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Carl Akeley's "lost" Decorative Taxidermy (including Anthropomorphic Groups)

Discussion in 'Taxidermy History' started by Flitcraft, Jun 15, 2022.

  1. Flitcraft

    Flitcraft New Member

    Carl Akeley needs no introduction to readers of this forum. But before he became “The Father of Modern Taxidermy,” Akeley was a young taxidermist working in his private studio in Milwaukee (during and after his staff stint at the Milwaukee Public Museum). He was doing scientific work at the MPM, like the justly famous muskrat group, as commercial work in his studio on Milwaukee Ave.: hunting trophies and bird panels and fireplace screens—no surprise, typical fare for commercial taxidermists at the time—but also work that may come as surprise to those who only know his revered museum work, like monkeys driving a carriage, an owl family posing for a camera, and, essaying an ever-popular theme, a monkey shaving a cat (the scene below is not by Akeley, but an example of how it might have looked). This previously unknown aspect of Akeley’s work and more, is discussed in a new article in Journal of the History of Collections. It can be accessed at the link; it’s behind a paywall, but you can get full access by emailing one of the authors. https://academic.oup.com/jhc/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/jhc/fhac022/6605186. The essay provides newly unearthed details about the decorative taxidermy and anthropomorphic groups produced by Carl Akeley while in his ‘20s, and uses that work as a springboard to explore the broader context of the rise of decorative taxidermy in the US in the late 19th century, and the influence of European taxidermy on that trend, and on U.S. museum presentation. The authors draw connections between these weird and whimsical pieces and Akeley’s later museum work, as he injected both with dynamism, warmth and even playfulness (albeit with a bizarre spin in the former, and behavioral insights in the latter). But best of all, the “rediscovery” of previously unknown early work by the master.

    The photo below is a detail from a taxidermy tableau of a monkey shaving a cat. Artist unknown, Bristol England, ca. 1870. From the collection of Tia Resleure. © Tia Resleure.

    Fig. 2 monkey.jpg
    Museum Man, Allie and PA like this.
  2. Allie

    Allie Active Member

    It is not easy to shave a cat! Unless they are dead, of course.
    Thanks for the info and link. Do you know the address of Akeley's studio on Milwaukee Ave? Is it still standing?

  3. Flitcraft

    Flitcraft New Member

    Before you shave ‘em, you have to catch ‘em. And before that you have to herd 'em, I guess.

    At the time of the interview, 1888, Akeley was apparently still at 515 Milwaukee Ave (judging by the ad for whooping cranes). This was his first studio, a barn owned by his friend William Morton Wheeler’s mother. As I recall he lived with them. Sanborn maps at UW Milwaukee show a big structure in the back yard, which must be the barn. It’s all “urban” now. That stretch of Milwaukee does not have numbers, but plug “330 E Kilbourn” into G-maps and you’ll see the site. It was the second lot north from Kilbourn (then Biddle Street) on the left.

    Somewhere around 1890, probably timed with Wheeler’s move to Clark University (Oct. 1890) Akeley moved, and opened a studio at 621 Grand Avenue, which is now part of Wisconsin Avenue, but the street numbering seems about the same. The 1800’s buildings are all gone from that stretch. Akeley lived right across the street at the Norman Flats, which burned in 1991 -- Google "Norman Flats" and you'll get lotsa history.
    Allie likes this.
  4. Clew

    Clew Help a child, Build our future

    York, SC
    He and Leon Prey
    We’re always my hero’s to taxidermy