This talk begins with discounting Egyptian mummies as ‘taxidermy’ and reviews the slow development of bird stuffing over the last 200 years. Beginning with the impulse to collect curios from faraway lands, bird taxidermy became an important aspect of ornithological studies. Gentleman collectors vied with each other to assemble large numbers of stuffed birds, sometimes for little reason other than a personal mania, but also to make serious studies of seasonal and geographical variation in plumage, leading to enormous personal museums. But where has it all gone now? At the same time, in the Victorian era, bird taxidermy also took off as a form of domestic decoration, perhaps more widely adopted here than in any other country. The talk will explore how methods and motivations in taxidermy evolved to become a significant art form. Individual taxidermists developed particular and distinctive styles of taxidermy and presentation, just as artists have done in the past. It will end with a brief note of where bird taxidermy stands today.
Dr Pat Morris was Senior Lecturer in Zoology at Royal Holloway, University of London, and retired (early) in 2002 to spend more time with his taxidermy. He taught many students who now work in wildlife conservation, and also taught evening classes for adults for 20 years. He is well known for his studies on mammals, especially hedgehogs, dormice, water voles and red squirrels. He is a past Chairman of the Mammal Society and holder of its Silver Medal. He was a Council Member of the National Trust for 15 years and Chairman of its Nature Conservation Advisory Panel. He is President of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, a former Vice President of the London Wildlife Trust. He served on a Government Enquiry into aspects of the badgers and TB problem and for 3 years was co-Director of the International Summer School on the Breeding and Conservation of Endangered species, based at Durrell Zoo in Jersey.
He has published over 70 scientific papers, mostly on mammals and written about 20 books on bats, dormice, ecology of lakes and general natural history, with total sales of around 250,000. His popular book on hedgehogs has remained in print since 1983, his New Naturalist monograph on the hedgehog was published in 2018. He was a consultant to major publishers and the BBC Natural History Unit, for whom he also contributed radio and TV programmes for 20 years. He has travelled to more than 30 countries, including five expeditions to Ethiopia and 19 visits to the USA covering 47 of the States.
In his spare time he has pursued a longstanding interest in the history of taxidermy and was appointed the first Honorary Life Member of the Guild of Taxidermists. He published papers and 8 books on this topic and serves as one of the Government’s taxidermy inspectors for assessing age and authenticity of antique taxidermy in connection with CITES controls. The Society for the History of Natural History awarded him its Founder’s Medal and he was made MBE by the Queen in the 2015 New Year’s Honours List and has a devoted (biologist) wife, married in 1978.
He speaks in a purely personal capacity and not on behalf of any of the organisations with which he is involved, past or present.
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