On Sunday 18 August we had the pleasure of welcoming professional freelance taxidermist Derek Frampton to the Museum of the History of Science, where our joint exhibition, Natural Histories, is being shown. As part of the exhibition’s public programme Derek delivered a very popular illustrated Table Talk on the Art and Science of Taxidermy.
Derek has pretty much been a taxidermist his whole life, having started by collecting, dissecting and drawing animals as a boy. Since then he has done a lot of work for museums, including us and the Natural History Museum in London, where he helped prepare Guy, the Museum’s famous gorilla.
“I really liked drawing and painting animals and would collect things I found. Then I realised I could open them up and became fascinated by the way they worked inside – the mechanics of the muscles and skeleton,” Derek told visitors to the event.
“But after a while the specimens started to get smelly and I’d get into trouble with my mum. So I’d have to throw them away and find some new ones. Eventually somebody said to me that the technique for preserving the animals was called taxidermy. I bought a book on it and I have been doing it ever since.”
For the Table Talk, Derek brought along the skin of a female partridge which had been killed in a road traffic accident.
During the hour he went through the process of turning the prepared skin into a finished piece of taxidermy. Using a photograph of a live partridge as a reference, Derek padded the bird with tow, a natural fibre, and inserted florists’ rods to give it a natural shape and posture.
At the end of the process the bird was tied and pinned to allow the skin to fully dry and contract, after which the cotton bindings will be removed.
The presentation was a fascinating insight into the half-art, half-science of taxidermy and the perfect complement to the Collect, Preserve, Study display in the Natural Histories exhibition.