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Founder's Week: Then and Now - Re-Using Display Mounts

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Tags: diorama, display mount, Chicago Academy of Sciences, taxidermy

Created: 1/14/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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The display mounts on exhibit at the Nature Museum almost all come from previous exhibits and dioramas that were on display in the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building.  Good taxidermy creates specimens and display mounts that will last for years if care is taken. Mounts that have been displayed before often have evidence of that past use. The most obvious are shadows of things that were a part of another diorama or exhibit, like a fern leaf or a tree branch. The whole point of a diorama is to create a “realistic” situation and if you put a display mount in an area surrounded by greenery and trees, shadows should occur. In most cases, this is achieved using specialty lighting today, but that was not available in the 1890s, the 1910s or even the 1940s, so the Academy’s artists added them.  Here are some comparisons between display mounts in some of the dioramas exhibited in 1938 and how those mounts are displayed today.

Then

1938: Female cougar, Puma concolor, reclines in a rocky alcove with her two cubs.

Female cougar mount in 1938
From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf         

Now

Female cougar, Puma concolor, mounted to be free-standing, on display in “Hunters of the Prairie.”

Female cougar mount in present day exhibit

Then

1938: Female coyote, Canis latrans, stands outside her den with her four pups.

Female coyote and pups mounts in 1938
From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf         

Now

Female coyote, Canis latrans, stands above her den with three pups. Part of the prairie diorama in the “Wilderness Walk.”

Coyote and pups in present day exhibit

Then

1938: Bald eagle perches on rock in a sand dune with freshly caught fish in talons.

Bald Eagle mount in 1938 exhibit
From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf

Now

Bald eagle perches on a sand dune with freshly caught fish in talons with a crow with an eye to the catch.  Part of the dunes diorama in the “Wilderness Walk.”

Bald Eagle mount in present day exhibit 

Then

1938: Pair of lynx, Lynx canadensis, standing on log with river in background.

Lynx pair in 1938 exhibit
From the Photography Collection, Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, photographer: W.J.A. Pemmingsdorf

Now

The lynx are now displayed individually, but are located near one another. The mount shown on the left is outside the savannah diorama in the “Wilderness Walk” and the mount shown on the right is in the display cabinets that surround the “Beecher Collections Laboratory”

Lynx in present day exhibit    Lynx in present day exhibit 

Amber King
Assistant Collections Manager

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