field Museum where he obviously met Pray and others.

    Rowley had other papers detailing taxidermy to the general public. see his paper "Taxidermy as an Art"
    this Google Books link.

    All those people were involved in creating habitat groups besides developing manikins and such, but yet Akeley is credited by himself as the founder of the Habitat Group and the person who solely invented the modern method of making manikans. Just because you read this latter stories over and over in Delia, and Mary Job, and Bodry Saunders' books, doesn't make it true. Akeley put one pant leg on at a time, the same as Rowley, Richardson, Hornaday, and the Santens brothers.

    To show you how far Remi Santens thought about sculpting and simplifying the steps look at this link title Progress in Taxidermy. there is a photo of an "adjustable clay modelling frame" for sculpting manikins for mounting. Page down a couple pages from the opening page
    this Google Books link.

    It took me YEARS to find all these papers - now all you have to do is type in the title of the article and there the link is.
  10. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    True ... but you have hunted down those links! And for that, I for one, am very grateful!

    All one has to do is look at the names of the Taxidermists credited with the majority of the mounts in the African Hall. The name Robert Rockwell is mentioned more - I think - than any other. Hell ... it was Rockwell who finished Akeley's African Elephant herd. Akeley died before African hall was finished, and he entrusted Rockwell with completing many of the mounts for the dioramas, including the "rear four" plus the calf in front of the Elephant herd. I believe Akeley mounted the lead Cow, Juvenile Bull, three year old Cow, and the trumpeting Bull - he mounted these front four assisted by Louis Paul Jonas.

    Other Taxidermists responsible for some beautiful mounts were, or course ... James L. Clark; John W. Hope; Gardell Christensen; George Adams; ArminSchmidt who went on to work for Dr. Clark, just to name a few. And all of these gentlemen were already master Taxidermists in their own right! They garnered the title "Master" the hard way ... they earned it ... by skinning, sculpting, molding, casting, and mounting their own specimens. Yes, they had assistants, but they oversaw all aspects even if their hands weren't directly "in the plaster". And these men didn't come to the museum and learn these things ... they trained for years, just as Carl Akeley had. I think because of the massive undertaking in creating all of his Elephants for both AMNH and Field Museum.

    Many of Akeley's earliest works at Field Museum were more in the line of scientific study specimens ... that could explain the lack of "personality" in some of those early mounts. The same CANNOT be said for his "Four Seasons" Whitetail Deer groups. Those are an absolute study in Natural History, and the animals are very much alive appearing! I'd say besides the African Elephants, and Mountain Gorillas, these tributes to the North American Whitetail Deer are among Akeley's greatest achievements!

    Carl Akeley was bestowed the title "Father of Modern Taxidermy" but there were many before him, and those that were his contemporaries, that were all elevating the work. His work on Elephants, I believe, is what really clinched that title! Regardless, the works of all these Taxidermy Pioneers has stood the test of time. And that, more than anything else, is the real legacy of them all!

  11. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    All true John, I just question WHY Akeley was conferred the title of "Father of Modern Taxidermy", and it wasn't Hornaday or Rockwell or Clark or Jonas, or any number of great taxidermists, or even people with a vision who gathered together all the taxidermists together - like Professor Ward. An who actually decided HE was the father?

    Don't get me wrong, I think Akeley was a great taxidermist with vision and a plan. But I feel there is TOO much attention given to him with not enough attention given to others. Akeley actually wrote essentially no papers on how he did taxidermy. Louis Jonas had to document the "Akeley method" of mounting the elephants. The citation in my 1989 Bibliography:

    918 Jonas, L. 1930. The mounting of an elephant group. Proceedings of the American Association of Museums, New Series, no. 11, Washington, DC. 30 pp.

    Elephant taxidermy in its finest form. This is the best description of the Akeley method of mounting elephants, perhaps his greatest accomplishment. Louis Jonas was Carl Akeley's first assistant during the greater part of construction of the elephant group in the African Hall in the American Museum of Natural History. In this article, Jonas describes this method with illustrations as used on Indian elephants for the same museum. Also summarizes the history of elephant taxidermy.

    Not all papers have been placed in goggle books though. This paper, written by Frederick Lucas also summarized elephant mounting (couldn't find the link)
    Lucas, Frederick A. 1923. How Elephants are Mounted. A Chapter in the History of Taxidermy. Natural History Magazine, 23(6):597-605.

    I agree that the Four Seasons is a testimonial to Akeley, as well as his gorilla group which he was so devoted to that he lost his life. I don't know if you ever saw this link on Akeley and his gorilla group.
  12. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    I think the fact that Akeley did lose his life pursuing his passion for Taxidermy, has a lot to do with the title bestowed on him. No other Taxidermist of his day, or any other time that I can think of, gave his life for his passion. His goal in life was to raise the image of Taxidermy, to prove it was a legitimate form of Science, and that it had a place and needed to be respected as other scientific endeavors of the time.

    He was also a visionary, in that he understood that the unregulated hunting that abounded at the time would be a future detriment to Africa's wildlife. He even refused to "collect" any more Gorillas even though he had permission to take five or more specimens. It was he, who convinced the government at the time to declare the Virunga Mountain Range a National Park, in order to afford the Gorillas the protection he felt they needed then ... and still do as it turns out!

    Also the thing about Ward was that his major concern was with "cranking the work out" as still is the case with many in this field. That was one of the reasons Akeley left. A lot of what he wanted to do was considered too time consuming, and not in step with getting the work out in a "timely" manner. Robert Rockwell wrote much the same thing, of his disappointment with the blatant ignorance of accuracy, for the sake of getting the Hunter's trophy back to them quickly.

    Akeley never wrote "papers" for the simple reason that, it wasn't him! To this regard, I've read where he had stated he "didn't have the time" that there were "more pressing things to be done" ... and in a way, he was right. He just wasn't the kind of man to sit down and put pen to paper. Rather, he would dictate to his wife, who would pen his "adventures", but he seemed more concerned with the practicalities of his work ... of getting it done. To this end, there was some "explanation" of the Taxidermy process in his book "In Brightest Africa" ... but it was simply touched on, more for the masses than any colleages. He was a pressured man. Much of it was self inflicted, but he was certainly manic in his drive to produce the kinds of work he wanted.

    All of these things combined, I think, to the title "Father of Modern Taxidermy" being bestowed on him ... by his contemporaries and colleagues. They were happy to acknowledge him as "the man" - to put it in more current terms, because to them ... he was! They all acknowledged what he had accomplished and what they had learned from him, as they were all aware of his drive for perfection. There was great sadness all through the Natural Sciences community when they finally got word of Carl Akeley's death, and not just among the Taxidermists that knew, and worked with him.

    Yes, other Taxidermists went field collecting, as James Clark and Robert Rockwell would write in their books, but Akeley was really the man they have said inspired them to do what they did ... in the manner that they did it. So, in a way, calling Carl Akeley the "Father of Modern Taxidermy" may not be too far off the mark after all! ;)

  13. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    Here is the Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin from January 1986, on The Legacy of Carl Akeley by David M. Walsten. Unfortunately, there are no images, but the text is a very good read.


    Oops! Here is the article, with pictures! ;)

    And, whattya know! A writing from Carl Akeley on Theodore Roosevelt!

  14. Steve Rotramel

    Steve Rotramel We got some radical rebels in this county!

    Thanks a lot guys - astounding quality and great information.
  15. Museum Man

    Museum Man Well-Known Member

    this is want i allways enjoyed about the thrill of being a museum taxidermist in my life...all that was important was the quality of the project...its perfection...rarely there was a time issue....we would know a year or two in advance what project was planned and had ample time to design, sculpt and create....not the issue of needing to get out 5 deer heads and 10 fish this week....i couldn't have handled that...not having to rush on any specimen was a joy...
  16. Thank you both for this thread.
  17. LordRusty

    LordRusty If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.

    It's funny in a coincidental way, but my wife, Cheryl, has always vocalized my thoughts, in that I am a museum Taxidermist in a commercial Taxidermists world. And now with the advent of emails, some clients are becoming a bigger pain in the ass than ever. I've always felt I was of another time in my approach to the work. And this latest idea of a damn near immediate turnaround is absolutely ludicrous! The old phrase "haste makes waste" is more true now than ever before.

  18. Bill Yox

    Bill Yox Well-Known Member

    Well, seeing as how a museum wont be hiring me any time in my lifetime, I do the next best thing. I work at MY pace and those who dont like it, dont leave work with me. I run my studio, not them. Im thankful for the business, but again, at MY pace. not someone elses... ;)
  19. Saberjet

    Saberjet New Member

    Great post! My daughter tried to walk into that diorama when she was about three, but didn't see the glass :(
  20. Light Rail Coyote

    Light Rail Coyote Active Member

    Fantastic! I love when this sort of thing happens. The history behind your photo, Rusty, is amazing!

    If you don't mind me asking, is it original, or a print?

    And that one zebra with the open mouth...did they use the real teeth? I love mounts like that. What an exceptional historic piece.