Monday, June 7, 2010

Animals Abroad, Part II: Dead or Alive, Animals in a Museum's Collection

Of course, animals are not always relegated to the exterior of sites.

Taxidermy has quite a presence in museums, although it is incorporated in different ways. Ranging from the traditional to the novel, these objects are hard to miss, and often easier to identify with than fine porcelain or silver.

Traditionally, these objects are used in an educational mannor, providing visitors with an example of an animal they may never have seen before (or at least not up close).

Various breeds of birds, Keswick Museum and Art Gallery

They are also used in addition to other objects as a way of bringing to life a former time period.

Hanging ducks adding authenticity to a Georgian pantry, Beamish Open Air Museum
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Bush

Stuffed terrior dog, from a Victorian cabinet of curiosities, Beamish Open Air Museum
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Bush

Taxidermy is also used in more novel ways. The Keswick Museum of Fine Art’s main visitor attraction is an (approximately) 644 year old cat.

Whether this cat, found in a church roof, can be considered taxidermy is open to interpretation. Keswick Museum and Art Gallery

Sometimes, being allowed to interact with objects that would normally be off limits delights visitors as well.

Badger, Fox and Me. (Sign says "Touch Gently") Keswick Museum and Art Gallery


Living animals are sometimes considered part of a museum’s collection. Harewood House boasts a unique collection of tropical birds, supplemented by the ever-popular penguins.

Gray Peacock Pheasant, Harewood House

Photo courtesy of Sarah Swinney

Hornbill, Harewood House

Photo courtesy of Sarah Swinney

Visitors feeding the penguins, Harewood House

Photo courtesy of Sarah Swinney

No matter their form, animals add texture to historic sites and museums. In life they add movement, in death they provide another dimension to a collection so often full of furniture and paintings. I also believe that most visitors find animals easier to understand, as they are not foreign in the way that antiques sometimes feel. Animals, no matter how wild their origins, could have been someone's pet, someone's companion. For many people, forging a connection to something that was, or still is, alive, seems more straightforward.

And of course, they can be much more entertaining to photograph.

-Katharine Thompson

No comments:

Post a Comment