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Beaty Biodiversity Museum

The Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia is a newly open research centre and museum focusing on all thing natural and all things naturally diverse.
Read more about the museum here +

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Curious Collections

Saturday
Jun072008

The Little Museum

hummingbird1.jpgCheck out the beautiful collection of vintage avian taxidermy at www.the-little-museum.com including a large number of Victorian hummingbirds. Gilles Grid purchased the birds - over 50 cases with 100 birds - from various auctions and e-bay.  Many of the birds were old and damaged, and Grid has restored many of them: removing dust, washing the birds with shampoo, remaking legs, feathers, and eyes.  The feathers were given back their luminous sheen with a capillary spray with oil of macadamia.

 

 

Tuesday
Apr152008

The Contemporary Zoological Conservatory

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Morgan Mavis and a bear,

This might be just the solution to my recent comments on the plight of museum taxidermy.  If you're a museum thinking of overhauling your collection and getting rid of those nasty bits and pieces of animal lore, send them to Morgan Mavis and the Contemporary Zoological Conservatory.  Located in Toronto, Canada, the collection of vintage and contemporary taxidermy aspires to the giddy heights of Ark meets Cabinet of Wonders. 

"The CZC wants to create an Ark of visual delights and dizzying proportions, a space that makes you question why and how? A place that overwhelms, crowds, confronts fascinates and titillates a person's sense of wonder. We are not a natural history museum you will not find displays of wildlife in their natural habitat. We are documenting the wild collections and stories of Morgan Mavis. You will witness an overwhelming proportion of taxidermied species in her natural environment.”

read more here: http://thetaxidermyconservatory.com/index.php

Thursday
Jan312008

Steve Plant's House

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The mix of taxidermy and history in Steve Plant's house in eastern France is among the most aesthetically fabulous compendia I've come across in some time.  The bust, the globes, the stuffed Crowned Crane; it is like stepping back into the days when dilettantes rambled the world in search of visual delights.  Plant's originality and humour recently caught the eye of wildly eccentric Lord Whimsy who maintains a website of pastoral dandyism (his phrase) appropriately titled The Affected Provincial's Almanack.  See more pictures and Whimsy's swooning analysis of Plant's house in Whimsy's journal.  A sampling of what you'll get from the Lord:

"Just look at the wonderful blue plaster against the brown shiny flounder floating over seashells of the most deliciously warm ivory, which create a swirling pattern when grouped together in a procession on the mantle. There's a sensibility at work, but nothing as heavy and methodical as a theory is ever imposed upon us visitors. This isn't calculated, but intuitive--and each tableau is a lovely little world of it's own. The house is full of such moments."

A bit raputuous but spot on.

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Friday
Mar162007

Taxidermy Hall of Fame

Taxidermy_Hall_of_fame.jpgOk, now this has got to take the cake: the Taxidermy Hall of Fame of North Carolina Creation Museum and Antique Tool Museum which advocates unequivocally a "stand without apology for the Genesis account of creation and against evolution."  A little more detail is offered by the North Carolina ECHO's (Exploring Cultural Heritate Online) webpage, "the purpose of the museum is to show the creative handiwork of God through the collection, preservation, and creative exhibition of taxidermy specimens of all kinds from all over the world and a wide array of antique carpentry and construction tools and accessories."  Check out the museum's website: http://www.thecreationmuseum.org/ and make sure to see the surprisingly wry slideshow.

On exhibition at the Taxidermy Hall of Fame is every kind of North Carolina wildlife unprotected by the law (they have plastic replicas of protected species), state and national taxidermy ribbon winners, a fur-bearing trout, numerous trophy mounts, and apparently the oldest rock on earth. What taxidermy, creationism, and antique carpentary tools have in common is pretty much up for grabs. But then, why be dull?

The museum is located in the Christian Book Store on Broad Street in historic Southern Pines.  The image is taken from Dean Jeffrey's review of the museum: read it +

Sunday
Feb042007

Chi Mei Museum in Taiwan

In Tainan City in Taiwan, inside the sprawling Chi Mei industrial compound, inside the company's admistrative building, housed on four floors, is the rather unusual Chi Mei Museum.  The museum is dedicated to showcasing Western paintings, sculpture, musical instruments, and antiques, and - yes - taxidermy. 

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As Pan Hsin-hsin (the museum's public relations manager) explains, there are already art and culture institutions in Taipei dedicated to ancient Chinese artifact.  Chi Mei Museum tries to offer visitors "something a bit different."  Besides, Pan continues in an interview with Max Woodworth for the Taipei Times in 2002, Chi Mei's director Hsu Wen-lung "feels very strongly about Taiwan and doesnt' want to parrot the things we were always taught growing up about China being the biggest and oldest and best civilisation in the world.  Here, he's trying to show people that other civilizations were doing great things often much earlier than Chinese people."  

The collection contains paintings by Degas and El Greco, a 4 meter tall repica of Michelangel's David, an Egyptian mummy (positioned next to a Han dynasty jade burial suit "to show that Egyptians were trying to preserve the death well before the Chinese"), a collection of Stradivari violins (not on display, but often lent to Taiwanese violinists), and a wild selection of taxidermy including 100 North American ducks intriguingly arranged opposite a collection of chain mail and a particularly unferocious polar bear, who appears to be trying to talk his way out of some indiscretion while his lovely marble ladies focus on looking busy. 

image and text from Max Woodworth's article (August 3rd, 2002) for the Taipei Times: read it +
Saturday
Feb032007

Deyrolles Taxidermy Studio

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A Parisien legend for those who know, Deyrolles Taxidermy studio has been located at Rue de Bac, near St Germain-des-Pres for almost two centuries.  On the brink of disappearance, the historic store was bought in 2001 by Prince Louis Albert de Broglie, founder of Le Prince Jardinier, a rather upscale gardening store. He is currently restoring Deyrolles to its former eccentric glory.

image above taken from: Sedulia * image below: Jen Mertens  

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Monday
Jan152007

Sir Hans Sloane's Collection part 1

On March 16th, 1689, Sir Hans Sloane left Jamaica and set sail for England onboard the frigate Assistance with the embalmed body of Christopher Monck, 2nd duke of Albemarle, the widowed Duchess, and over 800 specimens of plants, preserved birds and mammals, and a small menagerie of live animals including an enormous yellow snake, an iguana, and an alligator kept in a tub of salt water. Eighteen months before, Sloane had departed for Jamaica as the Duke’s personal physician. The voyage south had taken three months, and the Duke, notorious in England for his dissolute behaviour, died within ten months of setting foot on the island. Jamaica was well known by early travellers for its pestilent airs, excessive humidity and heat, and it was perhaps this paradisiacal tropical atmosphere, so different than the dank English climate, that did the Duke in. Perhaps it was his excessive fondness for drink. In any case, the Duke ailed and died. But Sloane had not only come to Jamaica to serve as physician. In Sloane’s own words, since his youth he had delighted in the study of plant and natural specimens and “had seen most of those Kinds of Curiosities, which were to be found either in the Fields, or in the Gardens or Cabinets of the Curious” in Europe, yet found the accounts of "Strange Things, which I met with in Collections, and, was inform'd, were common in the West-Indies, were not so satisfactory as I desired." To remedy this lack of detail, during his fifteenth month sojourn in Jamaica and the neighbouring islands, Sloane collected, preserved, sketched and documented every creature, plant, mineral, and soil he encountered.

A floating world crammed with the most extravagant and mysterious creatures and plants from the southern seas, the Assistance on its voyage home would have been a wonder-laden vessel for any curious naturalist in the seventeenth century. Most of Sloane’s plants would have been dried and pressed between sheets of paper. We can’t be sure exactly which creatures Sloane was able to transport home. Most likely he would have had jars of pickled lizards, birds, fish, eels, and small animals, perhaps been stored in large cases or arranged on shelves with small lips to prevent damage during high winds and storms. He would have dried the skins of lizards and chameleons and hung his stuffed creatures from the ceiling with strings to deter attack from insects and vermin. Rats were particularly abundant, an infestation that suited his seven foot yellow snake just fine, rats being “the most pleasing Food for these sort of Serpents.” While in Jamaica, he had dissected several yellow snakes, and not uncommonly had found thirteen or fourteen rats in their bellies.

It’s not clear how many living plants Sloane tried to bring back or how they faired on the voyage, but not one of his creatures survived. His “Guana”, which was let free to run about at will, was frightened by a seaman one day, leapt overboard and drowned. His snake, which had been tamed by a native to follow him everywhere “as a Dog would his Master,” escaped from its jar and was shot by the duchess’s footman. And on May 14th, his alligator which he had kept alive with scraps of “Guts and Garbage of Fowl, &c.,” finally died. “Thus I lost, by this time of the Voyage, all my live Creatures and so it happens to most People, who lose their strange live Animals for want of proper Air, Food, or Shelter.”

Saturday
Nov042006

Sir Hans Sloane's Collection part 2

From the seventeenth centuries onwards, European naturalists and collectors amassed enormous amount of information and materials sent back from Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Exotic birds, previously unknown animals and insects, and unfamiliar plants and fish flooded into the collections of eager and curious naturalists. Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) amassed one of the largest and most notable collections in Europe.  Amongst his many human artifacts and natural specimens, his vertebrate collections contained bits and pieces of birds, quadrapeds, fish, horns, eggs, and stones, bullets in elephant tusks. Both domestic and exotic, stange and beautiful curiosities from the far reaches of the globe were accumulated. His aim was establish a collection which would be of the most benefit to mankind, particularly in the areas of medicine, arts, and science.  At the time of his death, his collection is thought 1,563 fish, including a manatee, a unicorn’s horn, and some fossil, 907 birds and their parts, and 1903 quadrupeds and their parts.

As with most early natural history collections, the preservation methods of the items in Sir Hans Sloane’s museum fall into three categories: tanned skins, parts preserved in spirits, and stuffed items. A fourth category could be added encompassing all specimens not requiring any preservation, which would include horns, bones, teeth, beaks, claw, feathers, eggs, tuff and balls of hair, and calcitic deposits expelled or found inside human and animal bodies known as stones, bezoar stones, or snake stones. Among the more interesting stuffed items listed in Sloane's catalogue were listed as:

  • The skin of the head & hock of the red headed crane from Bengall. given to me by Mr. Dubois. this crane lived in my garden for severall years, & died by swallowing a brass linked sleeve button.
  • A smaller sort of Bustard from Moca in Arabia. It lived in my garden many years and ate flesh & other foods as it had done at Mitcham in Mr. Dubois' garden. who gave it me & had it brought over by one of the coffee ships.
  • A piece of the lyons skin that dyed in the Tower in K. James' reign.
  • Two cataracts taken out of the eyes of a blind small fox from Greenland. He lived many years wt me in my garden was brown in summer & turned white in winter. In April generally the fox shed the white hair unless [until] the last year of its life when being sick the white furr continued till its death not changing as usually.

 

The most complete account of Sir Hans Sloane's cabinet was written by Pehr Kalm in Swedish on his visit to England in 1748. It was translated into English in 1892 with the title, Kalm's Account of a Visit to England:

"In the morning I went ... up to Chelsea where we spent some time looking at Chelsea Garden, but afterwards went to see Sir Hans Sloan's collections, in all three Natural Kingdoms, Antiquities, Anatomy, and many Curiosities. We saw here a great collection of all kinds of stones, partly polished, partly such as still lay in their matrix as they are found in nature. We saw all sorts of vessels, Tea-cups, saucers, snuff-boxes, caskets, spoons, ladles, and other small instruments, all manufacturing out of agates and Jaspis, etc.; a number of different kinds of pearls, several learned men's Contrefaits, among which we particularly devoted ourselves to the study and admiration of the great botanist and student of natural history, John Ray ..

"A very large collection of insects from all parts of the world, all of which were now preserved in four-sided boxes, with clear glass glued on both over and under, so that one could see them quite well, but these boxes or cases were also so well stuck together and so tight that no worms of other injurious insects could get at them, and spoil them... Some of the East and West Indian Butterflies were far more showy than a peacock with its matchless variety of colours. A very large number of all kinds of corals, and other harder sea plants, a multitude of various sorts of crystals, several head-dresses of different races of men, musical instruments, etc. Various stuffed birds and fish, where the birds often stood fast on small bits of boards as naturally as if they still lived. Skeletons of various four-footed beasts, among which were particularly noticed that of a young elephant, the stuffed skin of a camel, and an Africa many-striped ass [a zebra]. Several human skeletons larger and smaller, the head and other parts of a frightfully large whale. This whale was said to have been 90 feet long. The length of its head bone was nearly 18 feet.

"Humming birds from the West Indies, which there made a show with their many colours, and set in their nests under glass as though they had been living; the bird's nest which they eat in Asia as any other food which they eat in the East Indies. It was white and looked almost as if it had been made of white wax. A great collection of snakes, lizards, fishes, birds, caterpillars, insects, small four-footed beasts, etc. all put in spiritu vini in bottles, and well preserved; dried skins of snakes from the East and West Indies, of many ells length and proportionately broad; very many tomes of a herbarium [a book of pressed dried plants], among which we particularly examined those which Sir Hans Sloane himself had collected in Jamaica; 336 volumes of dried plants in Royal foloio; on each leaf there were as many plants stuck on as there was room for. Sir Hans Sloane's library, which probably has few like it among private collections gathered together by one single man, and consists of somewhat more than 48,000 volumes, all bound in superb bindings.

"To described all this collection in detail, would fill several Folios: for any who has not himself seen this collection would probably have great difficulty in picturing to himself that it is so large. In another room were several of such books as consisted of coloured pictures of all sorts of Natural objects. Such as Meriana's, Catesby's, Seba's, Madame Blackwell's etc., costly works, Egyptian Mummies, Roman and other Antiquities, etc. ..."
Saturday
Nov042006

Francesco Calzolari's Cabinet

Francesco Calzolari was an apothecary in Verona and owned the most famous pharmacy in the city. As an apothecary, Calzolari's collection focussed on therapeutics, especially those believed to have miraculous properties. The cabinet is described by a contemporary physician, Antonio Passieno, as follows:

"a most abundant repository and true treasure of all remarkable medicinal things, in which I observed each one placed in wonderful order in most decorative and elegant compartments and cases. First, [Calzolari] sought exceptional herbs and then the rest from their own distant places and regions, sent to him as gifts from the greatest princes and rulers; here it is pleasing to see not a few whole plants and plant roots, rinds, hardened or liquid saps, gums, flowers, leaves, fruits, and rare seeds and to recognize them as authentic. Also many metals. I omit how many dried terrestrial and aquatic animals I was astounded to find that I had never seen before."

 

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Image: etching of Francesco Calzolari's collection published in an inventory of his cabinet from 1622. The image's inscription: "Viewers, insert your eyes. Contemplate the wonders of Calzolari's museum and pleasurably serve your mind."

The image of Calzolari's cabinet displays a selection of birds, fish, snakes, and animals including what appears to be a small hammerhead shark, several puffer fish, an oversized hedgehog, starfish, a tortoise head, a deformed mummified human head, a crocodile, bat, flying fish, and a spotted creature with a long tail which might perhaps be ocelot. Most of the creatures would have been dried.

Two catalogues were published detailing the cabinet's contents and the medicinal power and uses of his specimens. The first was published in 1584 by the Doctor Giovanni Battista Olivi (De reconditis et praecipuis collectaneis ab honestissimo et solertissimo Francisco Calceolari Veronensi in Musaeo adservatis) which was dedicated to their mutual friend, Girolamo Mercuriale, who taught at Padua. The catalogue was sparse (50 pages) and unillustrated as Olivi's primary goal was to make evident the vast extent of Calzolari's pharmaceutical items. The catalogue was more or less a medical treatise focussed on the practicle aspects of the museum by highlighting the museum as a medical repository and the links between the museum and the study of pharmacy. In other words, the museum was understood as an instrument for the examination and exploration of the natural world.

In 1622 Benedetto Ceruti and Andrea Chioco published the second catagloue, Museum Calceolarium, which appeared after Calceolari’s death when museum had been improved and transformed by his nephew Francesco Junior. The catalogue was almost 10 times as large, well illustrated, and tended to focus on the imaginative resonance of the natural world: symbolism, hidden truths, and imaginative flights of fancy. As Paula Findlen notes in Possessing Nature: Museums, Collectting and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italty: "the first catalogue had been a product of debates about the proper ingredients in medicines, a topic of great interest in the late sixteenth century. The second catalogue displayed all the hallmarks of the humanist erudition cultivated in the academies of late Renaissance and Baroque Italy. While Olivi explored the possible uses of nature, Ceruti and Chiocco explored the imaginative possibilities of natural phenomena."