A Short History of Anthropomorphic Taxidermy

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Taught by Michelle J.

Michelle is a master's candidate in the History of Decorative Arts & Design at Parsons/Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, with a specialization in fin-de-siècle German aesthetic theory and glass history. She received her bachelor's degree in German Language & Literature from Saint Joseph's University and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, and is an adjunct faculty member at The New School. On her days off, she likes to play piano, make waffles, and go swimming. Not necessarily in that order.

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The Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 marks the beginning of many new innovations, both practical and utterly ridiculous: on one hand, the industrial-grade steam engines and revolutionary iron/glass construction of modernity, and on the other, objects like the 80-blade sportsman knife and furniture made entirely of India rubber, among thousands of other forgotten inventions.

But Queen Victoria's personal favorites were the taxidermy tableaux of Hermann Ploucquet and others displayed in comic settings. Weasels at the doctor, stoats at the dentist, and kittens at tea... where do these delightful, wildly popular, and let's face it, rather eccentric little scenes originate?

Together, we'll address aspects of Victorian naturalist collections, comic taxidermy, and aesthetic theory through case studies of Hermann Ploucquet and Walter Potter, renowned anthropomorphic taxidermists of the nineteenth century. Examining the tension between the natural and the artificial can perhaps lead us to broaden our understanding of the natural world and its wider representation in contemporary culture.

An optional visit to the American Museum of Natural History will flesh out our discussion of animal preservation and exhibition practices of the era.

(Class size: 20ish)

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