Methods in the Art of Taxidermy

by Oliver Davie Published in 1900

History of Taxidermy Part 4

Associated with the early beginning of the art of taxidermy in this country is one Scudder, who was proprietor of a small museum in the old alms-house in the City Hall Park, New York City. A little later came an Englishman by the name of Ward who did work at this museum which soon merged into a larger institution under the management of the Peales, whose museums in Philadelphia and New York were patrons of the art in those days. Mr. George N. Lawrence, the distinguished American Ornithologist, and Mr. Daniel Holder, were enthusiastic collectors and students of birds. They enjoyed the acquaintance and friendship of Wilson, Prince Bonaparte, Audubon, Nuttall and others of distinction. During Audubon's collecting tour throughout the plains of the West he was accompanied by an artist in taxidermy.

Poor Wilson, on the other hand, in this capacity and whatever he did, depended entirely upon his own efforts and genius to make his name immortal. Dr. J. B. Holder states that some years previous to 1840 a Mr. Mann established himself in Boston as a practical taxidermist. His style of work was of the old school, and purely mercenary. Soon after 1840 a Mr. Ogden came from England with inherited skill in taxidermy and an enthusiasm that despised pecuniary compensation as the sole incentive to art. The Boston Museum had been established in Tremont Temple, and the Boston Society of Natural History had not long before been organized. Through these institutions Mr. Ogden was at once given employment and his work on the largest mammals was successful to a high degree, as well as in the modeling of birds, reptiles and fishes. A large number of individuals outside of the large cities in those days might be named who gave the subject of taxidermy much time and study and became enthusiastic wholly for their own pleasure or for professional purposes. A vast change however has taken place in the more recent productions of intelligent and earnest American taxidermists. The most improved methods of the world's best artists have been carefully studied and often improved upon by American ingenuity.

The climax of excellent work has indeed been left for the artists of the New World to accomplish. The organization of the Society of American Taxidermists did much for the diffusion of knowledge of the art. Methods were no longer held secret, but their merits and demerits were freely discussed by those of the profession, and the doors of the studios were thrown open to the public. The knowledge of methods alone does not any longer bespeak a man's genius in this art; the only secret being to imitate Nature.

The superior work done at Ward's great Natural Science Establishment has also had its influence over the efforts of the new school of American taxidermists. We now have many artists in the field. A vast number of their productions, to be seen in the museums of this country, attest the high order of excellence of their work, surpassing anything in the taxidermy art the world has ever seen. The magnificent groups of mammals and birds in the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park, N. Y., tell of the profound ability of the late Mr. Jeness Richardson. The groups in our National Museum, Washington, D. C., also stand as lasting monuments to the ingenuity and skill of William T. Hornaday, Frederic A. Lucas, Joseph Palmer and others. Among those who have likewise been identified with the recent progressive period in American taxidermy may be mentioned the names of Jules F. D. Bailly, P. W. Aldrich, Elwin A. Capen, William J. Critchley, John G. Bell, Prof. L. L. Dyche, Thomas W. Fraine, C. W. Graham, John Martens, Mr. and Mrs. G. H. Hedley, William Palmer, Chas. K. Reed, J. Rowley, Thomas Rowland, S. F. Rathbun, John Wallace, Frederic S. Webster, Frank B. Webster, and a host of others who have gone into the rich fields of nature, turned from the narrow trodden paths and plucked flowers whose beauty was never before seen. They have discovered and reproduced new scenes such as were never carved in stone or painted on canvas.