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The Oxford Dictionary defines Taxidermy as: "the art of
preparing, stuffing, and mounting skins of animals with lifelike effect".
The word taxidermy is derived from the two ancient Greek
words taxis, meaning movement and derma, meaning skin; the literal meaning of
the word Taxidermist is 'one whom arranges skins of animals into a lifelike
Although the art of Taxidermy can be traced back to the
ancient Egyptians who practiced a form of Taxidermy in the mummification of
sacred animals for inclusion in the tombs of the great Pharaohs, Taxidermy has
remained one of the least understood art forms of modern man.
On occasion when l have informed people that l am a
Taxidermist, l have often been met with surprised response of, "Oh, - you
stuff dead animals!" Whilst most practitioners of Taxidermy cringe at such
raw interpretations of the art, in some respects they are correct in
identifying at some aspects of our methods.
Much of the earlier examples of Taxidermy were merely specimens of cured
skin stuffed to size with cotton, straw or grasses and hence the derivation of
the term "stuffed".
With the emergence of the plastics era in the 1960s,
Taxidermy entered the world of mass production. The use of polyester fibreglass
moulds to manufacture high volume polyurethane foam manikins signalled the
sunset of the labour intensive laminated paper and plaster forms of the time
and the mechanisation of polyurethane form production to come.
Significant advances have also been made in the past 30-40
years in the science of tanning and leather production with the manufacture of
specialised equipment for the shaving of leathered capes and hides for specific
use by Taxidermists. New tanning compounds have now been formulated, designed
exclusively for ”fur on” leather tanning, whilst the age old craft of hand
production of glass eyes has seen the introduction of computer technology, thus
eliminating much of the traditional skills involved with glass manufacture and
As we look back at the definition of Taxidermy by the Oxford
Dictionary, modern technology has now improved or enhanced many aspects of
Taxidermy. Improved chemicals and equipment have advanced the tanning
techniques of hides and skins, the initial step in the sound preparation of all
animal skins, whilst the use of prefabricated plastic forms have all but
eliminated the traditional concept of animal stuffing.
All that now remains, which signals the salt of any true
artist, is the ability of the individual to capture the essence of the specimen
in question, thus satisfying the term “lifelike effect“.