Theodore Roosevelt

Innovators of Modern Taxidermy

The word taxidermy is of Greek origin “taxi” and “derma”, which means arrangement of skin. Taxidermy is a common term that describes the techniques and methods to reproduce or mount three dimensional representations of dead animals for exhibition or for study purpose. It can be performed on all vertebrates including fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. There has been significant improvement in the art of taxidermy over the last century. Taxidermists who are well known for their valuable services in the field of taxidermy are mentioned below

Van Ingen & Van Ingen (1900 – 1998).

Taxidermy Innovators - Van Ingen and Van Ingen BrothersVan Ingen & Van Ingen was South Indian Taxidermy Company located in Mysore founded by Eugene Van Ingen and later run by his three sons Botha, De Wet and Joubert Van Ingen. They were famous for preserving their hunt in the most natural poses. The company was well known for their large number of leopard and tiger mounts that are now spread all over the world in the form of full mounts, head mounts, rug mounts with heads and flat animal rugs. In its heyday the company was regarded as one of the best in taxidermy and served not only the Maharajas of India but also numerous nobles from all over the world.

Martha Ann Maxwell (1831-1881)

Taxidermy Innovator Martha Ann Maxwell

Taxidermy Innovator Martha Ann Maxwell

Martha was a first women field naturalist who acquired and prepared her own samples. In 1860 she traveled to Colorado Territory during the first sign of Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. Her inspiration was the work of a local taxidermist after which she started skinning animals for artistic endeavors. She was a talented hunter who devised modern procedures to skin and mount the remains of animals. It was her work that initiated the basis of modern taxidermy. She learned about the otus asio maxwelliae (Maxwell Owl) including other species not formerly known to exist in Colorado. She presented her collection of preserved birds and animals at both the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and Colorado Agricultural Society Fair in Denver. Martha remained a vegetarian all through her life.

Louis Dufresne (1752-1832)
One of the famous naturalists known to travel on the extraordinary journey Astrolabe ship was Louis Dufresne. The ship sailed to islands of Trinidad, Madeira, and Tenerife, rounded at Cape Horn, lingered at Concepción and finally docked at the Hawaiian Islands. It continued its journey along the northern coast of America and all the way up to Alaska. The expedition sailed across the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean and eventually returned to France with profound knowledge. In early 1790, Dufresne became a well known taxidermist and worked as a curator at Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris. He introduced the idea of arsenic soap to preserve birds. This technique enabled the museum to put together one of the world’s biggest collection of birds. Dufresne had a private collection in which he compiled approximately 12,000 insects, 1600 bird specimen and nearly 800 eggs from all over the world. His collection included assortment of corals, shells, fossils and amphibians.

Types of Taxidermy Kits

Many beginning taxidermists find it easiest to start working with a taxidermy kit. Kits have the advantage of containing all or most of the supplies needed to create a finished piece, often for a lower cost than purchasing all of the items separately. They also come in various types, depending on the application.

Deer and other horned and hoofed animals have a whole variety of kits to themselves. There are types to preserve deer hooves (or even make them into a variety of décor items), rumps, antlers, and the head and shoulders of the animal. For a true beginner, it’s probably best to start small. Most of these kits contain a variety of solutions and instruction guides, to teach novice taxidermists all of the steps of animal mounting, from skinning the deer, cleaning the skin, preserving the hide, to finally stretching it over the proper mannequin.

Kits also exist for mounting whole animals in a variety of sizes, usually using polyurethane models sculpted by wildlife artists. Once the taxidermist has followed the kit’s guides to cleaning and preserving the hide, it can then be stretched over the model, leaving the taxidermist with a lifelike mount that won’t end up degrading over time like old stuffed animals used to. Many of these kits also include highly detailed glass eyes, which contribute to the mount’s realistic look.

For true beginners who don’t feel up to the challenge of skinning an animal and tanning a whole hide just yet, there are some skull preserving kits that give a very polished-looking end product, without all of the effort or skill needed to mount an entire animal. These are generally very easy to use, and consist of a solution to clean the skull of bits of flesh and soft tissue, and a sealant to protect the skull from damage due to time and sunlight exposure.

Lastly, there are specific kits for other, non-mammalian animals. Bird taxidermy is very popular, particularly among duck and goose hunters, but the particular consistency of bird skin and feathers requires different products and procedures than mounting a mammal. Birds have their own polyurethane mannequins, as well, which allow them to be mounted in a sitting, standing, or flying position. Kits also exist for preserving fish or reptilian specimens, though these are often viewed as being much more challenging than animals or birds, since the composition of their skin makes preservation and mounting much more tricky.

Though taxidermy is a highly evolved visual art form, beginners can take advantage of others’ experience by starting out using taxidermy kits. These can help teach novice taxidermists about the necessary steps, skills, and chemicals required to turn out a high-quality mount, making it possible for even a complete beginner to create a beautiful finished piece on their first try.