Myth Busting Taxidermy

Hi again, Em here,

Last week we were treated to a great evening of Taxidermy at Ipswich Museum, hosted by Molly Carter and Sophie Stevens (both Collections and Learning Curators), Bob Entwistle (Conservation Officer) and Lisa Temple-Cox (Artist Ranger). At 7pm we opened our doors to a group of very excited visitors, ready to learn about our vast collection of taxidermy. I offered to help with this event because, as some of you may have noticed, I have a real interest/slight obsession with Natural History collections and how taxidermy is carried out on the species that end up in museum collections (visiting the Natural History Museum in Oxford a few weeks back was just the dream!)

*Disclaimer – some graphic photographs of taxidermy to follow!*

Joe and I welcomed guests to the museum, taking tickets and serving on the bar when necessary. Molly then took the group on a ‘taxidermy tour’ around Ipswich Museum – introducing the different forms of taxidermy, explaining why it was such a phenomenon in the Victorian era and highlighting the wonderful taxidermy collections that we hold. Bob set up tables in The Bird Gallery upstairs, showcasing Natural History specimens that Joe and I had helped chose, that were ready to be cleaned in front of the public. He introduced visitors to the basics of conservation – talking about pests, humidity levels and storage, as well as demonstrating how to clean different materials such as a the fur of a badger and skin of a sun fish. He also displayed a heron in a case, to show how taxidermy can sometimes go very, very wrong! The bird had completely deteriorated and fallen apart, due to pest damage that had gone untreated for many years (before it came to us!)

Lisa set up a drawing activity near Wool-I-Am (aka our Mammoth), using taxidermy specimens such as hedgehogs, stag beetles, a walrus skull and a two-bodied piglet! Visitors got really involved, engaging with the specimens on display and discussing their thoughts on taxidermy, whilst creating some beautiful pieces of artwork based on the objects.

For me, the most exciting part of the night was Sophie performing actual taxidermy in the Natural History Gallery! She had learnt the processes whilst working for Colchester Museums and had brought in a Rook to prepare on the night. This activity linked very much to the event title, Museum Myth Buster: Taxidermy. I think that many people, myself included before I started my traineeship, consider taxidermy to be a really gruesome activity, filled with mass bloodshed and organs falling out. This is not the case at all! Sophie showcased how delicate the process is – easing the skin away, gently removing the eyes and carefully taking out the organs. You do this so that the insides stay together and can then be used as a guide when building the body up to scale e.g. with wood, wool and wire.

 

On the FutureLearn course that us Trainees completed earlier in the year, a major discussion point was the ways museums can be opened up and used as spaces for debates and talks for the public. This allows visitors to discuss and challenge museum practice, collections and ideologies. I think events such as our taxidermy evening support this idea. They allow the public to come and learn more about different museum topics, whilst giving staff the chance to dispel those myths that have been circulated about museum practice.

Until next time,

Adios, Em (and my favourite little taxidermy hedgehog!)

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