The Best Bones for Taxidermy Not much can be done with bones; they're what's left after fur, skin, organs, and flesh have been removed. However, animal bones can be used to create art or jewelry; they can also be ground into bone meal fertilizer. In 1851, London hosted the Great Exhibition, which featured around 100,000 objects from more than 15,000 collaborators, including a lot of taxidermy. Indian exhibits included a stuffed elephant (although that animal was actually an African elephant found in a nearby museum).
Hancock's taxidermy, which the Official Catalog noted, “will go a long way in raising the art of taxidermy to the level of other arts that have hitherto held higher pretensions. And so it was in the years after the Great Exposition, taxidermy became a very popular pastime; even a young Theodore Roosevelt took classes. It got to the point where Victorians anthropomorphized their taxidermy, dressing stuffed animals in clothes and turning them into paintings like those created by Walter Potter. Sometimes they also produced creatures with additional heads or legs.
Back at the museum, Akeley tanned the leather in a 12-week process that converted 2.5-inch thick leather into quarter-inch leather. He then made an outline of the elephant on the ground and built its internal frame with steel, wood and the elephant's bones on top of it. He covered the frame with a wire mesh, and then with clay that he sculpted to recreate the elephant's muscles. After placing the skin in this shape and making sure the clay accurately replicated every crease and wrinkle, Milgrom says, he cast the shape in plaster to make a lightweight mannequin, which is what he ultimately stretched the skin on.
This is the process he used to create the elephants in the Akeley African Hall of Mammals. First place was awarded to A Fight in the Tree-Tops, by taxidermist William Temple Hornaday, which showed two male Bornean orangutans fighting over a female. The methods practiced by taxidermists have been improved over the past century, increasing taxidermic quality and decreasing toxicity. According to Milgrom, in these categories, taxidermists try to create an animal without using any of its real parts, make an eagle with turkey feathers, for example, or create a realistic panda with bear skin or even recreate extinct species based on scientific data.
The best-known practitioner of this genre was the English taxidermist Walter Potter, whose most famous work was The Death and Burial of Cock Robin. People who articulate skeletons today range from students in schools to enthusiasts at home, taxidermists in stores and groups in nature centers, even neighbors next door. Instead, detailed photos and measurements of the animal are taken so that a taxidermist can create an exact replica in resin or fiberglass that can be shown instead of the real animal. This can be achieved without opening the body cavity, so the taxidermist usually does not see the internal organs or blood.
In those days, competition was fierce, so conservation methods differed from taxidermist to taxidermist and were heavily guarded, some even going to the grave without revealing their secrets.