Monday, May 19, 2008

Born This Day: Carl E. Akeley

May 19, 1864 - Nov 17, 1926

This is not quite palaeo, but anyone’s who’s been to the AMNH has marveled at the wonderful dioramas and mounts in the Hall of African Mammals.That hall exists thanks to the efforts of Carl Akeley who was the kind of advendurer that Indy Jones could only dream of being. He died on an African expedition in 1926, ten years before this hall was completed and was buried in a place depicted in the Hall's famous Gorilla Diorama. Of course we approach collecting and conservation differently today, but Akeley is to be commended for his love of nature and his desire to present its hidden corners to the world. I wonder if Carl Denham was named after him?

From Today In Science History:

Carl Ethan Akeley was an American naturalist and explorer who developed the taxidermic method for mounting museum displays to show animals in their natural surroundings. His method of applying skin on a finely molded replica of the body of the animal gave results of unprecedented realism and elevated taxidermy from a craft to an art. He mounted the skeleton of the famous African elephant Jumbo. He invented the Akeley cement gun to use while mounting animals, and the Akeley camera which was used to capture the first movies of gorillas.

From the AMNH, “The American Museum of Natural History’s “Akeley Hall of African Mammals” is considered by many to be among the world's greatest museum displays. The Hall is also a monument to Carl Akeley, the innovator who created it. Akeley was a dedicated explorer, taxidermist, sculptor, and photographer who led teams of scientists and artists on several expeditions to Africa during the first two decades of this century. There, he and his colleagues carefully studied, catalogued, and collected the plants and animals that even then were disappearing. He brought many specimens of that world back to the Museum, where he created this hall, with its twenty-eight dioramas.”

This also let’s me plug this wonderful book, “Windows on Nature: The Great Habitat Dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History”. There are also lots of mostly out of print books about Akeley and his work – well worth the effort to find some of them.