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Akeley, Wendy Christensen and the Milwaukee Public Museum

Discussion in 'The Taxidermy Industry' started by Taxiserv, Sep 20, 2017.

  1. Taxiserv

    Taxiserv James Newport

    Thx Wendy for the amazing tour of the museum!!
    It's a long way from Texas but it's a great way to take in both history and history of our industry!! So I traveled to Wisconsin and grabbed a local taxidermist (Clint Rickey) and drug him along for the tour! Seeing Akeley's muskrat group diorama which I believe is the first ever taxidermy diorama was amazing. Walter Pelzer's bison diorama and Wendy's recreations at the museum alone are def worth the price of admission. Having someone w the knowledge of Wendy giving us a tour and backstage details of both timeframe of when they were mounted and who was the taxidermist was inspirational to say the least!
    The Field Museum in Chicago last spring
    The Milwaukee Public Museum this summer
    And the American Museum of Natural History this fall and my Akeley museum tour is complete!!
    Thx again Wendy, your 35 years experience and knowledge is a priceless asset to the museum and it's going to be missed!!!
  2. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    James, congratulations on planning for the trifecta experience with the extant institutions that Akeley has mounts on display. He is undoubtedly the most famous museum taxidermist that ever lived.

    I probably should keep my statements to that above, but I always inject extra information on aspects of history. Akeley is repeatedly credited with the first natural history/ taxidermy diorama (as opposed to a habitat group) but he is certainly not the first in the United States. My definition of a natural history diorama is that it must
    1. have a piece of taxidermy preserved
    2. Have a foreground made to represent habitat – i.e. ground, vegetation, fake water, etc.
    3. Must have a painted background.
    By strict definition, a glass through one looks might also be a requisite.

    My belief is that Charles Wilson Peale built the first natural history dioramas in the US. He had, even in his first “museum” in the late 1780’s, built the concept up with a habitat group complete with trees and other vegetation, an artificial pond, and dozens of birds, some herps, mammals, and fish. This concept was common throughout the years following in a number of private museums and exhibits such as Martha Maxwell’s exhibit in Colorado and later transported in 1876 to Philadelphia. Some groups were also portrayed by William T. Hornaday and Frederic Webster at the Society of American Taxidermists meetings. These all lacked the painted backgrounds, though Webster had a platypus groups with a painted background at one exhibition.

    Peale, by the time he was on the second floor of Independence Hall around 1802-3 had created dozens of glass fronted cases holding birds with artificial vegetation and a painted background by either himself or his son Rembrandt – all true natural history dioramas. In some of his correspondence Charles complained that glass could not be purchased at a size more than two or three feet across, which limited the size he could construct this type of exhibits.

    The diorama concept was further built out in James Hurst’s museum. Initially Hurst made photographs in a studio with fresh habitat, fake ponds holding real water, and vegetation and then photographed them. A photo of this version can be seen in a stereoview from 1870 of a muskrat group currently on sale on ebay
    This temporary diorama was later recreated in a permanent natural history diorama in Hurst’s Free Museum, along with dozens of other groups with painted backgrounds. These were all created before Akeley was 5 years old.

    I do agree it is a sad day when Milwaukee will not have a world class taxidermist. It is one of the last major museums to still have this position, and I am sure they will regret the lack of transfer of knowledge to the next generation before long.

  3. Taxiserv

    Taxiserv James Newport

    Great info!
    Thx PA!!!
  4. Allie

    Allie Active Member

    Indeed, thanks again PA!
  5. Bill Yox

    Bill Yox Well-Known Member

    James, I wish I was there for that visit too, Id say Wendy would be the perfect person to take that tour with. And yes, PA does know his stuff!!!
  6. Wendy Christensen

    Wendy Christensen New Member

    It was my pleasure, James and Clint! I love this museum and I love to share the stories/back info about the exhibits and collections. Thank you for coming all the way from TX and it was really great to meet you!

    PA, Great info and thank you for sharing! You definitely know your museum history. The early Cyclorama exhibits were well before Akeley's muskrat diorama too.

    Thanks again,