Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Charles Waterton's Creations #MuseumWeek #MuseumMastermind

As part of Twitter's #MuseumWeek #MuseumMastermind we have been asking what Charles Waterton's creations are made from.

Here are the answers, plus some more information about Charles Waterton's taxidermy methods.

The Creations

Waterton was keen on preserving wildlife as 'stuffed' specimens, but he would also construct his own creations using bits from a variety of birds and animals and then give them very odd titles that often had a satirical motive.

John Bull and the National Debt

A porcupine in a tortoiseshell with an almost human face is so weighed down by the National Debt of £800 million that it is overcome by six devils.

The six devils include an angler fish augmented with snake skin; a small caiman with spines made from either bird claws or spurs from the legs of cockerels or pheasants; spiny finned fish mixed with a toads lower half.

The Nondescript

Made from the skin of a howler monkey Waterton sometimes pretended this was a new species of animal he had discovered or a caricature of a customs officer who had charged him import duty on the animal skins.

Charles Waterton's Taxidermy

"Allow me to inform you that there are no stuffed animals in this house" Waterton declared to a visitor to his museum in 1856.
He went on to demonstrate that his specimens were all hollow by pulling off the head of a preserved polecat and revealing that there was nothing inside.

Waterton's unusual method relied on the use of the chemical Mercuric Chloride which both prevented insect attack and set the skin hard.

He began the process by scraping away much of the inside of the skin. He then set up the animal roughly into the correct position.

Progressively he returned to the specimen each day, making minor adjustments until he considered that it was sufficiently lifelike.

As far as it is possible to judge, Waterton's specimens do appear to have been better than others preserved in the nineteenth century.

He certainly believed it to be so.  He particularly stressed that you should observe the live bird carefully to ensure the stance or form of the museum specimen was correct. Unfortunately his method was difficult and slow and it has seldom been copied.

For more information about the man himself see Charles Waterton

1 comment:

  1. I believe that I am descended from Charles Waterton.
    How wonderful is that!
    Rosemary Walters


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