My book The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing!

Click image to purchase or read more about the book here 


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Have you already visited the online Preserved Project?  It is a great site showcasing short pieces about particularly special specimens -- animal, human, or otherwise.  Mark Dion writes about a polar bear, Joanna Ebenstein about the Anatomical Venuses, and Pat Morris has a piece about a tiger head, just to mention a few of the articles.

Check out the piece I wrote about a mysterious albino wallaby from the Natural History Museum, London more than a century ago.  Can you see him there, in the back corner?


Special Issue of Antennae out now

Make sure to take a peek at this special issue of Antennae co-edited by Merle Patchett and dedicated to art, plumage and birds. Merle Patchett has developed an international reputation based on her contribution to the subject of animal surfaces and geography. Curating the exhibition Fashioning Feathers provided the perfect platform to gather a unique army of artists and academics with a soft spot for the subject.

Along with contributions by Amanda Boetzekes, Kate Foster, Liz Gomez, Kirsteen Greer, Hayden Lorimer, Kate MccGwire, Marine Pacault, Perdita Phillips, Andrea Roe and Maria Whiteman, check out my interview with fabulous feather artist Kate MccGwire.

Download the journal at


6 Questions with Jay Kirk

Perhaps you haven't yet read Jay Kirk's Kingdom Under Glass. Good news!  It is now out in paperback.  The book tells the story of the remarkable career of Carl Akeley, the taxidermist who in 1909 dreamed up the African Wing of the American Museum of Natural History. Along the way, Kirk creates a kind of cyclorama of the early twentieth century: eugenicist museum curators; Teddy Roosevelt on safari; “Kodak King” George Eastman baking huckleberry pies in Kenya; and the forty-six-pound heart of P.T. Barnum’s Jumbo, preserved in alcohol. Harper’s asked Kirk six questions about the boundary between history and fiction, navigating racism in primary sources, and Akeley’s artistic legacy.

And in case you need a little more incentive, here is Harper's Magazine's recent interview with Jay, here is a little sampler of interview. (Well, not really a sampler.  Just the first questions.)

1. You first stumbled across Akeley while writing a story for Harper’s. What made you identify him as a subject for a book?

The Harper’s piece was about the non-existence of the Eastern Panther (Puma concolor couguar). I’d been reading a lot of natural history to understand how it had gone extinct in the nineteenth century before making a return as Bigfoot’s feline cousin, and I came across something in passing about a “famous taxidermist” who had once strangled a leopard with his bare hands. When I realized this was the guy behind the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, I immediately became intrigued. I grew even more so when I learned of his obsession with being a True Artist, and how, in order to fulfill that obsession, he had not only strangled a leopard, but gone on these insane, massive expeditions, dragging with him small armies of painters and sculptors, and terrorizing his African porters along the way. I think what I found so compelling was the idea of anyone going to such preposterous lengths for something that, in the end, as art—or even as the “scientific” contribution it purported to be—was dubious at best. I also liked having a story where I could meditate on the absurdity of adventure in general—for me, it kind of throws a cheery light on the pointlessness of all human ambition. Most appealing, though, was the paradox of Akeley’s character: he killed animals in order to save them.

Read the interview here:


Hot of the Press! 

I just received my copy of The Afterlives of Animals: A Museum Menagerie in the mail! This is a great book with chapters written by academics, artists, journalists, curators, and yours truly. Each essay traces the life, death, and curious "afterlife" of a specific creature.  The beasts include Queen Charlotte's pet zebra, Maharajah the elephant, and Balto the dog -- just to name a few. 

My chapter is on Balto, a black Siberian husky and the lead sled dog of the final leg of the "Great Race of Mercy" during the winter of 1925.  Perhaps you know the story.  Diphtheria had broken out in the tiny town of Nome on the western tip of Alaska.  There was no way to get the antitoxin to Nome, except by dog sled. The extraordinary 674-mile (1,085-kilometer) run -- through blizzards, across a frozen inlet, and in temperatures that dipped below minus sixty degrees-- kept the nation enthralled for five-and-a-half days and was commemorated with the Iditarod Race.  Balto was a hero.  As you might expect, Balto was stuffed after he died.  And of course, that wasn't the end of him.

Buy it online here:


Taxidermy Down Under 

I just received an e-mail from Martha Sear, the Senior Curator at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.  For any readers with an interest in taxidermists -- and particularly women taxidermists -- working in Australia, Sear is your woman.  She did her Ph.D. on colonial women taxidermists and women's participation in international exhibitions. In 1996 I co-curated an exhibition called 'Most Curious and Peculiar: Women Taxidermists in Colonial Sydney' for the Macleay Museum in Sydney: 


The New Yorker talks taxidermy

Check out the recent article in the New Yorker about the restorations underway at the American Museum of Natural History.  The dioramas are getting an overhaul. The task at hand is to restore the works to their original state while gently emending wall labels and the like to reflect new knowledge about the animals who gave their lives, and skins, for the depictions.  The scene surely looked something like a Richard Barnes' photograph:

Read more:


The Beastly Art of Taxidermy 

Read my article in TREK Magazine on my adventures with taxidermy.  A short teaser for you:

"No photographs exist from the taxidermy bonfires, but the picture is clear enough. A disorderly mountain of stiffened lion cubs, lemmings, civet cats and barking deer. A smouldering llama, a black tailed wallaby, a polar bear – more than two hundred Victorian stuffed beasts had been discarded as refuse. No museum would ever dream of burning its unpopular cultural artefacts, but these century-old pieces of nature had been heaped on top of each other and set ablaze.

I first heard about the bonfires in the spring of 2005, when I spent several weeks in England visiting family. I had recently finished my PhD at UBC in comparative literature and just wanted to see relatives, go for walks – anything but think about what was next. When I visited a little museum in the countryside, I never could have guessed that a lion with wooden teeth named Wallace, the first lion to be born in Great Britain (in 1812) and one of the few survivors of Saffron Walden’s bonfires, would determine the next six years of my work.

Opened in 1834, the Saffron Walden Museum is the second-oldest purpose-built museum in England. Throughout the 19th century, like so many Victorian museums, it collected and exhibited a random assortment of specimens: mummies, Roman coins, Anglo-Saxon swords, a motley array of stuffed beasts. The artefacts are still on display, neatly labelled and arranged behind glass. But with the exception of Wallace and a few birds, every once-living creature had been destroyed.

Short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus)The story goes like this. In 1960, a young curator with a verve to modernize wrote a persuasive report to the Saffron Walden District Council. It was time to sluice out the museum’s taxidermy, which she viewed as musty relics from a less enlightened era. In an age before colour photography and wildlife documentaries, taxidermy had been the cutting-edge technology for showcasing the fauna of distant lands. But those days were long gone. She argued that television and zoos gave children a better idea of nature; taxidermy had become crassly old fashioned. Plus, 19th century taxidermy was shabby; no doubt more than a few hides were cracked with age and sprouting straw. And so, having convinced the council that the museum’s taxidermy was a nostalgic embarrassment, the vigorous young curator hauled the antique beasts to the city dump and lit a match. The bonfires lasted three days."

Read the whole article here:


Taxidermy in the Guardian, or Taxidermy, my dad, and me

Check out the snippet of Tom Cox's latest book, Talk To The Tail: Adventures In Cat Ownership And Beyond in the Guardian online.



Schieferstein in Husk Magazine

Iris Schieferstein was recently interview by Philipp Humm with Husk magazine.  Check out the interview at 


Mary Frey's Imagining Fauna

I think I mentioned this last year, but Mary Frey's exhibition catalogue of her Imagining Fauna series is now for sale.  The images reveal an almost forgotten taxidermy collection and are printed on black glass using an ambrotype process.  The catalogue includes an essay by me.  See (and maybe buy!) the catalogue here +



Book: Beauty and the Beast

Perhaps a little bedside reading?  Beauty and the Beast: Human Animal Relations as Revealed in Real Photo Postcards 1905-1935 by Arnold Arluke and Robert Bogdan is now available from Syracuse Press. Hopefully the book lives up to its alluring title.  The book explores the relationships between humans and other animals through postcards from the first few decades of the twentieth century. What the authors say:

"It was during this period that both photo postcards were most popular and Americans experienced profound changes that altered their connection with animals. America was in transition from being predominately rural to a country dominated by cities, from a society where everyday contact with a variety of animals was common to one in which such contact was limited. Cars and trucks replaced horses. Viewing animals, other than pets, came to be done mainly in circuses, zoos and in the movies not in peoples’ own backyards. Food production became industrialized making the animals that are the source of our produce almost invisible. Our book documents the range of roles animals played from pets to vermin. We look at live as well as dead creatures, real as well as fantasy, loved and hated. We explore the contradictions, dualisms and paradoxes of our connection to animals, illustrating how animals were distanced and embraced, commoditized and anthropomorphized."

Accompanying the book is an online exhibit of some of the postcards inlcuded in the book.  Here is a quick sampling.  See more online here + 



Book: Curious Collectors, Collected Curiosities 

Check out a new collection of essays on the curious art of collecting curiosities published by Cambridge Scholars Press.  With essays by editors Janelle Schwartz and Nhora Lucia Serrano and your truly, this collection of eleven essays delves into Renaissance collections, Captain Cook's explorations, Eadweard Muybridge's image of animal motion, just to name a few curious excursions. I can't really tell you much more at the moment since I've only just received my copy in the mail this morning.

My contribution to the volume, "Botched Animals and Enigmatic Beasts" explores the world of bad taxidermy and the sort of knowledge that could be squeezed out of their strangeness. 

Curious to know more?  Buy the book through my online bookstore here + or Cambridge Press here +


What to read: Trigger in

Trigger rides again!  Read Melissa Milgrom's article in about the recent auction of Roy Roger's iconic horse, Trigger, and various other Roger memorabilia.  Click here + 

Apparently Trigger's reins went for $266,500. Wow. Read more here +  


Also make sure to check out Milgrom's new book - Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy published by Houghton Mifflin earlier this year.


CZC interview with Magenta Magazine

Check out Magenta Magazine's interview with Morgan Mavis - curator of Toronto's rather unique Contemporary Zoological Conservatory at

The CZC was also recently featured in a photo shot with author Yann Martel whose latest book, as you may or not already known, discusses taxidermy and the holocaust.  hmm.. 



Taxidermy is Cool?! 

Check out Melissa Milgrom's article in the Daily Beast "Cool, Dead, and Stuffed." 

"How did taxidermy become so hip? Melissa Milgrom on why the Victorian fascination with stuffing animals has become the hot new thing among hipsters and urbanites.

Sitting in Observatory, an art galley and events space in the newly hip Gowanus section of Brooklyn, Joanna Ebenstein clicked JPEGs of taxidermy that she has traveled the world to photograph. Her passion for the preserved is as far from country-kitsch as the toxic Gowanus is from the meandering Mississippi. “Taxidermy is more acceptable now. It’s the embarrassing thing in the basement, but now it’s cool.”

For Ebenstein and a growing number of urban enthusiasts, taxidermy is more than just a stuffed animal; it’s an experience, the tactile opposite of a world that communicates in bits and bytes. “It is a deeply intimate encounter,” explains Rachel Poliquin, curator and scholar, whose taxidermy blog Ravishing Beasts began as a post-doctoral project; now it gets around 800 hits a day. Last month, Poliquin curated a taxidermy exhibit at the Vancouver Museum; wildly popular, the exhibit aroused deep empathy for animals in a city the museum thought would balk at the show.

But you knew all of that already, if you're already reading this. Read the whole article at 


Taxidermy in Wallpaper*

Check out Francesca Gavin's article on taxidermy in the April 09 issue of Wallpaper*.  She discussed the work of contemporary artists Polly Morgan, Alex Randall,  Sebastian Errazuriz, Joss Mckinleu, and Kelly McCallum and includes a quote from ravishingbeasts.  As Gavin writes, "Victorian taxidermy was all about scientific study and the natural world.  Now it's about inserting narrative, emotion and wit into everyday spaces."  Sebastian Errazuriz's duck lamp (below) is certainly an example of that.



museum & society

museum & society's latest issue is now online. The special issue entitled "Constructing Nature Behind Glass" is edited by Samuel J. M. M. Alberti and Christopher Whitehead.  Articles include Alberti's excellent introduction, Merle Patchett and Kate Foster's take on "repairing" dead animals, and my own look at the matter and meaning of museum taxidermy. 

Read the journal here  

Click the dropdown menu on the left and select vol 6, issue 2.


Antennae on Botched Taxidermy

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture's latest issue on Botched Taxidermy, a term coined by Steve Baker in The Postmodern Animal.  From Baker's introduction to the concept of botched taxidermy, the issue explores the work of a number of contemporary artists who incorporate animals in their work with an unconventional aesthetic.  Interviewed artists include Angela Singer, Emily Mayer, Thomas Grunfeld, and the Idiots, a Dutch trio of artists who are introduced by ravishingbeasts. 

Visit  to download the issue.  


Deyrolle's in Vanity Fair

Read H.R.H. Princess Olga of Greece's article on Paris most famous taxidermy shop, Deyrolle, which suffered a fire earlier this year.  Read the article [here +].  Deyrolle's website here in French or here in English.






The Globe and Mail on Morgan Mavis

Morgan_Mavis_Globe.jpgTorontonians Morgan Mavis and Christopher Bennell and their taxidemy ark were recently featured by the Globe and Mail in the Greater Toronto Edition (Saturday, June 14th, 2008). Check out the article, and if you're in the area, be sure to drop by the Contemporary Zoological Conservatory.  Click here to read the article +