Friday, July 31, 2009

Vintage pick: field taxidermy

We wanted to draw your attention to another little treasure Moufflon Nicosia is harboring - Polish author Waclaw Korabiewicz's Matto Grosso. The book is a travelogue from the 1950s that rather colourfully combines field taxidermy, the exploration of Brazil's Pantanal by canoe and bird watching, among other, equally special, pursuits. Take for example, this passage. If this doesn't wet your appetite for this book, I don't know what will!

"Our stuffing was academic stuffing, exclusively for the use of museums, and so we stuffed each bird in a stereotyped attitude, that of flight, but with shut wings, legs crossed and beak outstretched. We wrapped them in cloth, like Egyptian mummies, wrote a hieroglyphic sign and laid them in the case. Every week or two Tadeusz inspected the state of the collection and always found something wrong: either the feet had oozed grease, or ants had eaten a nostril (too little arsenic), or the feathers had become dishevelled".

"Stuffing can be very hard work, especially when you come up against a hawk. There is no need to fear going through its skin; it is tough as shoe leather, grown to the flesh and very difficult to separate.
As for the ururbu, it is better not to speak of it. And God preserve you from puncturing its stomach or entrails. These will be stuffed with a stinking mass of decomposed crocodile carrion, and the revolting mess will fall out over your hands and spread out over the table. Ugh!"

"Parrots, again, have unforgivably large beaks which make it impossible to draw the skins over their heads. You have to cut a nick in the neck and work the beak through the hole, which takes a lot of doing.
There's no disguising it - taxidermy is a mean occupation. Tadeusz and I both stuffed. He did it far more artistically than I, but he was dreadfully slow. He even did it with a certain relish, breathing and blowing into the feathers, smoothing and inspecting them against the light, as though he were making a doll. " (page 118)

Besides the wonderful cover art and delightful taxidermy descriptions, this book is a fascinating narrative of an expedition into Brazil's Mato Grosso ("thick woods"), one of the worlds most extraordinary regions. Look out for Moufflon Nicosia and the Pharos Art Foundation's Brazil programme in October.

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