The term stuffed or stuffed animal evolved from this crude form of taxidermy. Professional taxidermists prefer the term assembly to filling. More sophisticated cotton-wrapped wire bodies soon followed that supported stitched healed hides. 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. The animals were literally gutted, their skins were tanned and then stuffed with cotton or straw and sewn back together for display. A study skin is a simplified version of taxidermy: after skinning the animal, it is stuffed and allowed to dry.
The skin is then filled with tightly packed filling material such as sawdust or stretched over a mold and given the desired shape. Scroll through the images in this digital story to learn about the taxidermy process used to fill a brushtail possum for display. Edmonstone charged Darwin one guinea per hour to learn his services; Darwin wrote to his sister that Edmonstone earned his livelihood by stuffing birds, which he did excellently. Instead, a one-foot-long turtle, a slightly discolored gray snake, and a plate-sized stripe share space with other stuffed animals.
Not all the animals in the Museum are stuffed to make it look like they are alive, most of them are kept behind the scenes in the Museum's collections. This is why you should no longer refer to an animal as a stuffed animal: taxidermists prefer the term mounted. This means that the filling will be seen through, so the taxidermist goes almost exclusively with a foam mold. It has ecosystem showcases from different parts of India, with native birds and animals that have been filled and assembled.
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