Over winter break I spent some time working on my observational drawing skills. I've been applying to a few art programs that require admissions portfolio's, and most ask for recent examples of observational work. I've been doing a lot of art lately but it's mostly illustrative imaginary or narrative stuff that didn't quite fit the bill. I'm planning on posting a few things in the next few days. This whole endeavor however (it rhymes!), brought me to this question:
Does taxidermy creep you out?
I ask because it completely fascinates me. It seems a morbid curiosity, I realize, but I can't help it. Taxidermy animals and skeletal specimens have this atmosphere of victorian curiosity about them that harkens back to when the lines between science and art and philosophy were all blurry, biologists were "naturalist" and spent most of their time trekking through wilderness with firearms, and discovering something new meant you could name it after yourself.
I've never owned a taxidermic animal, per say, although I have several lucky rabbits feet I got as a child, which I suppose are sort of similar. Funny thing, you used to see rabbits feet for sale all the time in airports and gas stations and little knick knack stores all over the place but I haven't seen one for sale in decades. I wonder if they're illegal or just passé. I've always wanted a preserved raven that could sit in my room and be my friend, and I think an elephant or a small whale would be so cool, especially if you has a small apartment and it got a room all to itself. There was a trend for a while of preserving your cat or dog after it died - they have this whole fancy freeze-drying process - but somehow that doesn't interest me all that much.
Here in Kansas we have what is probably the most impressive collection of taxidermy animals you're ever likely to see. In Dyche Hall on the University of Kansas is the Panorama of North American Mammals. Developed from an exhibit originally built for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair the exhibit has over a hundred taxidermic animals displayed in one huge diorama that transitions through their native habitats.
The exhibit was built by Lewis Lindsay Dyche, one of those Teddy Roosevelt Victorian-style naturalists I was talking about, all from specimens he collected traveling the world. You can read about Lewis on the University's website.
The best part of the exhibit are the walruses (which I find are the best part of anything that contains walruses). I've been going to the museum for years to sketch the animals. I find they're much more cooperative than those fidgety versions at the zoo.
Here are a few sketches from the museum. The skeleton in the upper corner belonged to a manatee. I don't know it's name or if it was a boy or a girl, they don't put that kind of info on the museum placards for some reason, but I've named him Lindsay after Lewis Lindsay Dyche, and because he kind of looks like a Lindsay.
Oh, and just so you don't think it's all about the dead, here are some sketches of my very lively cat. She was a very good girl to put up with me following her around with my sketchbook for as long as she did, but she's not so good at sitting still just yet. We're working on that.